Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop, a cozy Cuban breakfast and lunch spot bordering the Wynwood and Midtown neighborhoods, has reopened after having been shuttered for several months due to a fire.
Enriqueta’s has been a bustling spot since Jose Luis Pla took ownership of the restaurant in 2001. When he took over the business, which had been in the neighborhood for decades, the restaurant was already established but only made sandwiches. He added traditional Cuban dishes to the menu and business picked up. “The reaction was fantastic. The response was almost immediate,” Pla said.
Enriqueta’s has been acclaimed for many of its items, including its pan con bistec and their pan con tortilla. It is often cited as one of the best examples in Miami of affordable Cuban cuisine, something that has become scarcer as neighborhoods begin to gentrify.
The restaurant has loyal fans, many of whom go for lunch or a cafecito almost daily. During the peak lunch rush, the restaurant is packed with hungry locals looking for a quick Cuban meal. But that rush came a halt when Pla received a call on April 10 from his alarm company saying that the smoke alarm had gone off after the store closed in the afternoon. Firefighters arrived at the scene to put out an electrical fire that broke out under one of the coffeemakers caused by a short circuit.
Although the fire damage was not that extensive, there was still other damage that had to be repaired. All of the windows of the restaurant were closed and covered with shutters during the fire; the lack of ventilation meant smoke could not escape, leading to extensive smoke damage throughout the restaurant. There was also a fair amount of water damage, an unfortunate side effect of the firefighters’ efforts to stop the fire.
Pla had hoped to reopen the restaurant within a month but remained closed until late August to remodel. Pla says that the renovation took a significant toll emotionally and financially on himself, his family and the restaurant’s employees.
“[We were] devastated. We really never expected this to take so long. With everybody without work, it was terrible,” said Leidy Pla, the restaurant owner’s daughter and an employee since 2002.
The reason why the restaurant took so long to reopen was largely due to the fact that the team had taken the time to replace all of the electrical work; the lengthy process was necessary because the outdated electrical work was what caused the fire. With the new electrical work, the building is less likely to have a fire similar to the one that took place in April.
In addition to the electrical work, the restaurant received new tables, chairs, paint, flooring and kitchen equipment. Before the fire, Pla had intended to remodel the space and possibly include a seating area on the second floor (which now is used for storage) so the closing provided the opportunity to make the changes.
Despite the fact the restaurant made no official announcement when it reopened, word of mouth and social media spread the message, and soon the restaurant had returned to the same busy scene that appeared just before their closure.
One of those who was there for the reopening was JennyLee Molina, who is the chief creative officer at the public relations firm JLPR in Midtown. Molina provided some pro bono PR work for Enriqueta’s as a way to support a local business that she personally loved.
“There’s a lot of great businesses in the area, but there’s less and less family-owned businesses because they can no longer afford to be in the area. ... It’s nice to have a small family-owned business that’s still striving.”
The neighborhood that Enriqueta’s calls home has changed significantly over the years; the restaurant straddles the border of Midtown and Wynwood, two neighborhoods that transformed from underdeveloped industrial areas to upscale and trendy locales that have become synonymous with Miami’s emerging arts scene.
Despite the area’s gentrification and the restaurant’s extensive renovations, Enriqueta’s largely retains much of what has made the restaurant a neighborhood favorite. The menu items are generously portioned and modestly priced as they have always been; almost no item is over $10; and it's impossible not to leave full.
But it’s the service is what keeps customers coming back and it's those repeat customers that keep the Enriqueta's staff loving their jobs.
“You enjoy your time here,” said Leidy Pla. “You get to know everyone. It’s like a family.”