The 93-year tour of Kool Korner sandwich shop’s forever-young Ildefonso Ramirez

July 29, 2016 - accent chair

It was time for Ildefonso Ramirez to hang adult his apron.

Lucia, his mother of 53 years and his best crony given they were children flourishing adult in Cuba, had died 4 years earlier.

And Kool Korner Grocery, a small Cuban grocery and sandwich emporium that Mr. Ramirez and his mother had non-stop in Atlanta’s Midtown area 21 years before, was forced to tighten when a building’s owners sole a property.

So Mr. Ramirez, who had lived in a one-bedroom unit behind his shop, packaged all he owned into a behind of a U-Haul lorry and changed to Birmingham, where he bought a residence in suburban Vestavia Hills.

He came here to be nearby his usually son, Guillermo — or Bill, as he goes by in a United States — a son for whom Mr. Ramirez fled Cuba given he did not wish his child to have to grow adult underneath a rough ride of Fidel Castro.

At his new home in Vestavia Hills, Mr. Ramirez bided his time by listening to his Luciano Pavarotti cassettes, personification his harmonica, and examination his immeasurable collection of aged John Wayne movies.

Retirement, though, did not fit a nervous Mr. Ramirez.

“When we arrived here, we suspicion we would not work anymore,” Mr. Ramirez remembers. “My feeling was to rest, yet we couldn’t.”

So in Jun 2009, during a brisk age of 86, he reopened Kool Korner Sandwiches in a Vestavia Hills City Center off Montgomery Highway, not distant from his house.

This spring, Kool Korner relocated to a new emporium about a mile down a highway, yet Mr. Ramirez has not slowed down.

“Look, let me tell we something,” he says. “I will not suffer life sitting in a chair or walking a travel with a small dog. . . . we suffer life here (at his restaurant).”

Ildefonso Ramirez, distant left, watches as one of his employees during Kool Korner Sandwiches prepares a Cuban sandwich. (Tamika Moore/ 

Hard work and extraordinary genes

Mr. Ramirez’s ostensible agelessness is a covenant to tough work, purify vital and extraordinary genes.

One of his grandmothers, Josefa Quintana, lived to be 105. His father, also named Guillermo Ramirez, died during 99, and was still overhanging a sledgehammer until a final few months of his life. His oldest brother, Esteban Ramirez, also done it to 99, and died operative in his garden. All of his other siblings — brothers Alberto and Pablo and sister Julia — lived good into their 90s, too.

Maybe it’s a purify living. Mr. Ramirez says he’s never dipsomaniac ethanol and smoked usually once.

“When we was 7 years old, we remember that a organisation of boys, 3 or 4 boys, got some income and one of them went to a grocery store and bought one cigar to smoke,” he recalls. “We got sick, and we didn’t fume any some-more in my life.”

Named for a Spanish clergy Saint Ildefonsus of Toledo, Mr. Ramirez was a youngest of a 5 children, and he hereditary his work ethic from his father, a carpenter and a blacksmith who built a ox carts that were used to transport sugarine cane.

As a immature man, Mr. Ramirez warranted a chemistry grade during an sanatorium in his hometown of Matanzas on a northern seashore of Cuba, and afterwards he went to a University of Havana to investigate medicine and turn a doctor. After his third year, though, he had to come home to assistance caring for his failing father and, for financial reasons, never returned to medical school.

Instead, he found a pursuit as a chemist during a rayon bureau in Matanzas, where he worked for scarcely 20 years. He and Lucia, who had sent him packages of food while he was divided during med school, got married in 1951. Their son was innate in 1957.

But after Cuban insubordinate Fidel Castro overthrew a Batista persecution and subsequently converted a nation to communism, Mr. Ramirez — who had initial believed Castro to be a conquering favourite — started creation long-range skeleton to get out of a country.

When Bill Ramirez was a small boy, he was already starting to learn English by reading his father’s Dennis a Menace comic books and Popular Mechanics magazines.

“The preference to leave a nation was given of me,” he says. “He did not wish me to have to grow adult in communism. So my relatives both motionless to leave their relatives and their brothers and sisters behind to take me out of there.”

Bill Ramirez, left, and his father, Ildefonso Ramirez, are graphic here in 2010 during a former plcae of Kool Korner Sandwiches in a Vestavia Hills City Center. (Birmingham News file/Mark Almond) 

In hunt of a American Dream

It would be another 7 years, though, before Mr. Ramirez and his mother and son done it to America.

After he voiced his enterprise to leave Cuba, Mr. Ramirez mislaid his pursuit during a rayon factory, and for a subsequent 5 years, he worked in a fields outward Matanzas, chopping hemp plants used for creation rope.

