In Puebla, Mexico, Leonel grew up learning to make sauces, moles, and everything from scratch, but he was unsure whether if that's how he wanted to make a living. It wasn't until he came to New York in 1997 and took his first job as a dishwasher at Manhattan's Market Diner that he gave it some thought. He moved to the kitchen line one or two days a week until he became a full-time cook.
After finding better opportunities at a Greek place in Ridgewood, he landed at a Thai restaurant in Woodhaven. He was there only six months, at the end of 2019, when the owner ran into financial difficulties and offered to sell the site to Leonel.
Leonel took on a partner, converted it to the Cancun Cafe and brought Juana aboard, well-known for her tortilla-making skills. It opened just as the pandemic started.
It is an artisinal object in Mexico that they use to serve coffee, rice pudding, chocolate... anything you can basically drink from. They use it in a traditional Mexican home, starting when you were a kid. Since you come right out of the womb, you start drinking coffee!
-- Leonel Cazares Amigon
Translator: Katty Garces of Woodhaven BID