Amid the smell of brewing coffee and sounds of cheering enthusiastic soccer fans, Gilbert Godoy, 67, intensely watches Real Madrid battle against Barcelona on the television screen hanging from the wall in front of him.
“The two best teams in the world are playing against each other,” Godoy said. “This is the best place to watch the game.”
A large glass bakery case full of enticing South American pastries lines the front of La Gran Uruguaya bakery located in Jackson Heights. On most occasions, salsa music plays through the speakers as customers order a coffee, empanada or fresh loaf of bread, but on this Sunday afternoon, the music is shut off and four flat screen TV’s turn on, as this local bakery transforms into a neighborhood gathering spot for soccer enthusiasts.
James Marin, a native Columbian who lives in Jackson Heights, comes to La Gran Uruguaya on occasion to watch soccer.
“I don’t think people like to watch a game alone,” Marin said.
Marin sits a table with another native Columbian, Fernando Martinez, 55. Marin breaks into Spanish with Martinez as the two men watch the game unfold, both of them glued to the television hanging up on the wall in front of the bakery.
“It’s happening right now, live,” Marin said. “Other people are watching around the world.” Martinez adds.
The first half ends and the two teams are tied. The room bursts with emotion.
Guillermo Rossi, 29, lives two blocks away and comes to La Gran Uruguaya almost every Sunday with his friends for breakfast and then stays for the soccer games if there is a game on that day.
“I like the food,” Rossi said. “And they show the games.”
Rossi is from Argentina and is rooting for Barcelona to win. According to Rossi, Barcelona has a unique style of playing soccer with quicker, faster passes.
“They have the ball all the time,” Rossi said. “They are in control.”
Gregorio Guendjian is the owner of La Gran Uruguaya. A native of Uruguay, Guendjian came to the United States in 1974 and began working as a baker in Jackson Heights until he eventually opened his own bakery, La Nueva, in 1992.
“Its probably the most famous bakery in Queens,” said Luis Canals, 23.
Canals is Guendjian’s nephew and said La Gran Uruguaya was build in 2009 as a spin off of Guendjian’s popular La Nueva, which that specializes in Uruguayan and Columbian baked goods.
“There is a big Uruguayan and Argentinean community,” Canals said. “There is not another bakery around here like it that I know of.”
Jackson Heights hosts a large South American population, many from Columbia, Ecuador, Uruguay and Argentina. According to Canals, La Gran Uruguaya fills a niche in the community, both with the specialty-baked goods it serves, all prepared in house, and also with the soccer matches.
“Especially in the Spanish community, soccer is very big.” Canals said. “Most people don’t have the channels to watch it.”
With the growing demand, La Gran Uruguaya expanded its seating space and had its grand opening this past week. The new space fits about 40 tables. Almost every wall in this newly expanded space has a flat screen television, seven in total.
The food is as much of a draw as the flat-screens and the soccer banners decorating the walls. According to Canals, some Uruguayan food specialties include the sandwich de miga, a thin, toasted sandwich with ham and cheese as well as the many Uruguayan bizcocho’s, or breakfast treats. Columbian specialties include pan-de-bono, a type of Columbian cheese bread or a bunuelo, a similar cheese creation rolled into a ball.
The battle between Real Madrid and Barcelona ends in a tie. Another soccer game taking place in Italy appears on the television screen, most of the on lookers seem less interested.
“The game is finished tied,” Marin said. “Now it’s time for lunch.”