Yuca, a Cuban restaurant that has called Lincoln Road home for 20 years, may be evicted as it faces a court fight against its landlords.
The restaurant’s lease is up at the end of April. But owner Janet Suarez wants Yuca to stay in its current digs at 501 Lincoln Road, where it pays a monthly rent of less than $100 per square foot, three times under the market rate.
The landlords, brothers Israel and Fred Berens, say developers have offered them more than $40 million to sell the property in Miami Beach’s outdoor pedestrian mall, where rents are skyrocketing as major national and international retailers replace local stores.
Last fall, Suarez sued the Berens in civil court, saying they had gone back on an oral agreement to extend the restaurant’s lease on its current favorable terms for another five years.
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Suarez, who called Israel Berens a “father figure” in court documents, said she invested $500,000 to renovate the restaurant on the understanding that her rent wouldn’t get jacked up.
In a counter-suit, the Berens said the oral agreement was fiction and that Yuca had violated the terms of its lease by failing to pay $392,000 in federal payroll taxes.
“They’re manufacturing this agreement so they can stay on the premises and hold up the sale,” said Andrew Hall, an attorney for the Berens. “There’s not a single scrap of paper, email or document that refers to it.”
On Thursday, a judge declined to issue a summary judgment against Suarez and Yuca, meaning the case will go to a jury trial in August.
Robert Zarco, Suarez’s lawyer, called that a “significant” victory.
“This is a very dangerous case to let a jury decide,” Zarco said. “It’s a David versus Goliath case where you have a small tenant who makes her livelihood from her restaurant going up against wealthy landlords protecting their own selfish interests.”