Nelson Priede, a Tampa developer who lives in Lutz, has been a regular traveler on the section of U.S. Highway 41 that runs through the little community of Masaryktown for more than 50 years.
He attended Florida State University in the 1960s and spent quite a bit of time commuting from Tallahassee. The old Masaryktown Cafe and Hotel, which at that time catered to the tastes of its Czechoslovakian roots, had become a familiar and comforting landmark.
“It was called the Masaryk Hotel Restaurant at that time,” Priede said.
But on a rainy day in April 1997, Priede found himself drawn to an unusual influx of activity at that location. “I had read in the paper that they were having an absolute auction,” he remembered. Although he knew the property from its roadside view, he had never actually stepped inside the building. His curiosity was sparked.
“I had a hundred bucks in my pocket,” he remembered, and an expectation of perhaps finding some unique treasures.
“The place was packed,” Priede remembered. “They were selling everything; tables and chairs and menus.”
He had no idea that the real estate would also be auctioned until he overheard some discussion about the property’s projected future potential. The traffic in and out of Hernando County was expected to skyrocket due to future construction of the Suncoast Parkway.
Priede was intrigued by the idea and joined in on the bidding.
As he handed over his check for $4,000, which represented 10 percent of the purchase price, it still hadn’t sunk in completely that he was now the new owner of a multi-story Hernando County icon with a very interesting history. He closed on the property 30 days later.
Eight months after beginning the process of remodeling and renovating, Cafe Masaryktown opened to lunch and dinner customers and has become an award-winning, highly recognized staple of Cuban-inspired cuisine.
Priede, who is not of Cuban descent, was very fortunate to build a staff that has made his establishment authentic to even the most critical of palates. Nearly everyone on his team is of Cuban extraction.
Managers Ozzie and Hope Tejeda run a very tight ship along with a serving staff of five and a dual chef team. Their 18-year-old daughter, Maria, has been working alongside her parents for six years. Their son Wally is the master sandwich chef.
In fact, Cafe Masaryktown recently won third place for the best traditional Cuban sandwich in a competition held in Ybor City in April.
“Thirty restaurants participated,” Priede said. “And we took third place.” But among their steady customers, Cafe Masaryktown ranks number one.
The award-winning traditional Cuban begins with fresh authentic Cuban bread purchased daily in Tampa. The crusty, tender bread is then layered with fresh Cuban-style pork, Genoa salami, baked ham and imported Swiss cheese. It is topped with pickles, mustard and mayonnaise, then pressed and served to order.
But Cafe Masaryktown has a full menu of Cuban- and Spanish-inspired dishes, from roast pork and pescado de dia (fish of the day) to black beans & rice. From salads and soups to several varieties of sandwiches, Café Masaryktown has something for every palate.
John White has been visiting Cafe Masaryktown for 14 years. His company, Million-Aire Conditioning, keeps him traveling the roads. “I go out of my way to come here,” he said. “The food is very high quality.”
And the service is top-notch, with friendly conversation between “friends.”
Priede, who knew some history behind Masaryktown and the three-story landmark structure, had always been intrigued by its backstory.
A small Czechoslovakian community developed in the 1920s. It had originally grown citrus until freezes in 1927 and 1928 devastated the groves. After attempting other produce crops, it eventually became the “egg capital of Florida,” until the poultry business was taken over by larger producers.
Today Masaryktown exists as a quiet connecting community between Land O’Lakes and Brooksville, with the historic hotel and cafe, which was built in 1925. It is considered a historic site, with a history that dates back to the original settlers.
The community of Masaryktown was able to raise $1,100 of the required $1,500 to erect a historic sign on the property. “I put in the other $400,” Priede said.
Cafe Masaryktown has maintained its historic look, with two full dining rooms and an enclosed porch. The atmosphere is cozy and inviting and has become a popular meeting place for locals and out-of-towners with a preference for high-quality, authentic Cuban and Spanish cuisine.
The cafe is open from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Specials are offered daily until 4 p.m.
“Food is really an art,” Priede said. And Cafe Masaryktown has captured it, from presentation to taste to atmosphere, and from every other angle that counts.
The cafe is at 398 Broad St. (U.S. 41) in Masaryktown. It may be reached at (352) 754-2822.