No matter what part of the world I travel to, I am drawn to a similar style of cafe: boutique eateries with a focus on fresh and healthy food crafted with local ingredients, and a great story to tell. What we found in Granada, Nicaragua was The Garden Cafe.
The Garden Cafe was opened by Damien Hopkins from California and Xiomara Díaz from Managua. They met during their university studies in Nicaragua; both were studying International Relations. Even back in 2004, this forward-thinking, community-minded young couple saw the need for healthy food and sustainable job generation in Granada, Nicaragua.
Together, they remodelled a beautiful old Spanish Colonial home, and turned it into a charming, boutique cafe serving a blend of fresh and healthy Californian and traditional Nicaraguan dishes. The Garden menu caters towards tourists looking for either a taste of home in North America, or an introduction to the local cuisine in a clean and homey garden oasis.
During our travels to Granada, Nicaragua — the first stop on our Round the World trip — we had the opportunity to meet with co-founder Damien Hopkins and try for ourselves some of the most popular menu items from The Garden Cafe.
We started off with the Nacatamal, a traditional Nicaraguan breakfast tamale filled with pork and wrapped in plantain leaf. This dish was served with a side of fresh fruit and house-made bread. According to Nicaraguan customs, this dish is typically eaten only on Sundays.
Another Nicaraguan dish we ordered was the Indio Nuevo: a plate of marinated chicken skewers with tortillas, rice, and fried plantains. This dish is The Garden Cafe’s modern take on Indio Viejo, a sloppy and hearty Nicaraguan stew. The sauce, with “achiote” as one of its main ingredients (a mild, peppery seed commonly used in Latin American cuisine) is inspired by the flavours of the original stew dish.
From the Californian side of the menu, we had The Garden Salad which is topped with couscous, as well as the vegetarian Hummus Avocado sandwich.
If you’re looking for a light snack, the fresh-made Hummus is definitely worth ordering. The pita bread (from the Mediterranean restaurant Pita Pita Granada across the street) was soft and fresh; the dip is served with crunchy carrots and celery.
More than just a restaurant serving locals and tourists alike, The Garden Cafe’s bigger mission is to create a positive social impact in the Granada community.
In developing countries where recycling isn’t always a priority, The Garden Cafe has taken wonderful initiatives towards sustainability and waste-reduction. For example, The Garden Cafe is behind the Granada ‘skip the straw’ campaign, serving their drinks and smoothies without straws to reduce waste. They use eco food containers for to-go food and paper bags for souvenirs. Organic waste from the restaurant is given to farmers who raise pigs, while cans are collected and donated to local recyclers. And, for customers who opt out of plastic bottles or bring their own reusable bottle, they provide free filtered water.
The staff team of 30 are treated fairly and are given benefits including a month of vacation every year – something we may take for granted in North American society, and something that’s supposed to be mandatory in Nicaragua, but often unregulated. Staff also have access to interest-free loans and a gym membership.
Over the years, as The Garden Cafe grew in popularity from the rise in tourism in Granada, they expanded with the Thousand Cranes Boutique, “a cultural impact shop”. Handicrafts are a common livelihood for locals in Latin America — just take a walk through any market in the region. The Thousand Cranes Boutique helps to promote and generate visibility for Nicaraguan craftsmanship with a curated selection of hand-crafted goods including apparel, accessories, household goods, souvenirs and packaged foods like coffee and chocolate.
During our visit to Nicaragua (and even at our next destination in Leon), everyone from travellers we’ve met, to guesthouse owners and receptionists, have pointed us in the direction of The Garden Cafe. From what we’ve seen in Granada, The Garden Cafe is the must-visit hotspot known to most tourists looking for good food in a unique atmosphere.
For more information about The Garden Cafe, their menu, and values, visit: gardencafegranada.com. If you’re already in Granada, directions below to The Garden Cafe.
Thank you to Damien for hosting us at The Garden Cafe. As always, all opinions are our own.