“Five years,” Mr. Ramirez says. “The same as Russia sends people to Siberia, they send a dissidents to a fields of Cuba to work. Seven in a morning until 7 in a afternoon.”

Finally postulated capitulation to leave Cuba in 1970, a family relocated to Spain, where Mr. Ramirez sole ice cream and his mother worked as a seamstress. They saved their income and awaited a event to come to America.

Mr. Ramirez was a initial to come here, nearing in Miami, where he had friends and some family members from Cuba, in Mar 1972.

“When we put my feet on this land, we started crying,” Mr. Ramirez remembers. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness, we am here during last.”

His mother and son came a few months later, nearing in New York City on a Fourth of July. As their craft began a skirmish into John F. Kennedy International Airport, they could see a Independence Day jubilee below.

Their American Dream was starting to come true. 

The Kool Korner Cuban sandwich comes with sliced ham, fry pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard and mojo salsa and is served on a fritter of crusty Cuban and afterwards warmed in a griddle press. This one is also bedecked with lettuce and tomatoes. (Tamika Moore/ 

A uninformed commencement in Miami

Mr. Ramirez was already scarcely 50 when he got to Miami, though, and pursuit opportunities were wanting for 50-year-old chemists from Cuba.

“Nobody wants to sinecure a male of 50 years old,” he says. “Everybody wants immature people.”

Instead, he went to work in a friend’s grocery, unloading trucks and stocking shelves.

Mr. Ramirez after assured his crony that they should start offered Cuban sandwiches — sliced ham and fry pig sandwiches with Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard and mojo sauce, served on a fritter of crusty Cuban bread — and Mr. Ramirez taught himself how to make them.

Little did he comprehend afterwards that he had stumbled onto a new career.

Bill Ramirez after graduated from high propagandize in Hialeah, outward of Miami, and he got supposed into Georgia Tech in Atlanta, where, like his father, he complicated chemistry.

There was never any doubt that his relatives would move, once again, to be with him.

The strange Kool Korner Grocery was nearby a dilemma of 14th Street and State Street nearby a Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta. It non-stop in 1985 and sealed in 2006. (Photo pleasantness of Bill Ramirez) 

The small dilemma grocery

In Atlanta, Ildefonso Ramirez worked during a grocery in Peachtree Hills and eventually bought a store before he mislaid a business when a glow pennyless out in a griddle subsequent door.

Then, in 1985, he and his mother found a small store called Kool Korner Grocery, nearby a dilemma of 14th Street and State Street and usually a few blocks from a Georgia Tech campus. They sole groceries and sandwiches in a front of a building, and they lived in a back.

Gradually, word got around about Mr. Ramirez’s authentic Cuban sandwiches, and Tech students and Midtown bureau workers started backing adult during lunchtime. With usually a integrate of chairs inside, they ate their sandwiches while sitting during a cruise list out behind or on a petrify wall opposite a street.

For several years, a Kool Korner Cuban sandwich won “Best of Atlanta” awards from Atlanta Magazine, and Garden Gun repository after enclosed it on a list of “100 Southern Foods You Absolutely, Positively Must Try Before You Die.”

One day, though, after they had sealed for a day, Lucia Ramirez told her father she wasn’t feeling well, and he pronounced they should go to a hospital. She told him she couldn’t go yet holding a showering and changing garments first.

Several mins later, Mr. Ramirez found his mother on a building of their bedroom, passed of a large heart attack. She was 81.

“He was devastated,” Bill Ramirez says. “He blamed himself. He suspicion his universe had ended.”

Guillermo Garcia, owners of Atlanta’s Pan-American Bakery and a tighten crony of Mr. Ramirez, carried his spirits, bringing him food and holding him on errands.

“I used to go with him to a store or to a bank, assisting him and holding him to a doctor,” Garcia says. “He was alone there.”

A month or so after his mother died, Mr. Ramirez went behind to work.

“The store helped him get over his grieving,” his son says. “That’s what kept him going.”

Mr. Ramirez kept Kool Korner Grocery open another 3 years, until a building was sole in 2006.

Ildefonso Ramirez and his son, Bill, reopened Kool Korner Sandwiches in 2009 during this plcae in a Vestavia Hills City Center. They changed out in 2015. (Bob Carlton/ 

The pierce to Birmingham

Not prolonged after, Mr. Ramirez motionless to pierce one final time.

“I was alone,” he recalls. “I motionless to come where my son was, and we came to Birmingham.”

He got wearied staying during home alone, though, and on a outing Publix to get groceries one day, Mr. Ramirez beheld that a former Firehouse Subs space in a Vestavia Hills City Center was for lease.

Soon, with a assistance of his son, Mr. Ramirez was behind in business.

And when they listened a news that Mr. Ramirez had reopened Kool Korner, many of his business from Atlanta gathering to Birmingham to have a Cubano with their friend, and to take some sandwiches behind home with them.

