Sitting at the counter of iconic Miami Beach restaurant Puerto Sagua several hours after a grease fire raged in its kitchen early Friday, co-owner David Rivero wore a haggard expression on his face.
“I’m numb,” the manager said Friday afternoon, talking over the patter of rain leaking through the hole in the kitchen ceiling where firefighters broke through to extinguish the blaze. Normally at this hour on a weekend, he’d be trying to talk over a bustling dining room feasting on Cuban cuisine. “I got the call at 4 a.m., and I’ve been here ever since.”
One of a few South Beach mom-and-pop establishments that is both a tourist draw and popular mainstay for locals, Puerto Sagua’s kitchen was badly damaged in a fire where no one was hurt. The landmark eatery at 700 Collins Ave. will be closed until repairs are made, which Rivero hopes is within a month.
He didn’t have an estimate for the damage, and he said the cause of the fire is unknown, but the blaze worsened when it reached the grease hood.
A blue tarp draped over the opening in the kitchen’s roof mostly kept Friday’s rains out. In one of the dining rooms, an exquisite painting capturing a moment at a busy intersection in Havana — a woman selling fruit and flowers out of a cart, a crowded bus and a child holding a Mickey Mouse balloon — remained untouched. It has hung there since 1979. It will be taken down and preserved during repairs.
Two other similar art pieces were luckily already in storage due to the recently completed construction of accessible bathroom.
The Rivero family has run Puerto Sagua since 1968. Many of the 45 employees who work at the family-run restaurant have been there for years.
“Some people work here until they die,” said server Janeth Alvarado, a 10-year veteran. Alvarado and many others came by Friday to help clean up.
Meanwhile, regulars and newcomers were disappointed to find the restaurant closed.
“I was looking forward to trying Cuban food,” said Leanne Robinson, 23, who came from The Netherlands to vacation with her boyfriend in Florida for a month. “We walked by yesterday, and it looked busy, so we decided to come back today.”