Chicken Kitchen Owner Buys Drug Lord's House

A month ago, Chicken Kitchen owner Christian de Berdouare stirred controversy by applying to demolish the North Bay Road home where he lives and where the Beatles were once famously photographed. Early this month, he made bigger real estate news: For nearly $10 million, he bought the coral-pink waterfront mansion once owned by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

"I'm an architect and designer in the closet. And I finally came out."

The 7,000-square-foot house was built in 1948 and owned by Escobar in the 1980s. It was seized by the U.S. government in 1987 and eventually acquired by Roger Schindler, an attorney, who owned it until the May 8 sale. The house, unoccupied since a fire damaged it a couple of years ago, is just a few blocks from de Berdouare's other home.

But the millionaire chicken entrepreneur also owns another property on North Bay Road just a mile to the south — making the Escobar house his third in the same neighborhood. So what's the deal?

Apparently, the white-haired fast-food prince really likes designing and building houses — and North Bay Road is his favorite place to do it.

"I just love the street," de Berdouare says. "We have the most beautiful views, and the sunsets are really spectacular."

De Berdouare, 57, was born in Sudan to Greek and French parents and raised in Ethiopia. As a young man, he lived in Europe and worked in commodities, eventually starting his own trading company in Paris. In 1984 he and his brother Alain invested in a small company called Chicken Kitchen in New York. There were three franchises, and de Berdouare later opened a few more, but the venture ultimately went bankrupt.

In 1989 de Berdouare and his first wife took the company to Miami; when the couple divorced, de Berdouare retained naming rights and eventually relaunched in 1995, opening a restaurant at Aventura Mall. With a business model emphasizing a fresh, healthful menu and strong customer service, the new Chicken Kitchen took off, expanding to two dozen franchises in South Florida and three in Houston.

The success, de Berdouare says, allowed him to finally pursue what he calls his real passion: building and designing houses.

"I'm an architect and designer in the closet," he says. "And I finally came out."

The place de Berdouare is building (not the one the Beatles visited, not the one Escobar owned, but the other one) is "going to be the most incredible house ever built in Miami Beach," he says. "The level of quality and overall design is way beyond anything that people have seen here... for many, many years."

Inspired by that project, de Berdouare went looking for another one and eventually settled on the home formerly owned by the drug czar, which wasn't listed publicly. "It does bother me," he says of the home's previous owner, "because I don't want to be associated with any negative energy. But on the other hand, I bring wonderful, positive energy."

De Berdouare has also personally designed a couple of Chicken Kitchen franchises, including the one on Arthur Godfrey Road in Miami Beach, and has significantly remodeled the home he currently lives in, which he said will not be demolished in the near future. While he himself is a huge Beatles fan, he's also not moved by critics' arguments that the home should be preserved. "I share their love and passion," he says, "but the issue is that those guys spent one day in the house." (It was actually two; the day after the photo shoot, the Beatles returned to visit.)

The businessman says he plans to knock down the pink house he just bought — he prefers not to even mention the notorious former owner's name — within the next few months. Once he finishes work on the others, he'll also get to building a new house there. De Berdouare emphasizes he's not a developer and isn't pursuing the projects for financial gain — all three of the properties are intended for his own use.

"I will enjoy living in every one of the houses," he says.

 
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