Rita Redavid never thought she’d find someone to hand her restaurant down to until she hired Yatzixi Ramirez Cisneros.
Ramirez Cisneros, who goes by “Sisi,” was just a 17-year-old Konawaena High School student when she walked into Caffe Florian looking for a summer job in 2018. Although nervous, the teen picked up an application, and with the help of her teachers put together a resume that landed her a position at the quaint cafe off Mamalahoa Highway in the heart of Kealakekua.
“It all worked out very well and I started that summer in the kitchen,” said Ramirez Cisneros, who would continue working at Caffe Florian for the next couple years, all the while becoming family with Redavid and her spouse, Nick Iammarino, while finishing high school and pursuing a career in nursing.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, throwing a wrench in the works and putting a halt to Ramirez Cisneros’s pre-nursing studies.
“I wasn’t able to continue school this year because of COVID — that was the main reason,” said Ramirez Cisneros, now 19 years old. “I’m not sure how I can place it exactly how we got to where we are right now, but everything was just in a way a blessing in the end.”
That blessing was purchasing Redavid’s business and officially taking over Caffe Florian earlier this month. Ramirez Cisneros, with the help of her 16-year-old sister Cristal Ramirez Cisneros, and family, will continue the operation “as-is” whilst adding some new things to the mix, such as chocolate-covered fruits, cake pops and eventually gifts.
“It’s the best thing that happened in my life,” said Redavid, who started Caffe Florian with Iammarino a half-decade ago. “I always talked about that I wish I could give it to a family, so I’m blessed that I met them (the Ramirez Cisneros).”
Redavid, a native of Italy, opened Caffe Florian in 2014, offering an array of fresh baked goods and 100% Kona coffee with an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s been good to me I have really good loyal customers a lot of repeat customers, good local customers,” said Redavid, who will retire after a smooth transition of the business into Ramirez Cisneros’s hands.
Caffe Florian wasn’t Redavid’s first foray in the restaurant business, because like Ramirez Cisneros, she purchased her own restaurant at the young age of 19 after her parents died in a tragic traffic accident in Canada.
“All I knew how to do was cook. I started in 1979, and I just knew how to make homemade good Italian food — that’s it,” Redavid said, recounting how she used the $22,000 her parents had set aside for her law studies to purchase a “small hole in the wall” in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Over the years, she opened several coffee shops and even did catering for a mining operation in northern Canada. But, having grown up in southern Italy, Redavid never liked the cold and would escape on vacation to Hawaii whenever she could in the 1990s.
Years later, in 2006, she would meet Iammarino after the vessel she had sailed from the West Coast arrived in Ko Olina, Oahu, and entered the slip next to the boat of the Rice University professor who was on sabbatical teaching at Chaminade on Oahu. They quickly became friends, enjoying morning walks before heading their separate ways.
“We kept in touch until we kicked it up a notch,” said Iammarino.
Eventually, the pair would move to Kona when Iammarino’s friend bought the building that houses Caffe Florian in 2014, opening the eatery in the former Orchid Isle Cafe site. Several years later, Ramirez Cisneros was hired and just a couple years after that is now owner of the business.
“For Rita and I, she’s the daughter we never had. They are our extended family,” said Iammarino.
Over her 44 years in the business, Redavid has worked with hundreds of staff, but no one like Ramirez Cisneros.
“I’ve had so many staff in my life and no one has ever put up the way she has,” said Redavid. “She’s so eager to learn.”
So is Ramirez Cisneros’s younger sister, Cristal, who has been working closely with Redavid the past couple weeks, honing her baking skills to ensure Caffe Florian’s customers are in good hands.
“A customer who eats my scone all the time said, ‘I couldn’t tell the difference if they were made by you,’” Redavid proudly recalled on a recent Saturday afternoon.
Caffe Florian’s new hours are 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Currently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the cafe is only offering to-go service.
For more information, call Caffe Florian at (808) 238-0861 or visit www.caffefloriankona.com.