Opinion: Our Vision for Burger Bob’s Is About Moving Forward With Respect For Tradition And History

Rodney Barreto

Barreto is the Chairman and CEO of Barreto Hospitality


It was a winter’s day in 2020 when my son Bradley, my In-House Counsel Rich Barbara, and I were in our Coral Gables office thinking about where we should have a quick lunch.  Someone suggested Burger Bob’s, a place I had not visited in quite some time, and we decided to go.  After all, any day is a good day for a cheeseburger.    

When we arrived, we took one of the few tables outside and were greeted by a friendly young lady.  We did not need to see a menu and we ordered right away:  Three cheeseburgers, 3 fries, and 3 waters.  The young lady smiled, took note of our order, and went inside.  We took in the sights at the beautiful Granada golf course and talked casually.  Our food arrived shortly thereafter.  The Burgers were good, and the fries were too.  We enjoyed our time there.  Still, I was filled with a sort of sadness as the place was not quite like I remembered. And it was not a place that I could see remaining an institution of Coral Gables for future generations without some much-needed help.   The building was (and remains) in serious need of updating.  Not to make it a “big fancy restaurant” mind you.  It badly needs updating just to keep it functional.

I asked Rich to check in on what was going on with the place.  I was interested in what could be done to preserve Burger Bob’s and its legacy.  We learned that Mr. Maguire’s lease with the City of Coral Gables was set to expire in August of 2021 and that Burger Bob’s had struggled during the pandemic.  We knew that struggle well as we had just opened a restaurant of our own (Red Fish by Chef Adrianne) in June of 2020.  We learned that the neighbors had come together to start a Go Fund Me for Mr. Maguire to try and raise money so he could pay the City the back rent that had been piling up month after month.  The community outreach for Burger Bob’s was an endearing story and having worked and lived in the Gables for years now, we wanted to help.  That’s when we decided to reach out to Mr. Maguire and see if we could come together to save the spirit of the neighborhood diner while making the necessary improvements to ensure its future.

To make an inevitable transition palatable for as many people as possible, we offered Mr. Maguire a clean slate.  We would pay the City of Coral Gables every penny Burger Bob’s owed in back rent while timely paying rent on a going forward basis.  We would also offer to update and renovate the diner to bring it into the 21st century (subject to approval from the City of Coral Gables).  We advised Mr. Maguire that absent objection from his friends and neighbors, he could keep the proceeds of the Go Fund Me account for his personal use.  And, just as importantly, we offered to keep his staff gainfully employed.  Our thinking was that we would establish considerable goodwill with the City and negotiate an extension to the existing lease.  There were no guarantees that the City would approve an extension of the existing lease and we were taking all the risk, but that was our choice and we were comfortable with it. 

I personally went to see Mr. Maguire at the diner to speak with him about this.  He asked that we put it in writing, and we did.  Unfortunately, Mr. Maguire was not interested in our proposal.  After not hearing from him with any kind of response for a couple of weeks I returned to Burger Bob’s to ask him about his thoughts on our proposal in person.  His exact words to me were “I think I am going to go the other way.”  No counteroffer, no further discussion.  And I respect Mr. Maguire’s decision, but that need not be the end of the story.  Why?  Because Mr. Maguire’s lease was set to expire one way or another.

To be clear, it is not my intention to build a “fancy restaurant in the middle of a neighborhood”.  Nor did we try and cook up a “backroom deal” with the City.  Quite the contrary.  It is my intent to make sure that the casual, inexpensive, and friendly diner experience we have come to know and love remains available for the City’s current residents and the next generation of residents as well. We want to continue the traditions of bringing OUR neighborhood together over a good cheeseburger!   

If the City of Coral Gables accepts our proposal, you can be sure of the following:

There will not be an overbuilt restaurant in the neighborhood as some have falsely claimed.

There will not be “high prices and expensive burgers” as others have suggested.

There will not be a massive expansion of the building’s footprint.

There will not be huge dumpsters creating unpleasant odors.

There will not be late-night customers stumbling through the neighborhood drunkenly looking for their vehicles.

