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Here’s the juice: Sugary sodas no mas at Mayan Café

by Steve Coomes

Bruce Ucan, executive chef and co-owner of Mayan Cafe, explained to guests at a recent dinner why the restaurant has stopped serving sugary sodas.

If you want a Coke, Pepsi or Sprite to wash down your salbutes and tok-sel limas at Mayan Café, prepare to make another choice. The city’s lone Yucatan cuisine spot recently dumped all sugary sodas from its beverage selection and it’s not turning back.

Why? Because co-owners Bruce Ucan and Anne Shadle thought their commitment to sourcing the best and freshest foods needed to be echoed in the bar lineup.

“We’d talked about it for some time, but never really did it until we made it our New Year’s resolution to do the absolute best beverage menu we could come up with,” said Shadle.

Both she and her servers work to tell customers about the change before they order. “We’d done that in our kitchen, and we’ve now applied that to our entire beverage program.” 

Which means the kitchen is squeezing lots of fresh juices and creating seasonal garnishes, and the bar team is adapting its cocktail menu accordingly. 

Once Coke products were kicked to the curb, they were replaced by drinks such as house-made horchata (a drink commonly made of rice, milk, cinnamon, vanilla, sugar and lime), hibiscus-lime tea and fresh-squeezed seasonal juices (which all cost around $2.50 per serving). The only soda remaining is club soda. 

Shadle said her gut instinct was customers would support the shift, and so far she’s heard no bellyaching about the disappearance of sugary carbonated drinks. 

As a whole, the restaurant’s beer, spirits and wine (all are from biodynamic wineries) selections have not changed. The already limited selection of spirits varies occasionally depending on the regularly-updated cocktail menu.

During a reservations-only dinner on Thursday night, both Shadle and Ucan spoke openly about the change and received applause.

The announcement was fitting since the evening’s featured guest was Pepe Hermosillo, CEO and master distiller at Casa Noble Tequila in Tequila, Mexico. The small-batch artisan producer is one of only 19 companies in all of Mexico that is certified “green,” and its 100 percent blue agave tequila is also the world’s only 100 percent organic. Those attributes made the tequila a nice fit for a special dinner at Mayan Café, Shadle said.

“We thought it was a perfect match,” Shadle said. “And it doesn’t hurt that it’s really good tequila.”

Hermosillo said he understood the challenge of convincing customers that deviating from the norm is often what’s best for them, especially when it costs them more. Bottles of Casa Noble start at $40 and go beyond $100 for a 750 ml bottle of well-aged stuff.

“Our commitment to what we do and why we do it isn’t always something people understand easily—even people in the tequila business,” Hermosillo said. “But like these guys here, we’re committed to high quality. That’s just not going to change.”

Will the soda-centered beverage lists change at other restaurants? Shadle said she and Ucan hadn’t thought about whether other restaurants might follow suit. “This really is a choice for Mayan Cafe and what we want it to be.”

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