“They wanted to go behind and lay with their sandwiches, eating their sandwiches on a ledge, where they used to sit,” Bill Ramirez says.

One group, that calls itself a Kool Korner Club of Atlanta, presented Mr. Ramirez with a “Thanks for a Memories Award,” that recognizes him “for superb use in a prolongation of really lustful memories of an award-winning Cuban sandwich and a adore of a good male and his wife.”

Garcia, who creates a Cuban bread for Kool Korner and ships it overnight to Birmingham, says his aged crony Mr. Ramirez is still dear by Atlantans.

“Oh yes, they are always articulate about him,” Garcia says. “They skip his sandwiches, trust me.”

But Mr. Ramirez has done a whole new set of friends and business given he changed here, too.

“It was flattering most adore during initial bite,” says Brett Blackwood of Cahaba Heights, one of Mr. Ramirez’s early business here. “It’s a best sandwich I’ve ever had.”

Kool Korner Sandwiches relocated to a stream plcae in a Vestridge Commons sell core during 1360 Montgomery Highway in Vestavia Hills in Mar 2016. (Bob Carlton/ 

A new franchise on life

It has been 7 years now given Mr. Ramirez initial non-stop Kool Korner Sandwiches here, and about a year ago, during 92, he came to another crossroads when his franchise expired at a Vestavia Hills City Center.

The lease was going up, his son says, so he and his father motionless to tighten a sandwich shop. But there was never any doubt that he wouldn’t free it.

“Not even a chance,” Bill Ramirez says. “He was looking for a new place immediately. We were going adult and down (U.S.) 31 looking for a place.”

It took several months for Mr. Ramirez to find a new space, though, and during that time divided from a emporium — and divided from his customers, his friends — he started to consider about his mortality.

“When we sealed final July,” his son recalls, “every day — every day — he would tell me, ‘I’m prepared to die. we know it’s coming. Get used to it. It’s a fact of life. It’s function to me. we don’t consider I’ll final another year. we don’t consider I’ll final another 6 months. we won’t see 93.'”

Not usually did Mr. Ramirez live to see another birthday, branch 93 this past January, yet he also stranded around prolonged to move Kool Korner Sandwiches behind one some-more time.

In March, the sandwich emporium changed into a new location at 1360 Montgomery Highway in a Vestridge Commons sell center, a few doors down from Sol Azteca Mexican restaurant.

Waves of aged business came out to acquire Mr. Ramirez back.

“We were unhappy when they closed,” Brett Blackwood’s wife, Wendy, says. “We kept checking, kept calling. We would get Mr. Ramirez on a phone and he pronounced he was prepared (to reopen), that he was usually watchful on permits. And a day they opened, a line was out a door.”

Mr. Ramirez, his son says, has not oral of failing since.

Ildefornso Ramirez incited 93 years aged in Jan 2016, and he says he has no skeleton to delayed down anytime soon. (Tamika Moore/ 

The denunciation of love

Although he has lived in America for some-more than 40 years now, Mr. Ramirez still speaks in a thick Spanish accent that many of his guest mostly have to aria to understand.

But his physique denunciation — his eager handshake, his comfortable hug, his friendly grin — communicates volumes.

“I’ve not had a personal discourse with him — other than ‘Hello,’ “Good to see you,’ that arrange of thing,” Wendy Blackwood says. “But we see him walking around, and we can tell he cares about his customers.”

His business come for a Cubans — and a tamales and empanadas and a black-bean soup — yet they don’t wish to leave yet observant hello to Mr. Ramirez.

“A lot of people come and wish to see him,” his son says. “They come here, and they place an sequence and afterwards they mount by a doorway watchful to see him.”

Bill Ramirez now works as a informal manager for a chemical placement association in Tuscaloosa. He creates a invert from his home in Hoover 5 mornings a week and drives behind in a evenings to assistance his father tighten his shop.

And Bill’s wife, Haymee, who teaches English as a second denunciation during Riverchase Elementary School, helps out during a register, usually like Mr. Ramirez’s mother used to do.

So those apples haven’t depressed distant from that sold tree.

“I can’t stop,” Bill Ramirez, 58, says. “I can’t delayed down. How can I? I’m 30-plus years younger. How can we delayed down, and he’s 93?”

The poser part in Mr. Ramirez’s Cubano is a garlicky brine he injects into a pig before it goes into a oven.

The recipe is a closely rhythmical tip that even his son doesn’t know, nonetheless Mr. Ramirez promises to pass it along to him in his will.

He doesn’t devise on that function anytime soon, though.

“I don’t quit,” Mr. Ramirez says. “I’m 93 years old, yet we consider we still have adequate appetite to continue with this until we can’t do it anymore.”

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