If the City of Coral Gables accepts our proposal, you can also be sure the following:

We will make every effort to preserve the neighborhood Diner feel we all love about Burger Bob’s.

We will have a good old fashioned PB&J sandwich.

We will have inexpensive burgers, fries, onion rings, hot dogs, and milkshakes.

We will serve inexpensive breakfast.

We love Coral Gables.  We know what this place means to the neighborhood and the residents.  We gain nothing from alienating the limited clientele Burger Bob’s currently enjoys, and we look forward to welcoming you in the future.   

We understand the hospitality space.  We spent in excess of two million dollars renovating the historic bathhouse at Matheson Hammock Park which housed the “old” Red Fish Grill and are very proud of our work and of Red Fish by Chef Adrianne.  We spent more than a million dollars renovating the old Cibo space at 45 Miracle Mile where our restaurant Forte by Chef Adrianne opened in June of 2021. 

In this day and age, $800,000 does not build a fancy restaurant, especially in a setting like this one where the structural, plumbing, facility, and equipment updating requirements are so considerable.  The notion that we are trying to build a fancy restaurant in the heart of a neighborhood to take advantage of the City as a Landlord because we are afraid to pay the prices demanded by property owners on Miracle Mile is not only false, but lazy.   In fact, we are not done on Miracle Mile with Forte.  We are also part of the new ownership team bringing back John Martin’s Irish Pub to the Mile at a projected expense of over two million dollars.

We are your neighbors too.  We live here.  We work here.  And we play here.  And we love competition.  We welcome others to submit proposals in response to the City’s advertisement.  And may the best proposer win.

And if we win, you can trust that we will put our best foot forward on this project.  We want to preserve the small, inexpensive diner feel precisely because it is a vanishing breed. 

We respect everyone’s opinion.  But we thought it important to share our side of the story.  Change is coming one way or another.  I can speak for our intentions, and I am comfortable doing so.  The next proposer may see things differently.

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19 thoughts on “Opinion: Our Vision for Burger Bob’s Is About Moving Forward With Respect For Tradition And History

  1. Response to Pete Money
    I have refrained from commenting on the Burger Bobs situation until now out of respect for public opinion and open dialogue. I have now been drawn into the discussion by the comments of Pete Money.

    Pete Money

    Yes, Mr. Barreto has made a “play for the whole thing”. In October of 2020, Mr. Barreto approached my organization to purchase the lease of the Coral Gables Country Club. At that time, I respectfully advised him that although it was a very challenging time in our corporate existence, that we intended to fulfill our obligations to the City of Coral Gables and fulfill our 30-year commitment on the lease.

    Coincidentally in March 2021, we were advised through the City’s external law firm, completely by surprise, that the City was not going to renew the second term of our lease based on a default of a late payment of rent in April 2020. That payment was late because we were in lock down and had no administrative staff. To date, we have paid 100% of our rent with no abatement from the City for the period we were locked down due to government restrictions. Now, Mr. Barreto is the only bidder for the property, as we were prohibited to submit a bid, and seems to be on his way to getting “ the whole thing”.

    As to the comment that “we stiffed countless families and organization during the pandemic by keeping deposits on events that couldn’t be held because of COVID restrictions”, yes, we did hold deposits for events and provided the opportunity for all existing bookings to defer their event to a later date without penalty or increased cost. Out of the thousands of events that were booked throughout our corporation in both Canada and the US, 99% of those events have been resolved amicably. We did not “stiff” anyone.

    In response to your comment regarding Mr. Barreto would be an able operator, Mr. Barreto operates restaurants. He is not an event venue operator. He has never operated a large-scale event facility nor an athletic facility or tennis club. Our organization on the other hand, operate multiple large event facilities which can be viewed at http://www.libertygroup.com.

    Over the past 10 years, we have operated and most recently renovated an extremely successful fitness center with thousands of satisfied members. We have operated a local café, which has been enjoyed and embraced by the community.

    More importantly, we have refrained from implementing a full-service restaurant that would be open 7 days a week until 1:00am, which it is worth noting was originally permitted in our lease. We have also refrained from hosting facility wide events which would attract 1000s of people, out of respect for our neighbor’s and surrounding community’s wishes. We understood the resident’s desire to maintain the Country Club as a local community gem; restricting extensive noise and traffic, which would have resulted from these types of amenities and events.

