Perched at the vibrant intersection of Huron Street and Manhattan Avenue, Cachaco The International Deli turns the purveying of food into a celebration of repartee and community.
It starts with the display case of Colombian breads, savory arepas, crispy buñuelos and unfried almojábanas, just inside the door. Farther into the deli, two rows of tin containers hold ingredients for falafel and tzat chipotle chicken sandwiches. A large blackboard hangs above, advertising these and other items in orange and green chalk.
Sure, people come to Cachaco for the food, which David Wanger, a nearby resident who came in for tacos on a recent Sunday afternoon, carefully described as good and cheap and fast. But it becomes clear that Wanger and others also visit Cachaco because of the people.
Kaveh Tabatabaie, 27, is one of Cachaco’s three cooks, and likes to make white rice with Sumac, served Persian-style with Greek yogurt and cucumbers. He wears a thick beard and black glasses, and speaks in a bassy voice. Cashier Navid Ghaffarian, 23, wears a hoodie and, often, an expression poised in anticipation of laughter, which he emits in skittering bursts. While the two take and make orders, they playfully discuss a caller who speaks curiously slowly, being attracted to former NFL quarterback Brett Favre, and their frequent visits to neighborhood bars. Tabatabaie wears a Yankees cap, and Ghaffarian a Mets cap; when they face each other behind the counter, the city looks happy.
And the customers look happy too. When neighbor Stephanie Roer calls to order a sandwich without knowing quite what she wants, Ghaffarian helps her settle on a spicy “blt-a”—bacon, lettuce and tomato with avocado—with turkey bacon and two eggs.
“I’m really indecisive,” Roer said after she arrived for pick-up. “They encourage me to try different things. It always ends up working really nicely.”
“They really make you feel you’re a part of the family,” Roer added. “I could make my own sandwich, but I’d rather come here.”
“You could make your own sandwich here,” called a voice from behind the counter. “We trust you.”
Tabatabaie and Ghaffarian’s baseball caps represent part of the story of Cachaco’s naissance. Tabatabaie grew up in Yonkers about 20 minutes from Yankee Stadium, where his great uncle and father, immigrants from Iran, had attended games in the 1960s and 70s. Ghaffarian grew up in Queens and Hicksville, L.I., where his father, who also emigrated from Iran, took him to see the Mets at Shea.
On weekends, Ghaffarian and his two brothers visited their grandmother on Huron Street, where she and their mother, Doris, immigrants from Colombia, bought a residential building in the mid-1970s. Ghaffarian’s sense of smell told him when the family car had neared its destination, not far from the old wastewater treatment plant.
“I’d get to Greenpoint and I’d be like, ‘It smells terrible. I’m almost next to Grandma’s house,’” he said.
In 2007, Tabatabaie met Ghaffarian’s older brother, Saied, in a Hunter College class on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a charged setting, the two became close friends.
“We were the two neutral guys in class,” Tabatabaie said. “Everybody was arguing, [we] would sit next to each other and just laugh.”
In 2013, Doris learned that the owners of 994 Manhattan Avenue Deli, just across the street from her building on Huron, wanted to sell. She bought the establishment, and Saied, who’s since moved to Thailand, summoned Tabatabaie from his job in a Vienna restaurant.
Now Cachaco’s customers can choose between fresh falafel with homemade hot and white sauce, and chicken, carnitas, and steak tacos, at least until they run out—Navid says that the employees of M&W Laundromat, diagonally across Manhattan, almost cleaned out a day’s supply of steak with one lunchtime order.
The deli’s marriage of world cuisines comes alive in a mural on its outer wall on Huron. Surrounded by New York City buildings and landmarks, a Persian woman wearing a head scarf and bright red lipstick extends a fist bejeweled with gold rings that spell out “PEACE.” Two smaller Persian women hang at her left, and on her right, a young man stands on a vintage bicycle, with the yellow, blue, and red Colombian flag on his lapel.
The young man is a Cachaco, or “city-slicker,” a word that Colombians used to identify residents of their capital, Bogotá, in the 1930s, Ghaffarian said.
“It’s not necessarily glorifying people in the city,” Tabatabaie adds. “It’s not necessarily derogatory. It’s kind of just like, that’s what we are. And I think that’s how most people in New York feel about being New Yorkers.”
“It’s almost like neutral, you know?” he added.
Cachaco is at 994 Manhattan Avenue. It’s open seven days a week from 7am-11pm (5pm on Sundays). Visit early for the best selection of Colombian breads.