Eating Disorder

Richard Peacock turned a historic Coconut Grove house into an "adventure" restaurant, predicting the place would be around for years. He just didn't say how many.

When Richard Peacock proposed building Grove Calloway's restaurant on McFarlane Road in 1988, he labeled the existing historic Peacock House on the site of his envisioned eatery "an old dump" and "the armpit of the Grove." It was a termite-infested eyesore of no value to anyone, argued Peacock, a descendant of the pioneering Grove clan of the same name. In its place, he wanted to build an "adventure" restaurant and bar that would remind patrons of Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with lookout tower, gun turrets, a wrecked jeep occupied by a bloodied fake soldier, and a crashed World War I biplane. Ponds, waterfalls, boulders, and ammunition crates would round out the decor of Calloway's, named for a mythical village founder.

City of Miami planners thought little of the idea at the time, pointing out that the pine edifice was a Grove landmark that should be maintained, even if it wasn't included on national, state, or local historic registers, and even if it was a decrepit hovel. Peacock agreed to tone down his concept and create something more in keeping with the Grove while incorporating the existing structure into the new restaurant. When the restaurant opened in June 1990, however, it was abundantly clear that very little, if any, of the original building remained. In its place was something that only vaguely resembled the plans the city planning section had okayed.

When the construction crews got finished, only the roof, the attic, and some framework from the old house were left in an otherwise brand-new structure. No one at the city building section caught the changes until it was too late; the plans were retroactively approved just to make things legal. But no one had any right to complain, Peacock argued at the time - he had taken an ugly old eyesore and created a fine addition to the village's growing list of restaurants. Grove Calloway's would be here for years to come, he predicted, offering a taste of old Grove atmosphere.

Two years and several mutations later, the fenced-off site is reminiscent of the old Grove, but probably not the one Peacock envisioned. In fact, in many ways it has actually come to resemble the old Peacock House - shuttered, empty, ignored by the weekend crowds. Now, of course, the historic building is long gone. "What they've done with that site is the biggest joke," says Tucker Gibbs, a member of the Cocoanut Grove Village Council and a long-time Grove activist. "But then, nobody said intelligence reigns supreme when it comes to the Grove. It's typical of these bloodsuckers. They're like a herd of restaurant locusts, sucking the blood out of the Grove and then moving on."

Peacock responds to the criticism by saying that he wouldn't put too much stock in its source. "If Tucker Gibbs is so smart, why isn't he rich?" snaps the erstwhile restaurateur.

And besides, adds Peacock, if the restaurant is temporarily between culinary concepts, it's not his fault.

After it opened, Grove Calloway's immediately developed a following among yuppies and college kids, drawn by live bands, free happy-hour spreads, and beer by the pitcher. According to Peacock, the restaurant grossed three million dollars in its first year. It did so well, says the owner, that he figured it was time to sell out. So in September 1991, he sold the restaurant (but not the land) for $500,000.

Within two months, the buyer, Bob Rinaolo, owner of the Caliente Cab Company, a chain of Mexican restaurants in New York, had transformed Grove Calloway's into Tyrannosaurus Mex. Despite the immediate proximity of Senor Frogs, a well-established Mexican restaurant, the new venture offered a Mexican menu. By the spring of this year, however, Tyrannosaurus Mex was a dead dinosaur. In its place Rinaolo created Buster's BBQ, which endured for less than a month.

Peacock says the changes to Mexican and then barbecue were made without his approval, even though terms of the sale dictated that he was to be consulted about any such alterations. He received a deposit of $250,000 and three $26,000 monthly installments on the balance of the $500,000 purchase price, Peacock says, but the installments stopped after that. He says he went to court, foreclosed on the business, and had Rinaolo evicted last month. "Business was booming and he goes and completely changes the concept of the place," Peacock complains. "Who would think of putting a Mexican restaurant next door to another Mexican restaurant that's been there for more than ten years? It was just stupid, and that's why it failed. It was a failure from the beginning."

Although he's now trying to sell the entire 22,000-square-foot corner property at McFarlane Road and Grand Avenue (asking price: six million dollars), Peacock is at work on a new plan to renovate the Calloway's site by this fall. The new incarnation is to be called Mako's Bay Club, and would feature a huge seafood buffet and live entertainment. "It's going to be one of the hottest things in the Grove," Peacock predicts.

What would be hotter, civic leaders say, is a historic structure reminiscent of the old Grove, regardless of the vagaries of changing tenants. "This shows that there is a crying need to designate some areas and some structures as historic and protect them," argues Mary Weber, a member of the village council and president of the Coconut Grove Civic Club. "We all live in this pretty little village and then we have to go into town and look at things like that. To end up with something like that is ridiculous. Worse, it's appalling. It's just not what people who live here want.

 
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