    TO THE RESIDENTS OF CORAL GABLES:

    The Liberty Entertainment Group has successfully operated the Coral Gables Country Club, Tennis Center and Athletic Facility for the past 10 years during the first Term of our 30-year lease with the City. During our first Term, our company successfully revived an abandoned, deteriorating facility and provided significant revenue to the City. We created a family-oriented venue appreciated and frequented by the people of Coral Gables.

    I am writing to you to make you aware of the conduct of the City Manager, his unwarranted termination of our lease, his refusal to meet with us to discuss moving forward amicably or allow us to participate in an RFP process. The Manager initiated an RFP for the Country Club to which he has received only one bid. He is currently negotiated on a single source bid. The sole bidder has far less experience, less financial strength and little understanding of the community. They are offering less Gross Rent than we the current operators are paying and proposes a far inferior arrangement for the City than is currently in place and being terminated.

    The people of Coral Gables will be negatively impacted if the City contracts with this single bidder who will:
    • Drastically change the finances and reduce the city income from the country club to the detriment of taxpayers in Coral Gables by millions of dollars
    • Program large facility wide events both indoor and outdoor until 1 a.m. with thousands of people in attendance
    • Open an expensive steakhouse with extensive outdoor seating until 1 a.m. 7 days a week. Attracting much traffic and patrons from outside the community.
    • Close the facility for more than a year while it pays no rent
    • Charge members and users premiums and more in fees, and
    • Disrupt the character of what has become a highly used and treasured community asset.

    We ask all residents and taxpayers of Coral Gables to contact city officials (see list below) and ask them why they are taking this precipitous action and what the proposal from the single bidder would mean to the club and to the residential neighbors.

    A DETAILED SUMMARY:

    CITY’S DECISION TO NOT RENEW THE COUNTRY CLUB’S LEASE DURING A GLOBAL PANDEMIC:

    Without warning in March 2021, we received a letter from the City Manager as notification for non-renewal based on an alleged default due to a (two-week) late payment of the April 2020 rent during the height of the COVID pandemic. The payment was made, and any potential default cured, as acknowledged by the City in writing. We continued to pay monthly rent plus percentage rent without interruption during the pandemic even while the facility was closed. It is unconscionable for the City of Coral Gables to use a late payment under extenuating circumstances nearly a year earlier as the basis for not renewing an impeccable upstanding tenant, which we have been for the past 10 years.

    Ten years ago, The Liberty Entertainment Group entered a 30-year 3-term lease agreement with the City of Coral Gables, investing millions of dollars in renovations to what was then a much-needed complete restoration to this city property. Understanding that we were going to be here for the long term, Liberty Entertainment Group continued to make a substantial ongoing investment in the beautification of this property. In the last quarter of 2019, we made an investment of over $1M to upgrade the athletic facilities.

    Blindsided at receiving an unexpected letter of non-renewal, we attempted to have discussions with City Manager regarding the rent default allegations. The City staff refused to meet with us or have any discussions with respect to the renewal of the Lease.

    With this abrupt forced closure to occur as of September 30, 2021, we were faced with the responsibility of a great loss to our community — scheduled weddings, charitable and corporate event cancellations/loss of deposits, loss of club membership fees, etc. The city’s response: “That is not our problem!”

    To preserve our commitments to the community and honor all of our scheduled events and annual club membership fees paid in advance, we negotiated an extension to the end of April 2022. With that negotiation we had to agree to terminate our lease and have no further legal filings against the city for early termination. Had we not agreed to these terms, no extension would be granted, and we would have to cancel hundreds of events and thousands of athletic club memberships. When I asked directly how the City could lock us out on Sept 30, 2021, with all of our commitments in place for almost an additional year, the City Manager stated that these cancellations, “are not my problem”.

    The City issued a request for proposal for the Coral Gables Country Club, the Athletics Club and the tennis courts and our neighbor Burger Bob’s. Sadly, we were not allowed to submit a bid based on the terms of the request for proposals.

