As a Cuban exile arriving in the U.S. in 1961, Raul Espinosa had nothing but his family, $10 in his pocket and a watch, as well as a minimal ability to speak English. More than 40 years later, his hard work has left an indelible mark on the Latin community in the form of Miami-based coach company La Cubana.
“The man was amazing. He was somebody who would not give up,” says Espinosa’s daughter, Rosa Alvarez of her late father. “To be honest with you, I do not know if I would have persevered the way he did.”
Alvarez, who took over as vice president after her father passed away, explains that it was a long trip for her father to get La Cubana off the ground. In 1965, Espinosa started transporting people in his station wagon from Miami to New York. He gradually increased the size of his vehicles and purchased his first bus around 1974. However, at the time, only Greyhound and Trailways had the authority to move passengers via interstate travel, so Espinosa had to prove to the Interstate Commerce Commission that his services were necessary.
“He basically said that there were too many Hispanics and that they needed a Hispanic bus company,” says Alvarez. “He had worked like a dog to that point, and getting authorization to provide interstate travel allowed him to be legitimate.”
Alvarez began working for her father in New Jersey in 1989, and then moved to Florida in 1990. When her father passed away in 1994, she began running the operation herself and made many changes, including hiring a “better class” of drivers, purchasing new motorcoaches and updating the look of the coaches.
“My father had always had coaches that were red, white and blue. When I took over, we switched to all these crazy rainbow colors and changed our logo to help catch people’s attention,” says Alvarez. The switch to the rainbow colored coaches happened accidentally, though, when a salesman told her that all he had in stock was a yellow and black bus.
“He insisted that it was beautiful and that I should go to New Jersey to look at it. When I got there, the bus wasn’t yellow and black; it was actually hot pink pearl with a yellow rainbow and a black front. It was wild,” laughs Alvarez. “I thought to myself ‘my god this is really something different, it would definitely catch somebody’s eye,’ so I took it.”
With La Cubana and its 800-number written prominently across the back, the coaches serve as a rolling billboard for the operation. Alvarez also runs TV, radio, magazine and newspaper advertisements to help increase business in several markets, including New York; New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; Miami and West Palm Beach, Fla., and uses the easily identifiable coaches to hammer home to her drivers the importance of good etiquette on the road.
“I tell them if they mess up on the road, people are going to call, because our coaches are so recognizable,” says Alvarez. “Knowing that, I think, keeps them sharp.”
Alvarez credits her loyal customer base to La Cubana’s ability to outdo its competitors and always updating its fleet with new and improved coaches. She plans on adding five new MCI coaches this year and updates the fleet every two-and-a-half to three years.
The operation also celebrated its 30th anniversary in August. For Alvarez, it was a time to reflect on the hard work of her father.
“He unfortunately wasn’t there, but he was definitely remembered,” says Alvarez. “What he did was very influential. He started from scratch and built what has become a household name for many people.”
FLEET MIX: MCI J4500s
DRIVERS: 19 full time, 22 part time
SERVICE AREA: East coast
SERVICES OFFERED: charter
YEAR STARTED: 1978
AVERAGE ANNUAL MILEAGE: 42,000
VICE PRESIDENT: Rosa Alvarez