Pollo Tropical founder buys Firehouse Four lease for Spanish restaurant, bar
By Paola Iuspa
Miami's Firehouse Four restaurant will be closed at least six months while a new operator, the creator of Pollo Tropical, tries to resuscitate the historic site as a Spanish eatery.
Larry Harris, principal of New Spanish Concepts in Delaware, has purchased the rights to operate the Firehouse Four restaurant and bar in the 78-year-old former firehouse owned by the City of Miami with plans to change its name and well as the cuisine.
Former operators Tom Richardson and Augusto Vidaurreta, principals of Firehouse IV of Miami and authors of Business is a Contact Sport, transferred the lease to Mr. Harris after a four-year venture plagued by hardship. While open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant had gross sales of $1.7 million in 1999, $1.1 million in 2000 and $1.3 million in 2001, according to city records.
Nearby construction and the building's lack of parking kept patrons away, said Elvia Bonilla, who oversees the lease for the city. She said the restaurant, which recently was open only for lunch, closed in mid-June and is expected to reopen by December.
At 1000 S Miami Ave., a block west of Brickell Avenue, the restaurant was once a hot spot for Friday happy hours and Saturday DJ music but in past months seemed to lose steam.
"Part of it had to do with 10th Street being closed for a year and a half because of construction work," Mr. Vidaurreta said. "Now 11th Street will be closed for a year and a half during construction of the Mary Brickell Village project."
The constant noise and dust kept clients away, said Mr. Vidaurreta, a partner with Mr. Richardson in RAM Strategy in Miami. The partners consult with employers on how to make business relationships dynamic and profitable, according to their company's website. The pair is also in the banking and hotel business, Mr. Vidaurreta said.
Mr. Harris won't open his restaurant for at least six months, when most of the exterior construction of nearby projects might be done, Mr. Vidaurreta said.
Mr. Vidaurreta said Mr. Harris knows what he is doing because he has plenty of experience in the business.
"Mr. Harris opened and built Pollo Tropical," Mr. Vidaurreta said. "But this will be different. He wants to do an upscale Spanish-cuisine restaurant."
After paying $1.5 million, partly in cash and with the seller financing, Mr. Harris plans to add more European flavor to a street already offering Italian at Perricone's Marketplace & Cafe, 15 SE 10th St., and French at Provence Grill, 1001 S Miami Ave.
"It is great," said Steven Perricone, who owns the restaurant bearing his name. "People want to have different choices, different type of cuisines. The more restaurants we have in this area, the more people will come."
Mr. Harris said plans to offer fine dining on the top floor and a casual setting on the ground floor with tapas and sandwiches. He will also include a coffee shop and outdoor seating.
While Mr. Harris also said he would rename the restaurant, he would not disclose the new moniker now.
The lease, to expire in 2012 with options for up to 10 years, is to generate about $83,000 in rent the first year for the city. That would increase to about $108,000 by 2012, the contract shows. The city is also to get 6.5% of any sales in excess of $2.4 million, according to the document.
But for the next six months, the city won't see a dime from the property: Mr. Harris will only start paying rent when he opens for business. But Ms. Bonilla said the city would be able to offset that loss with $81,000 the city received in a transfer fee and other funds collected at the closing of the lease exchange.
Some say Firehouse's future may look brighter as nearby residential properties now under construction actually fill with people.
"If it serves quality food," said Mr. Perricone, considered a pioneer restaurateur in the neighborhood, "it will do very well and become a great location in a historic building."
Built in 1923, the Mediterranean-style, two-story building was a fire station until 1980, when the city opened a new station a few blocks away.
The first Firehouse restaurant, one of the few dining spots in the area then, opened in 1987. While the eatery became almost immediately popular, it fell on hard times in 1990 when nearby Metromover construction decreased traffic and reduced available parking.