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.