    The Barreto Group had approached Liberty Entertainment Group in October of 2020 to purchase the Coral Gables Country Club lease and business. We turned them down as we were fully committed to our 30-year term. Now the Barreto Group is the sole bidder with the city.

    The following are points of concern with the one and only proposal submitted and currently under review by the City.

    1. The Country Club, Athletics Club and tennis courts will be closed for 15 months during the proposed renovations, rent-free to the bidder, causing disruption to current 1000+ club members and their families along with special events, weddings and non-for profits. More than 70 people at the country club will lose their jobs, in addition to vendors, party planners and others who depend on this facility for themselves and their families.

    2. New extended hours of indoor/outdoor operation 7 days a week from 7:00 am to 1:00 am, including an indoor/outdoor restaurant which would increase evening noise and traffic.

    3. The conversion of a section of the interior space plus outdoor seating to accommodate a high-end fully licensed steak house open 7 days a week until 1 a.m. will substantially increase traffic and noise by attracting patrons from far and wide. Residents have opposed such a restaurant, and the City precluded The Liberty Entertainment Group from establishing such a restaurant.

    4. The proposal focuses on many large events targeted not to Coral Gables residents, but to the greater Miami area, which would cause parking, noise and traffic issues. Please note that our current operations refrain from facility wide events in order to minimize disruption to the community and local residents.

    5. Increased and exclusive club membership fees implementing yearly fee structures of upwards of $7,500 one-time fee plus an additional yearly fee.

    QUESTIONS TO ASK THE CITY MANAGEMENT AND COMMISSION

    1. Why is the City considering a lease with an proponent which has no experience in operating an event venue, a fitness facility, a neighborhood cafe, and has absolutely no understanding of the needs of the neighborhood and fabric of the community, with the backdrop that the City currently has a well operated City property?

    2. Why is the City considering accepting a proposal offering less gross revenue than the current operator is paying and refusing to negotiate with the current operator?

    3. Why is the City willing to suspend operations of the Country Club — lose revenue flow and temporarily displace all its members for 15 or more months when the current operator is more than willing to stay operational while accommodating any required upgrades to the property?

    4. Why did the City not allow Liberty Entertainment Group to create a restaurant within the facility and allow for large patio areas and are now allowing such for another operator?

    We urge you to reach out to your City officials and express your disappointment with the actions of the City Manager with respect to the Coral Gables Country Club and ask that they reconsider renewing the existing Lease.

    Thank you,

    Nick Di Donato
    President & CEO
    Liberty Entertainment Group
    Coral Gables Country Club

    Contacts for the City of Coral Gables Officials:

    Vince C. Lago, Mayor
    [email protected]

    Michael Mena, Vice Mayor
    [email protected]

    Jorge L. Fors, Jr., Commissioner, Group IV
    305-460-5222 | [email protected]

    Rhonda Anderson, Commissioner, Group II
    [email protected]

    Kirk R. Menendez, Commissioner, Group III
    [email protected]

    Peter Iglesias, City Manager
    305-460-5202 | [email protected]

    Mailing address:
    405 Biltmore Way
    Coral Gables, FL 33134

  2. Mr. Di Donato:

    A wedding or an anniversary event, or a timely non-profit event, etc. is not something you can postpone indefinitely. You showed zero interest in refunding deposits for events that were outright cancelled. This includes several non-profit organizations that you almost put out of business.

    It is obvious they appointed the Fredo of the Di Donato family to run the CCCG and you ran it right into the ground. You were coerced by city officials to pay rent and return some deposits after you were threatened with eviction. Your days are numbered in Coral Gables sir. You are a third-rate operator as evidenced by your several failed local ventures. It is all public record, sir.

    Mr. Feldman and the rest of you loony Coral Gables Insider folks are used to having this echo chamber all to yourselves. You use this site to spread wild misinformation to advance the political agenda of a few bad apples without anyone checking you at the door. This is no longer the case. I will be here to call each and everyone of you out as need.

    Consider me the Batman of Coral Gables. I may not be the hero you want, but I am certainly the hero you deserve.

