A few minutes later 66-year-old Rigoberto Samper takes the counter seat closest to the front door and orders a beer. La Argentina puts a plate with a cup of soup and some French fries on the counter in front of him, even though he didn't order it. After a few swigs of beer, Samper thanks her for the food but confesses that he already ate.
Samper, a retired general contractor from Hialeah who still runs a small real estate business, avoids cafeterias that insist he order food with his beer, and he denounces Miami's food requirement: "It's completely absurd. I always have two or three beers before I eat, even at home. On any part of the planet you go -- Europe or wherever -- you can go into a place, sit down, and have a beer." He recalls his own bar-restaurant, Matanzas, which he operated on Flagler Street in the 1960s, where serving liquor without food was not a problem. As he reminisces, his complimentary soup and fries get colder.
Figueredo Eraclio, who operates the Colonial Supermarket Cafeteria (and the Colonial Supermarket) on SW Second Street, knows the sting of a $500 beer-without-food citation, though he has not received one lately. He and his wife have owned the place, which is popular among Mexican and Central American construction workers, since moving to Miami from Los Angeles eleven years ago.
Sporting a baseball cap and apron, the 71-year-old stands behind his brown vinyl counter and recalls the day seven months ago when police did fine him. It was nothing as bad as the Castro government's confiscation of his parents' grocery store after the Cuban revolution, but oppressive nonetheless, he proclaims. A policeman arrived just before closing time, Eraclio relates, and found a customer with nothing in front of him on the counter but a nearly empty bottle of beer. "He had just eaten and was finishing his beer," Eraclio insists. "How would [the police] know if he had eaten or not? It's absurd!"
Eraclio paid the $500 fine after contesting it and losing. But since then he has made sure that at each seat along the counter, right next to the napkin holders, there are ham-and-cheese sandwiches, perpetually about to be eaten by a beer drinker but never consumed.
NET administrator Pablo Canton warns that he will not be fooled by any phony food orders, and says that cold cups of soup and stale, crumbling sandwiches will not ward off fines. The crackdown on cafeterias will continue, he vows: "We'll probably hit some again this weekend.