A famous Miami restaurant is 50 years old

MIAMI – It’s a place to get some strong Cuban “cafeto” – and maybe a glimpse of a celebrity or two.

Her clients included Beyoncé and Jay-Z, as well as quite a few US presidents: George W. Bush made a surprise visit for breakfast, Bill Clinton had a festive meal there, and Donald Trump made an unexpected visit to the bakery in 2020.

“Everyone who campaigns always comes from Versailles and has that picture in Ventanita (small window) drinking their Cuban coffee,” said Nicole Fals, 39, whose grandfather opened Versailles, a restaurant that charted the growth and history of the dynamic Cuban-American community in Miami. .

This month Versailles celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. It was opened in 1971 by Philip Valls Sr., who fled Cuba in 1960 after Castro’s communist revolution.

Over the decades, the frontage of Versailles has become a place where huge crowds gather during protests and rallies – and a place to tap into the pulse of Cuban American society. He supported the latest gathering of protesters in Cuba during the historic demonstrations that took place in July.

Demonstrators support protests in Cuba on November 15 in front of the Versailles Cuban restaurant in Miami.Wilfredo Lee profile / AP

Despite its rich history, Versailles is still the culinary home of many ordinary Cuban Americans who established their lives in Florida.

“I love going because people always talk about Cuba and I feel at home there, like a fish in the water,” said Rosetta Gonzalez, a 68-year-old Miami resident who came from Cuba in 1999.

Every time someone Gonzalez knows comes to visit from Cuba, she takes them to the restaurant. “People in Cuba have heard of Versailles, so it’s a point of reference. It shows them the spirit of Miami,” she said.

Miguel Suarez with a replica menu from 1971 before dining with his wife, Yolanda, at Versailles in Miami on November 10.Lynne Sladky Profile / AP

The interior of Versailles was designed by Pitbull’s uncle – yes, the famous rapper – who is a Cuban American. The restaurant’s name comes from dining rooms decorated with mirrors and chandeliers, such as the Hall of Mirrors in the Palais in France.

“We used to run around in this place,” said Nicole Fals, who remembers the restaurant as a playground for her and her sisters. “There are a lot of mirrors. It’s like a fun house. We’d run to the cafeteria and get candy from the ladies.”

During an interview on a rainy but crowded Friday afternoon, Waltz recalled the restaurant’s early years.

“It was smaller than it is now. It consisted of a ventanita, a sandwich table and some tables.” And Valls helps run the business with her father, Philip Valls Jr., and other relatives.

Versailles has been remodeled several times and there are now approximately 400 people.Eva Marie Ozkategwi/AFP – Getty Images file

Her grandfather Philip Sr., 88, still goes from time to time. The success of an immigrant family, Valls owns several Cuban restaurants, among them La Carreta, located down the street. Grandfather began to do odd jobs in Miami, including washing dishes in restaurants. He then began importing espresso machines, helping supermarkets and other businesses set up pick-up windows, a new concept in Miami as Cubans began settling in the area.

His granddaughter said that Versailles was the first restaurant with Fantanita. The concept is now a staple in the city: Every day, a crowd outside the service window is sipping hot coffee and Cuban coffee and feasting on guava pastries, a staple of Cuban and Caribbean treats.

In the past fifty years, Versailles has been remodeled and expanded several times; There are currently approximately 400 people.

Philippe Valls Jr., owner of the Palace of Versailles with his daughter Nicole. The restaurant was the first to promote the Ventanita window, or window service, which is now a fixture in Miami.Lynne Sladky Profile / AP

Planning date

Parades outside the restaurant have long reflected the city’s Cuban-American political and cultural history, whose growing numbers and economic influence have paved the way for Miami to become a destination for many Latin Americans—as well as a growing international hub.

In 1999, thousands of Cuban Americans came out in front of Versailles to protest the US government’s decision in an international custody battle over Elian Gonzalez, a 5-year-old boy who was rescued from the ocean after his mother drowned while fleeing Cuba. The little boy was brought back to Cuba by order of his father.

Alexandra Veloch, president and publisher of the Miami Herald Media Co. , handing out a special edition of The Miami Herald in front of Versailles on November 26, 2016.Wilfredo Lee profile / AP

But the most notable event in Valls’ memory was the death of Fidel Castro in 2016. Years ago, the media began reaching out to the restaurant to secure a place outside, knowing that it would be an important gathering place when Castro died. Valls kept a file in her car with a floor plan of Versailles and surrounding parking lots that included designated places for news outlets, information about who had access to the roof and where the security guards were.

“I remember getting that call the Friday after Thanksgiving. I drove here, and ended up staying all night,” Waltz said. “I remember on Saturday when I went up on the roof of Versailles and just looked down and you couldn’t see anything but people.”

“It was a surreal moment for me. It was a moment that a lot of people had been waiting for and that is where they came to celebrate,” she said. This is like my second home, so it was an honor.”

For politicians, a stop at Versailles during the campaign is a must. The tradition began with Bob Graham, a Democrat, in 1977. As a candidate for governor, he held various one-day jobs. One of them worked in the bus service and served food at Versailles. Since then the campaign has not stopped in the restaurant. (Graham won).

Former Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Trump all stopped at Versailles, as well as presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney and John McCain. Visits were not always planned.

President George W. Bush greets café staff and workers after breakfast with business leaders at Versailles in Miami on July 31, 2006.John van Beekom/The Miami Herald via Getty Images

I was in the office across the street. By the time they called me and I ran over they were already gone,” Valls said of Trump’s 2020 visit. “He ordered croquetas and pastilletus and told the girls $100.”

on her website, Versailles calls itself “the most famous Cuban restaurant in the world”.

“I meet people I know and we talk about Cuba and we remember the old times,” said one of the old shepherds, Osorio Pérez González, 74, a Miami resident who came to the United States in 1980.

Valls said, “There is no such thing as Versailles, especially for Cubans.”

“This is kind of from scratch, the center of the Cuban American community,” she said. “When anything happens, that’s where everyone gathers.”

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