Great hospitality and quality food are the central elements of Ubuntu Café in Belmont Heights. With a heartfelt commitment to customer satisfaction, husband and wife team Fellippe Esteves and Danielle Soldati say they are determined to make Ubuntu “The Greatest Neighborhood Café.”
Situated at 335 Nieto Ave., near the Colorado Lagoon and Marine Stadium, the restaurant is a welcome anomaly in the residential area. Neighbors watched with interest when the vacant building began to buzz with activity last year. The café’s mix of indoor and outdoor seating attracted more than 500 runners, cyclists, and local residents during its opening weekend, Feb. 15-16.
“We had so many people stopping by that we decided to open,” Esteves said. “Our liquor license wasn’t finalized and we didn’t have our signs up, but we offered breakfast and lunch for those who wanted to come in.”
The couple said they plan to add dinner and happy hour options soon. On-tap drinks will include beer, cold brew and chocolate milk for the youngsters.
“The students from Rogers (Middle School) and Lowell (Elementary) have already started coming in,” Soldati said. “They love our Brazilian cheese balls and we are figuring out more things to add to the menu for them.”
Currently, Ubuntu’s menu options range from healthy, simple fare like house-made granola and yogurt (regular or vegan), to hearty comfort food like a Gruyere cheeseburger, served on a brioche bun with tomato jam and pickled onions. Ubuntu’s espresso drinks are made with house-made milks (cashew, almond, and oat) and its pastries come from a special bakery in Los Angeles.
“You can’t eat our croissants in the car,” Esteves said. “They’re just too buttery and flakey — they make a huge mess!”
Esteves and Soldati have years of experience in the restaurant business. His expertise is managing back of the house operations, while she specializes in working the front of the house. They chose the name Ubuntu because it fit with their personal philosophy.
“We are both Brazilian,” Soldati said, “but Ubuntu is an African term. It stands for compassion and humanity to others; it’s the essence that connects people.”
“Literally, Ubuntu means ‘I am, because we are,’” Esteves added. “I heard the term described in a TED Talk and it inspired me. It’s the perfect name for our café because we want everyone to feel welcome and included here.”
Ubuntu’s kitchen is run by Chef Rodrigo Nogueira, who also is Brazilian. A graduate of New York City’s French Culinary Institute, Nogueira trained at Colicchio & Sons, then served as the Chef de Cuisine at Montmartre, and was Executive Chef of Burke & Wills before moving to California.
Esteves praised Nogueira’s skill as well as his attitude.
“The culture here is very important,” Esteves said. “We only hire friendly people. With our servers, we didn’t insist on lengthy resumes; we knew we could train them and teach them skills, but we couldn’t teach them how to be nice. And that’s the most important part.”
Currently, Ubuntu is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Over the next month, the owners plan to expand both its menu and its hours. Ubuntu’s patio is dog-friendly and the adjacent city lot offers ample parking.