A caller woke Reny Gonzalez at 3:30 a.m. with bad news: There had been a fire at his Latin American Grill in Miami Lakes.
“Part of the kitchen, the cook line, is destroyed,” Gonzalez said two days after the Nov. 19 blaze that fire inspectors told him started in the fryer.
The fire scarred the inside of the property, displaced his 40-member staff and left devoted customers adrift.
“There is a lot of smoke damage and damage from the water [firefighters] poured in through the roof,” he said.
“So it’s a big mess,” he said. “But we are definitely blessed. Nobody got hurt.”
The restaurant is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It’s a destination, a habit, a place of familiar faces for many of the regulars who meet friends at the ventanita for Cuban coffee or dine inside among 135 seats at the counter and tables.
The restaurant also serves customers at tables outside, on its covered sidewalk.
Pedro Fiallo and his wife Zenaida live nearby and have dined there for “at least twice a week,” during the past seven years, Fiallo said. “Usually for breakfast and lunch.”
The attraction, in addition to the food, is that “everybody is nice,” Fiallo said. “They’re very nice. Definitely we are going to miss it.”
To have the blaze disrupt a business at any time is bad, but for it to happen during the holiday season is especially rough for those who work for tips.
“It’s unfortunate,” Gonzalez said. “In this business, these things happen. I as the owner and leader of the organization, I’m going to stay positive. I hope to not interrupt anybody’s paychecks, 1,000 percent.”
Some employees have been with him since the doors opened in 1997.
Gonzalez said he is referring customers to the Latin American Grill he and his partners own at 12638 Pines Blvd. in Pembroke Pines. He says he’ll keep his Miami Lakes staff busy making deliveries, with shift work and fulfilling some military contracts for meals.
“We have 150 party orders and will deliver them to [customers’] houses,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to cook it over there in Pembroke Pines and the employees volunteered to take it to the families.”
He hopes the restaurant will be able to open early next year.
“Right now, we’re losing 100% of the business because we have no business right now,” Gonzalez said. “Maybe between three-to-five months, we’ll be able to open.”
When one of the restaurant doors was opened, the unmistakable smell of a burnt interior and smoke wafted outside. Gonzalez and his team were wearing masks to breathe.
Customers drove up and were disappointed to learn place was shuttered, however briefly that will be.
“We really want to inform our customers that we will be back,” Gonzalez said of the restaurant that anchors the back of the Park Centre Shops, at 15342 NW 79th Ct.
They will return if Orlando del Castillo has anything to say about it.
“What Reny and his partners have are the employees, and the employees are like family,” del Castillo said.
He said he has enjoyed three meals in one day at the restaurant, but that his usual routine is to leave his office in Doral and stop in to get soup or something light.
“I think it’s a place where friends and family meet, come to eat, have a great time,” del Castillo said. “You feel like family when you’re here. The staff, everyone seems to be like family as well.”
He said he’s never had a bad meal at the Latin American Grill, and “my sister, my brother-in-law come here, never had a bad meal here, family, friends too.”
He watched as patrons drove away, still hungry.
“Customers come here wanting to eat and they are disappointed, as I am,” del Castillo said. “And now in the back of my mind I think, ‘What am I going to do?’”
He said he’ll miss the “authentic Cuban food with the Cuban flavor and the Cuban spice.
“The portions are beautifully done, the prices are super reasonable and the attention you get here is like you are family,” he said. “The desserts, everything has that Cuban flair to it.”
del Castillo said as a public adjuster, his job is to make sure insurance companies pay policyholders for covered losses and that he will represent the business.
“I definitely will help them get back on their feet,” del Castillo said. “The restaurant is a staple of the community. It will come back stronger than ever.”