Letters to the Editor

Letters from the issue of June 22, 2000

Donna MacDonald
Miami Beach Mayya's Demise and Other Flights of Fancy
To paraphrase Jen Karetnick in her June 8 "Dish" column: So just what is it about New Times's obsessive interest in Efrain Veiga's restaurant projects that is so overwhelmingly captivating? It seems that no matter how successful the restaurants he has opened in Miami have been, they have become the subject of vicious, sarcastic, and slanderous attacks by New Times. These articles never stopped at an objective, professional restaurant critical review. They always crossed the border into Enquireresque personal attacks.

I remember two such articles -- one about Yuca in Coral Gables, the second one when Yuca on Lincoln Road was opened. Never a recognition for the daring man who took such tremendous personal risks, who put Cuban cuisine on the map of fine dining, who had a vision that contributed to Miami's modern renaissance, and nurtured and launched unknown chefs who today are nationally praised. So now one of these restaurants has closed and New Times is, so to speak, ready to dance on its grave, just as any self-respecting failure-monger would do.

Naturally no educated reader would trust the ramblings of a paper that is so sloppy or does not allocate enough research time to determine the correct spelling of its principal target's name. For all interested parties, Ms. Karetnick was talking about Efrain Veiga not about Ephrain Vega as spelled. One mistake per word. At that rate how believable can the rest of the article be?

I suspect Ms. Karetnick relied on all kinds of dubious sources or used her fictional skills, otherwise she would have had better and more complete information for the reasons Efrain Veiga and Billy Bean decided to close Mayya at this time. At one point she quotes a "bitter insider" who sent an e-mail complaining about favoritism toward the gay scene. How can New Times stoop so low in the 21st Century, in Miami, in the current progressive atmosphere of acceptance and understanding to put any credence in such rubbish and, moreover, to publish it?

How can Ms. Karetnick even suggest that Mr. Bean's interviews given to national media had a hidden agenda -- to get the patrons in? This was too serious a matter, too private and too painful for anyone to exploit. With her insensitivity Ms. Karetnick tried to cheapen Mr. Bean's integrity, to hurt and to offend. In this regard she has handsomely succeeded. But to me it sounds like homophobia big time. In her article she is making a stew of all the little and unreliable bits of information she has squeezed out of little rats and pathetic failures who need to assign blame to others for their incompetence.

And if she really wanted to hear the truth from an insider, why not ask Mr. Veiga or Mr. Bean? Or why not ask me? I am insider enough to know what's going on but independent enough not to twist reality. I have been Yuca's and Mayya's accountant. Quite a few restaurants in Miami and Fort Lauderdale have been my clients, and I could have given her sounder reasons than the unfounded speculation and assumptions she made.

Mayya's closing was a business decision made by professionals. Yes, there were several errors of judgment. For one, Guillermo Tellez never should have been retained as Mayya's chef. Yes, he was a protégé of Charlie Trotter, but Trotter's is a much smaller operation than Mayya intended to be. Mr. Tellez did not have the organizational skills, the knowledge, and the focus to coordinate the operations of a restaurant of Mayya's size. He was unable to plan, order, and monitor the inventory. There was no talk of cutting back on the quality of ingredients, as Ms. Karetnick claimed, but there were plenty of requests to Mr. Tellez not to order foolishly, not to use five dishwashers for twenty patrons. If I were to reveal the ratios of food to sales or of payroll to sales, you would see they were way off the industry standard. This does not mean Guillermo Tellez is not a very talented chef. It just means he operates well in smaller establishments.

The idea of sample-size portions was Mr. Tellez's idea. Messrs. Veiga and Bean, relying on Mr. Tellez's reputation, allowed him to make such decisions until they backfired. The restaurant's management decided to stop relying on the tantrums of a prima donna. That's when the honeymoon ended. To be a great chef means doing more than just supervising the preparation of food.

As far as Mr. Bean's managerial and organizational skills are concerned, since my background is in Fortune 100 corporate America, I wish to inform you that athletes in team sports and people with a background in the military are the most desirable for senior management positions because of their extraordinary managerial abilities and because they are great team players. If Ms. Karetnick had taken the trouble to find out more about Mr. Bean, she would have found that he is no exception, and that in addition to his extraordinary personal courage, there is much more to him as a true professional.

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