Sweet flavors of Colombia come to Astoria

Gina Alvarez is one of the partners at Earth, Wind & Fire Cafe, a Colombian business in Astoria. Photo by Rebecca Henely
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Following the path of their parents, an East Elmhurst and Yonkers family’s new eatery — Earth, Wind & Fire Cafe — brings a common sight in Jackson Heights to Astoria.

“It’s basically what we want, what we would eat and what we think are reasonable prices also,” said Gina Alvarez, one of the partners in the café.

Earth, Wind & Fire Cafe, at 31-12 23rd Ave. in Astoria, serves traditional Colombian baked goods for $4 or less. Some of the café’s specialties include pan de bono, a doughy bread made with farm fresh Colombian cheese from upstate farms and sometimes filled with jam and cheese; arepa de choclo, a baby corn-based bread with butter and cheese; empanadas, a stuffed pastry that can be fried or baked; and bunvelos, or cheese fritters.

“These are your mainstays,” Gina Alvarez said of the menu. “These are your bread-and-butter type of stuff.”

The café also serves some foods more typically seen in American bakeries, like croissants and muffins, as well as drinks and some sweets.

The business was the brainchild of the Alvarez family, particularly Oscar Alvarez of East Elmhurst and Pablo Alvarez of Yonkers. The brothers’ parents had opened Colombian restaurants in Queens 25 years ago. While the brothers both have careers — Pablo Alvarez is a contractor and union worker, while Oscar Alvarez is an administrator at an insurance company, they wanted to open up a business related to food as well.

“They have a passion for food,” said Gina Alvarez. “They love food.”

Gina Alvarez, who is marrying Pablo Alvarez in September, is a teacher when she is not working at the bakery. She said Pablo Alvarez is spiritual and, based on that, they decided to name their café after three of the ancient elements. The café is decorated in earthier tones and with elemental symbols rather than most Colombian bakeries.

While the café has only been open since around Memorial Day, Gina Alvarez said it has already gotten an enthusiastic reception in the neighborhood. She said many of the residents are willing to learn about Colombian baked goods and try new things.

“We get to know a lot of people,” she said. “That’s what’s really nice about this neighborho­od.”

The family hopes to open up an additional location in Westchester County in the future.

Café hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Saturday, when it is open till 9 p.m.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 6:20 pm, July 11, 2012
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