  3. Mr. Barreto:
    Kindly provide the following information:
    1. Number of persons that presently can eat inside;
    2. Number of persons that under your proposal could eat inside;
    3. Number of persons that presently can eat outside;
    4. Number of persons that under your proposal could eat outside;
    5. Number of current parking spaces for the golf course and the restaurant;
    6. Number of parking spaces for the golf course and the restaurant under your proposal;
    7. Specific distance from the outside eating tables under your proposal to the 1st tee and to the practice putting green.

  4. Very well written Mr. Barreto and good luck with the process; this must be done so with integrity and respect to the community. The Country Club on the other hand is an entirely different story.

    As for Mr. Pete Money… why do you not expose your real name. I am Anthony Di Donato Operations Director of the Coral Gables Country Club. A proud husband and father of two children who attend the local St. Theresa Catholic school. We have done far more for the community than any past operator of this Country Club and intend to continue to do so. You are clearly the outsider hiding behind the anonymity of the internet.

    Please explain how we have screwed our clients? We have worked with every client and continue to do so. We postponed events while the city forced us closed, we froze gym memberships while the city demanded rent, losing millions during the pandemic. They wanted Rent and we paid every penny during a mandatory forced closure with $0 cash flow. Please tell me where you get your information from, and I invite every person from the community to see how we run this first rate facility.

    Thank you

  5. Wise Solution: Copy Walmart & Anderson Group/ Senor Frogs. To keep Store Managers happy they give them a small commission based on sales. This makes them feel like Partners in the enterprise. If the offer of host were to include 10% tip on sales billed to customers, Bob might say yes. Make the people who love Bob, support Bob without costing Mr Barreto. Also, offering the job of “greeter” is insulting. Mr Barreto needs to have more tact. I once used the term “meter maid” while talking to a male parking attendant & his face turned red with rage. Success sometimes goes to our heads & we hurt people with the things we say and do. Maitre d’ sounds nicer, much better than greeter!

  6. SOS Coral Gables! Socialism for golf courses? Socialism for Bob’s Burgers? This sounds like central government planning without concern for the residents and neighborhood. Bob’s should pay the back rent or leave. Just like every other business in Coral Gables has to. Why should other tax paying eating establishments in Coral Gables have to compete with City subsidized restaurant? If Bob’s gets subsidized for a bad business plan, where can I get this subsidization for my business, and my neighboring business could use some subsidization by the City also? This reeks of taxpayer money used for friends of The City gov’t. No Socialism for Coral Gables!

  7. Glad to see and thank you Rodney for your proposal to upgrade this deteriorating place which the city has neglected and not even taken care of it’s outside surrounding. I have photos I wish I could post the garden surrounding the building is a total neglect non existent. What ever is there is full of weeds, broken water pipe as you enter and the garden with people left overs…and across the street the American flag looks like it’s been through a war! Hope you can take care of the shameful reception and shop. I know that what you do changes for the better so don’t let the negativity override your positive vision. Bravo!
    is no garden

  8. Please define “make every effort” and “inexpensive” in your promises. This should be defined in the contract and fixed to only increase with inflation, if that is the intention.

    The way it is now is that Burger Bob’s has more of a diner feel and Liberty Cafe is more of a cafe culture, and this seems to be what residents like. Both are reasonably priced.

    Quite frankly, yes, the Pro Shop/Burber Bob’s building is a disgrace. The carpets and bathrooms were filthy for years. The City should not have allowed the building to deteriorate. OR.. someone asked me.. WAS THIS BY DESIGN??? Demolition by neglect so that Burger Bob’s could be ousted. A more proactive approach would have been to fix/restore things as they broke/deteriorated. Coral Gables has not been a good steward of many of its buildings – look at City Hall, the Gondola Building at The Biltmore, and so on. The City is quick to ticket residents–why don’t you ticket your own buildings that are run down?

    The biggest issue I see with the Barreto proposal is the density and intensity. Where are all the cars going to park? I remember when Greenway residents opposed and won when extensive outdoor patio seating was proposed for Liberty Cafe.

