Bongos Cuban Café closing; Estefans plan to open new restaurant near Arsht Center


As Bongos Cuban Café at the AmericanAirlines Arena prepares to close, Estefan Enterprises plans to build a new building — and open Estefan Kitchen — near the Arsht Center.

Entrepreneur and music producer Emilio Estefan said Wednesday he will not renew the lease for his restaurant Bongos Cuban Café, which has operated for the past 15 years at the AmericanAirlines Arena, and will open Estefan Kitchen in a building that he plans to erect less than a mile away in downtown Miami.

Construction of the new building will take a “couple of years,” Estefan estimated.

Estefan said the decision to remove his popular restaurant from the Miami Heat’s home is not due to an alleged increase in the rent, as has been reported by some websites.

“There was no conflict. I don’t know why the speculation [arose],” Estefan said. “We are not leaving because of a raise in rent, either. I always agreed with the rent. We did very well, we made money at the AmericanAirlines Arena, but there comes a time in which after renting an apartment, you wish to buy your own house.”

Estefan said his business relationship with the Heat will continue because he will keep three Bongos stands inside the arena.

Estefan said Wednesday he decided several months ago not to renew the full restaurant’s lease, which expires at the end of June, because he had already opted to begin construction of a new home for Estefan Kitchen on land he owns at Northeast First Avenue and 14th Street, behind the Miami-Dade School Board building.

In 2000, Estefan and his wife, Gloria, bought three adjoining lots adding up to a little more than 28,000 square feet in that area for $500,000 each, according to public records. In 2011, they acquired three additional lots on the same block for a total of $1.5 million. The transactions were done through corporations owned by the couple and close acquaintances.

The Miami Heat respected Estefan’s decision, according to the team’s president of business operations, Eric Woolworth.

“We have enjoyed our association with Bongos and the Estefans very much,” Woolworth said in a statement. “They have been great tenants and we wish them the best in their future projects. They will continue to be part of the Heat family.”

About the new building, Estefan said that, in addition to the new restaurant, he plans to include several floors of parking, a hotel and banquet halls, with access to a swimming pool on the roof for hosting receptions.

The project is in the permit-acquisition stage, and the height of the building has not been determined yet.

“We’re looking into the zoning issue to see how many floors we can build,” Estefan said. “Once we get the permits, we will begin construction.”

Estefan said his chain of Bongos restaurants includes locations in Hollywood, Miami Beach, Miami International Airport and Orlando, and that he is negotiating to open one in Las Vegas.

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