Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Molotov cocktails hurled into Miami Gardens cafeteria

Ana Mejia, a family member of the owner, looks over damage after beer bottles thrown into Shorty's Cafeteria erupted in flames destroying the Peruvian/Cuban restaurant at 4114 NW 167th St., Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014.
Ana Mejia, a family member of the owner, looks over damage after beer bottles thrown into Shorty's Cafeteria erupted in flames destroying the Peruvian/Cuban restaurant at 4114 NW 167th St., Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

An argument and a scuffle may have led to a fiery Molotov cocktail attack on a Peruvian-Cuban restaurant in Miami Gardens.

No one was injured in Wednesday’s incident, which sent 15 Miami-Dade Fire Rescue units to the scene. But Shorty’s Cafeteria was gutted — and the family who owns the business is trying to figure out what happened and pick up the pieces.

“We weren’t expecting this,” said Michelle Feliciano, whose daughter, Tatiana Lopez, owns the restaurant. “We just started selling food. It was just picking up.”

The attack on the family-run restaurant, which opened in July, charred walls, sent glass flying and shattered dreams.

Two glass bottles, once holding with Budweiser beer, were filled with a flammable liquid and tossed through the front window around 3 a.m., authorities said. The resulting blaze destroyed the interior of the business at 4114 NW 167th St., said Miami-Dade firefighter Alton Drummond.

“It was a Molotov cocktail,” Drummond confirmed.

The fire inflicted smoke damage to adjoining businesses in the strip mall, Drummond said, and resulted in a “total loss” of the restaurant. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue is investigating the incident, but confirmed it was arson.

Feliciano said the attack may have been a response to a scuffle between restaurant employees and a group of men on Tuesday night.

“It seems there was some activity going on outside,” Feliciano said.

At around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feliciano’s husband — who works at the business with the Lopez’s grandfather and aunt — started to clean up the restaurant when he noticed a group of men outside.

After he told them to leave the property, Feliciano said, an argument and scuffle followed.

She said the four or five men eventually left.

Then, around 3 a.m., the family got a call that the alarm at the restaurant had gone off and that police had noticed smoke.

Feliciano said that footage from a security camera at a nearby gas station shows a white van driving up to the business with a man getting out and tossing a bottle into the window of the restaurant, which is not affiliated with the better-known Shorty’s Barbecue.

Police told Feliciano that the “video was good” and that they were on their way to a suspect’s residence.

“They went to go talk to someone” but couldn’t tell me who, Feliciano said.

Miami Gardens police is actively investigating the case, but did not disclose the status of the investigation.

Her daughter, the owner of the restaurant, just had a baby a few days ago, Feliciano said, which is why her stepfather had stepped in to help at the restaurant.

While the family never had problems with customers or others before Wednesday’s incident, the shopping center has had a negative history for many years, Feliciano said.

Other parts of the strip mall see police show up three times a week to deal with people loitering, Feliciano said.

But the family cleaned up their little spot, fixed it up and turned it into a family-friendly restaurant selling Cuban and Peruvian food and inviting locals to come watch a game and bring their children, Feliciano said.

Now Lopez and her family don’t know where to turn.

Friends and customers told Feliciano that they would meet at the burned restaurant Friday morning to clean up and see if it could be restored.

But for now it is unclear if they will be able to rebuild it.

“[My daughter] didn’t have insurance, she just opened up,” Feliciano said, adding that Lopez, who had invested in the business, couldn’t afford the premium.

Feliciano said Lopez called her when she found out about the fire:

“Now what do I do?“ she told her mom.

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