    And, querido “Pete Money,” residents are concerned that the RFP was designed (or rigged, if you will) to result in big changes and not the preservation of Burger Bob’s.

  9. I am glad to have read this article. I now have a different opinion for the future of BB’s than before. It would restore my faith in people if what is written above is an accurate description of the intent of the investor. What I have read prior to this has been a nightmare scenario not unlike those of the skyscrapers going up around us. I would rather go with keeping the faith.

  10. Rodney Barreto omitted to say, clearly and unequivocally, that his restaurant would not be larger and would not have more seating than Burger Bob’s.

    That’s a very, very big omission.

    Peter Money is a talking puppet, controlled by the bad people in City Hall.

  11. Great article Rodney! So glad you wrote this. People only pretend to want all the facts on these things. And as a fan of great food and good times, I for one hope Barreto Hospitality can make its vision for Burger Bob’s a reality.

  12. Mr. Barreto has proven to be an able operator and a person who delivers on what he promises. I am prepared to give him a chance.

    As I understand it, this is an open RFP process. If anyone else has better ideas and the money to back it up then step up. Like Mr. Barreto says, may the best proposal win.

    But please, let’s not start with the whole “let’s not change anything” crap. Burger Bob’s stinks and its completely underutilized.

    So is the entire Country Club property. I hope Mr. Barreto makes a play for the whole thing. The current operators are outsiders who have not hesitated to screw our community at every turn. They stiffed countless families and organizations during the pandemic by keeping deposits on events that couldn’t beheld because of Covid restrictions.

  13. Perhaps Mr. Maguire does not want charity nor humiliation as a greeter. It was not Mr. Maguire’s decision to unnecessarily close his restaurant for so long; it was the Mayor’s decision, so the city should have forgiven all the back rent.

  14. You miss the point. I have been to Redfish and love what you have done, I have volunteered for Superbowls, and attend FWC meetings. Thank you. BUT…

    We all love Bob’s Burgers and it is for Coral Gables staff and elected officials to outline in RFP form specific requirements for open bidding should a change to any Coral Gables (CG) owned property be required or desired. Private retail space – you can have at it, but CG owned properties should require vetted parameters. Being a pilar in the community is much appreciated, but should not give you an inside track to target and self scope proposals. Without impacting your ability to bid, you can share your thoughts and vision for any CG space with proper CG staff and elected officials as input to a municipality tracked project. Good luck.

  15. I am not sure I would start this process by calling people “lazy.”

    What Mr Barreto gets right:
    Bob’s needs investment and structural renewal. I am a frequent customer, as the restaurant is down the road from my house and on my way to St Theresa. I am not a golfer, but I like coming here for breakfast, and there is certainly room for improvement in the quality of the establishment and, frankly, the food.

    What Mr Barreto gets wrong:
    His proposal should be judged exclusively on its financial contribution to the City’s property and on the impact it has on the neighborhood. This is City property after all. His proposal is a significant modification from what is exists there today. We are going from a sleepy and quiet, small eatery, to a full restaurant, that has a much larger footprint. There should be public input on what will be there, and how it affects the neighborhood.

    Look, Mr Barreto is a savvy businessman, who is actively engaged in a marketing effort for this opportunity for a new expansion of his business. We really cannot begrudge him those actions. But let’s be clear, this is the execution part of a years long campaign that has had the support and possible complicity of the City Attorneys office and members of the Commission, to whom he is a big contributor. After all, the City Attorney hired Holland and Knight, arguably Florida’s largest and best legal firm, to undertake a simple eviction of an elderly man in the middle of a pandemic. Some would ask, why do that, if not to guarantee a good friend an outcome?

    I want an honest broker here. If Barreto is the right person for the job, great!!! However, this good old boy system has to end.

  16. Go Mr. Barreto! Please update Bob’s! Make it accessible to those with families- it certainly is not accessible to those with families today. I wish you all the best and congratulations on getting a platform here. Misinformation moves faster than one can imagine.

  17. We are shocked Bob didn’t want to be a greeter at your
    Out of place glass and vine type redo. BTW where are the customers going to park with the
    36 OUTSIDE tables planned. What a scam.

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