Pinecrest

Bakery can sell cafecito again after striking truce with Starbucks, South Miami shopping center

A Cuban bakery that lost the first round of a coffee war with Starbucks in the courts has won it by taking it online. Friday, Pinecrest Bakery declared victory by serving Cuban cafecito.

The bakery, located in the same South Miami shopping center as a Starbucks, was prohibited by the lease it signed from selling anything but American-style drip coffee.

“Who can have a pastelito without a cafecito? Or a tostada without a cafe con leche?” said co-owner Gladys Valdes. “One can’t be without the other.”

On Saturday, the bakery will celebrate by giving away free cafecito shots from 8 a.m. to noon.

The bakery had started an online social media campaign to get its coffee rights back, targeting Starbucks. Posts on Facebook were shared by the thousands, telling patrons: “No Coffee? Tell Starbucks.” Hundreds of one-star reviews were left on Starbucks’ page.

“Our tradition had been tampered with. With those voices we were able to take this to the next step,” Efrain Valdes said.

In 2013, Gladys and Efrain Valdes, who owned six bakeries in South Florida, wanted to open another in the shopping center on Dixie Highway. They signed a lease that said their coffee sales couldn’t exceed 10 percent of their gross sales because Starbucks had exclusive coffee rights in the shopping center.

Months later, the landlord asked Valdes and her husband to sign a lease amendment prohibiting them from selling coffee altogether. The only coffee they would be able to sell is drip coffee — American coffee in a pot.

“It was either that or close down,” Efrain Valdes said. “We chose to stay and fight.”

In June 2014, the Valdeses went to court and lost.

“There was nothing we could do at that point,” Efrain Valdes said.

Shortly after the court battle, the shopping center was sold.

“At that point, we saw the opportunity to sell our cafecito again, so we did and it went well,” Gladys Valdes said.

The business was booming again — until Tuesday when Starbucks attorneys threatened to file suit.

The bakery was forced to get rid of all its coffee machines. Business declined immediately by more than 25 percent, the Valdeses said.

Enraged, customers took it to social media, putting pressure on Starbucks by posting hundreds of negative reviews.

“Corporate bullying at it’s finest,” said Lupita Urbina on Starbucks’ Facebook page. “Cuban Coffee is and always will be a staple in not only Cuban culture, but Miami’s intercultural community as well. It’s not even on your menu, so what do you care?”

Some Starbucks customers fired back.

“Try coming up with reasonable solutions before you start misleading your customers into thinking that this is something that the baristas at Starbucks have any fault in,” said Vanessa Valdes in a five-star review.

Days later, the current landlord and a Starbucks representative proposed reverting back to the original lease with the 10 percent clause.

“Starbucks has been committed to being a good neighbor for nearly 20 years at our 6603 South Dixie Highway location in Miami, serving as a gathering place for the entire community,” said a Starbucks spokesperson in an email. “We’re thankful this situation has been resolved and an agreement was reached that is beneficial for all parties.

Although the online battlefront was key in this war, the credibility of consumer reviews on sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor is called into question when they are based on factors other than the reviewer’s experience there.

Kevin Carter, a spokesman for TripAdvisor.com, told the Miami Herald that the reviews carry tremendous weight. He said 80 percent of its users “read between six and 12 online reviews before actually making a decision on where to go.”

“It’s very important that reviews and opinions are accurate of the actual experience whether you’re a tourist headed to a destination or exploring your hometown,” Carter said.

Meanwhile, on location, applause filled the room and smiles spread across faces as bakery workers reinstalled the espresso machine.

Mayra Ortega of Homestead drank a cup of American coffee with her pastelito outside the bakery, unaware of the news.

“I’m sipping it and it’s good but I miss my espresso,” she said. “I had no idea! I’m going back in and getting the real thing. I need that kick only my cortadito can give.”

“Cuban coffee to us is as important as drinking water,” Efrain Valdes said. “It’s part of our DNA, it’s part of our genetics. … [When] you eat your pastelito with a cafecito, it’s a perfect combination.”

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan

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