Baños is the Editor of Gables Insider
For a dozen years, the modest yet inviting eatery nestled at the entrance of the Granada Golf Course within the Coral Gables Country Club served as a cherished haven for local residents seeking respite from the hustle and bustle of downtown life. Under the stewardship of Liberty Group at first and more recently Fresh AN LLC, (under the name Le Parc Café) the location had become synonymous with warm hospitality, good coffee, and hearty breakfasts, making it a favorite gathering spot for families and friends to unwind after a jog, leisurely walk, or a quick round of golf. However, the sun has set on this cherished institution, leaving the Coral Gables community pondering its culinary future once more.
In less than 13 months, the idyllic charm of Le Parc Café has faded away. Despite the diligent efforts of Commissioner Menendez and the City Commission, an agreement or lease extension couldn’t be brokered between the Coral Gables Community Recreation Department and the cafe’s proprietors. A recent email sent by the family, who preferred not to comment further, sheds light on a contentious relationship between the City and the vendors daring to do business at this location.
The email paints a troubling picture: “It has become very apparent to us that despite assuring us and the Coral Gables community that the City wants to support small family-owned businesses and wanted a mom-and-pop café in the Le Parc space, what they really want is a large hospitality group who can absorb such astounding figures. No small business can survive and flourish under such circumstances. We do not believe that an additional extension will resolve the issues as the Asset Manager and City Manager have made it clear that they are unwilling to negotiate in a fair and reasonable manner. As such, it is with the deepest regret that we must walk away from the Le Parc space at the end of the current extension.”
Le Parc Café, which debuted in August 2022 with great fanfare, belonged to the same family that had successfully operated Le Crepe Bistro and Café Bonjour in South Miami. Despite generating over $160,000.00 in revenue for the City, it is argued that the City’s involvement set the stage for the cafe’s ultimate downfall. The lease agreement, while atypically demanding on the tenant, included an array of discounts, concessions, and a challenging shared gross profit scheme. Its most significant flaw was its one-year term with a possible extension, during which the cafe’s emails and complaints to the City revealed a disheartening relationship marked by management instability, bureaucratic hurdles, and financial delays.
The failure of this venture can be attributed to the inherent incompatibility between a private for-profit business and a government institution. Bureaucrats often prioritize job preservation and public image over the success of private enterprises, leading to a mismatched partnership.
However, conversations with various members of the City Commission and local residents suggest that City management may have missed the mark. Commissioners Fernandez, Castro, and Menendez, along with Vice Mayor Anderson comments from the dais, appear to prioritize the establishment of a community gathering place over profits. Their vision revolves around creating a neighborhood hub where camaraderie and good food take precedence, fostering a sense of unity among residents.
The issue of management is a genuine concern, primarily emanating from the Mayor’s determination to avoid any perception of failure. Lago has continually expressed on the dais hesitation against long term agreements that box the City into what he describes as financially poor arrangements. That is certainly a proper concern, but in this case, we may have thrown the baby out with the bath water.
Residents are well aware of the battles and accusations that contributed to the demise of the Liberty Café. Mayor Lago, and other members of the prior Commission, seem to take offense at Liberty Group’s tenacity in retaining their lease, leading to accusations against the vendor based on unproven allegations from the dais of misfeasance that have yet to be publicly addressed. However, whatever their faults, real or imagined, most residents enjoyed the community feel of Liberty Cafe, and its absence was certainly felt by many. Although the attempts to curtail possible waste is laudable, this situation left taxpayers in the most unfavorable position, with the government as a default operator ill-equipped to manage a property designed for events and a small restaurant.
Cities are not equipped to run restaurants or host events like conferences, weddings, and birthdays. Consequently, the default solution was to structure this restaurant under a concession agreement, akin to pizza vendors at the Venetian Pool. Unfortunately, this approach proved disastrous.
Editorial: Perhaps it is time for the City to acknowledge its limitations and relinquish management to a capable for-profit entity. This could lead to better returns for taxpayers without the stifling micromanagement that the City seems to have imposed. The hope is that a new vendor can revitalize the location, allowing the business to flourish profitably while freeing it from excessive bureaucratic control. It may be time for the Mayor to reevaluate his approach and consider handing over the reins to a more capable entity, one that can give the taxpayers a more favorable return on their assets.