It was another night in paradise. Or so it seemed to the thousands of souls streaming up and down Española Way like spawning salmon on April 24, 2013. South Beach's busiest block teemed with techno music and tourists. Hostesses in skimpy skirts flashed flirtatious smiles beneath glowing streetlights. Waiters with Euro-mullets ground black pepper atop overpriced meals. And inebriated couples snapped shaky selfies on their cell phones: #perfection.
To Antonio Halabi, however, something wasn't right. Española Way wasn't just busy; it was bursting at the seams. Since opening his restaurant, Flame Caffe & Grill, almost two years earlier, he had complained repeatedly that his competitors were cheating: choking the narrow thoroughfare with illegal tables and chairs. Now it was happening again. He dialed code compliance and sent an angry email to city officials. Then he waited.
Minutes later, three men marched up to the restaurant -- but they weren't code compliance officers.