Miami-Dade County

After a car smashes through his Miami restaurant, the owner finds happiness

Boards cover the part of La Pantagonia that Sonia San Juan’s Mercdes crashed through Saturday.
Boards cover the part of La Pantagonia that Sonia San Juan’s Mercdes crashed through Saturday.

The day after Carlos Castiglia saw a Mercedes-Benz smash through his passion and livelihood, he greeted people as if his Miami restaurant remained open and whole instead of closed with a boarded-up hole.

The owner of La Patagonia popped out the right front door, greeting potential customers with a handshake, a welcome and a smile of happy diligence. Indicating the rubble and carnage in front of what had been the left front door, Castiglia explained to two men how Sonia San Juan’s Mercedes rumbled deep into his dining room Saturday evening.

But Castiglia did so without rancor.

“I’m in the service industry,” he said, laughing. “This is the only way to do things.”

How San Juan’s Mercedes came from the condominium parking lot across the street to take up the entire east dining area at 4802 Seventh St. remains a mystery.

“The lady that was sitting there told me, ‘I saw what happened. Your tire was broken.’ The tire exploded and that’s what made me lose control,” a shaken but uninjured San Juan told Herald news partner CBS4. “Because I didn’t have problems with the brakes.”

A check of Miami-Dade Traffic Court records shows three tickets in the last 10 years for San Juan, 71, two of which were dismissed. The lone conviction was in 2013 for failing to obey a stop sign.

Saturday, her Mercedes didn’t hop the concrete base of the picture window. It took part of the base out. And inside, it crashed through all manner of pipes.

As Castiglia told CBS4, this happened at 5:30 p.m., a quiet time before Saturday dinner rush. There were a couple of minor injuries to workers. Had it been a couple of hours later with a full restaurant, he said, the results might have been tragic.

“Thank God, nothing happened,” Castiglia told the Miami Herald on Sunday. “The rest is all twisted metal. You can replace that. Human life, you can’t replace.”

Castiglia has been in the food service industry for 27 years, he said. He opened La Pantagonia Argentine Steakhouse 16 years ago. He’s proud that as a neighborhood establishment, the business has survived normal restaurant mortality rates and the economic crash.

And it’ll survive Saturday evening’s crash, Castiglia said.

“I don’t know when we’ll be open,” he said. “As soon as we can, whether that’s tomorrow, in two days, in a week. We have to. There’s not just my family and my business partner’s family. We have 10 workers, so 10 families.”

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal