Homemade, Latin and with love


By Melanie Wallis

A Battery Park City mom has defied the odds and fulfilled a personal dream – she’s opened an appealing café offering Latin specialties and homemade baked goods. But more than that, she did so right in her own neighborhood. Pan Latin, located on the corner of Chambers Street and River Terrace, just north of Rockefeller Park, is a 40-seat café that opened last month.

Owner Sandy Kraehling juggles being a chef and manager with being mom to two boys ages five and eight. Kraehling is also co-chairperson of the P.S. 89 PTA.

She was tipped off to the prime corner space by a real estate agent. It had been sitting empty since the building, Tribeca Park, first opened several years ago. Previously, the space had been hidden by a window covering, and most passersby didn’t even realize it was there.

They know now. For the café is attracting all sorts of people — busy parents and caregivers, tourists, construction and office workers. Opening the restaurant, however, took a lot of sweat equity – a year and a half’s worth, in fact.

“It was ugly as sin,” said Kraehling. “We had to do everything – – put the water system in, the electric, the bathroom, ventilation, do the walls and floor,” she said.

The result: a charming café in a section of Battery Park City long in need of one.

Carmen Dixon Rosenweig, a music consultant who works out of her Tribeca Park apartment, is a regular customer. Somedays she comes down for every meal: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“I love the smell of the fresh bread. At breakfast I have eggs and chorizo. They have the best scrambled eggs in New York,” she said.

With its upbeat Latin background music and low orange-glow lighting, the atmosphere also appeals to Rosenweig.

“It’s easy going, warm and the staff is great,” she said. “It’s also changed the neighborhood. You see people around, but it isn’t until they come in here that you make conversation and get to know them better.”

It was Kraehling’s passion for food that led to her dream of owning her own cafe. She spent years researching, making contacts and building a wealth of information about the catering business.

“I so believe in it. I was brought up with these wonderful Colombian foods and I wanted to bring this to people,” she said.

Kraehling’s parents were both born in Colombia but met in Manhattan. Her father was a diplomat for the Colombian government based at the New York consulate. Her mother and father first met on the steps of St Patrick’s Cathedral through mutual friends while her mother was on holiday in Manhattan.

They married and settled in Manhattan. It was Kraehling’s upbringing that led to the inspiration for Pan Latin.

“My mother held many beautiful dinner parties for South American people through my dad’s job. I was also always tasting the beautiful foods and treats my Dad brought home from business trips,” she said.

Speaking of business, Pan Latin’s is doing well.

“We get a lot of tourists from the waterfront, teachers from Stuyvesant High School, parents and kids, office workers from the World Financial Center and seniors from the Hallmark,” she said.

Joining Kraehling in the enterprise is her husband John, who does “the behind the scenes things.” With both parents working hard during this start-up phase, Sandy’s mom is helping out at home. Also, after so many years volunteering at P.S. 89, Kraehling enjoys the benefits of a supportive community.

“We have a lovely network of friends who are constantly asking the boys out to do things,” she said.

One friend and neighbor is fellow PTA member Angela Benfield, who stops into Pan Latin often.

“Sandy is conscious of having quality food,” said Benfield. “The coffee is delicious and those mango pancakes – well, my son ate his in a matter of minutes and he never even had mango before,” she said.

While owning her own café is new for Kraehling, the food business certainly is not. She started out with Nestle, working for 13 years as a regional chef and sales manager. Eventually, however, she realized it was time to make her dream a reality and she left the corporate world. Her first stop: cooking school. Next, she took a job at a Colombian bakery. Finally, she went to work as a chef at “Asia de Cuba” in midtown, where she wore many hats, studying every aspect of the business.

Pan Latin serves fresh dishes and baked goods prepared daily by Kraehling and her staff.

“We make most of our food here on the premises,” she said. Most of the recipes are made with imported ingredients from Brazil, Colombia, Cuba and Spain. The café also sells imported goods like organic honey, preserves, coffee, and Colombian hot chocolate.

Kraehling also caters.

“We have done quite a few catering events, we did one for 50 people and could easily do bigger,” she said. The café also plans to have a reading night, live music, Latin American artwork and new additions to her menu.

What makes Kraehling’s food authentic is a mixture of the imported ingredients, secret recipes and that “it’s made with a lot of love.”

“Well let’s put it this way, I don’t give anything to anyone that I wouldn’t feed my own children,” she said.

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