A product of three generations of northern Italian restaurateurs, Maurizio Farinelli came to the United States in 1989 with the dream of opening his own eatery. First he toiled as a busboy to raise enough money for English classes. Having learned the language, he worked his way up through the ranks, spending several years managing various restaurants in Coral Gables. Finally, in January of this year, he and his brother Massimilliano, a chef, opened Trattoria Sole on Sunset Drive in South Miami, along with partner Augustin Sanchez. Local critics have praised the 49-seat restaurant's tasty, moderately priced fare and its intimate ambiance. Farinelli has even entertained a few famous clients: There was the time awhile back when Matt Dillon stopped by for a meal. And last week Thomas Kramer came in.
The actor's visit, Farinelli recalls, was enjoyable, if uneventful. The same cannot be said of his encounter with the South Beach real estate mogul.
Farinelli was working the cash register a week ago Monday when Kramer arrived with a party of seven. It was half an hour before closing, and only four other parties were still lingering over dinner, including Farinelli's wife and a few of her relatives. The party was seated promptly, their orders for drinks and appetizers taken. At that point, witnesses would later recall, Kramer took out a cigar and asked whether it was all right to smoke it.
Smoking is not permitted at Trattoria Sole. A no-smoking sticker is posted at the entrance, and two small signs to that same effect are mounted on the walls. The logic behind the prohibition is simple. "This is a small restaurant -- you can't divide people from smoking and no-smoking," explains the owner, who adds that he realizes it's a delicate issue. He'll occasionally make an exception if it's late at night and there's no one else in the restaurant.
But that was not the case on the night of November 3. Initially, when a waitress told Kramer he couldn't smoke, he complied by putting away the cigar. But twenty minutes later he took it out again and lit it, whereupon Farinelli himself approached the table, only to be greeted with a torrent of insults. "He used every word you can imagine, talking about my mother and things like that," recounts the soft-spoken restaurateur, whose English is flavored with a light Italian accent. "He said, 'Call the fucking police. I won't pay my check.'"
Though Farinelli did not at first recognize the celebrity in his midst, one of his waitresses did, and when things began to get a tad boisterous at the table near the back of the restaurant, she pointed out Kramer to her boss. "I knew of his reputation as someone who provokes people," says Maria Luisa Landriani, who has worked for Farinelli since the restaurant opened. By this time, the waitress adds, the couple seated nearest Kramer's party had asked to be moved, and two other tables had hastily paid their checks and left without ordering coffee.
Farinelli asked Kramer and his party to leave, ordered his waiters to remove their plates, and went to open the front door in order to hasten the process. When the restaurant owner turned around, he found himself staring at the German developer. Or, more precisely, at the coal end of his lit cigar.
The 37-year-old Farinelli is not a big man; he stands about five feet nine. Kramer, who is four years older, is well over six feet tall, and solidly built. According to Landriani, who watched in horror as the scene unfolded, when Farinelli put up his hands to push away the cigar, Kramer punched him in the face.
"Maurizio fell onto a table and broke it with his body, and a picture frame fell off the wall," the waitress relates.
Farinelli, who characterizes the fracas as "like a Wild West scene," does not remember hitting the table or its smashing beneath him. He recalls only landing on the floor with blood dribbling from his lip. By this time, he and Landriani say, waiters and busboys had poured from the kitchen and were attempting to pull Kramer off. The room had just been set for the following day's luncheon, and plates, silverware, and glasses went flying. After two waiters managed to force Kramer out the door, they and Farinelli held it as the angry tycoon attempted to push his way back inside. Finally, one of Kramer's companions led him away.
In an incident report filed by South Miami police officers who were called to the scene, Farinelli and his staffers recounted the events that led up to the alleged assault and described the melee that ensued. "Kramer hit Farinelli in the face, cutting his lip, and proceeded to knock him down to the floor," reads the report. "Farinelli was attempting to defend himself while Kramer kept hitting him, and at the same time, breaking a table, glassware, and dishes inside the restaurant."
Farinelli says that two members of Kramer's party returned fifteen minutes after the incident and paid the check. "They said they had just met him that evening and they had suggested my place because it was so nice, and they were very sorry," the restaurateur recalls.
Metro-Dade Fire-Rescue personnel examined Farinelli at the scene and advised him that if he felt the damage was more serious than a fat lip and a few bruises, he ought to go to the hospital for x-rays. He declined.
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Farinelli did, however, tell police that he intended to press charges. Two days later he and his lawyer Jonathan Colby went to the Dade State Attorney's Office and lodged a complaint against Kramer for battery, a misdemeanor. "There is an investigation under way, and it will take at least a couple of weeks," confirms Michael Soltis, a paralegal at the prosecutor's office. According to Colby, Farinelli also plans to file a civil suit against Kramer for personal injury and property damages.
Repeated calls to Kramer's Portofino Realty company were not returned.
While Portofino has been at the forefront of the controversial drive to bring high-density development to the southern tip of Miami Beach -- much of which Kramer owns -- his skyscrapers aren't the only facet of the German investor's life to have garnered widespread negative attention. In February 1994 in Zurich, Kramer was arrested and spent the night in jail after fighting with a long-time friend who had accused him of sexually assaulting his wife; a civil suit brought by the woman is pending. A month earlier in Miami Beach, police were called to the scene of a fight between Kramer and another man at a Washington Avenue nightclub. That summer police went to a South Beach restaurant after Kramer allegedly threw a glass of wine in the face of a homeless man loitering near his table. Also that year a 22-year-old Scottish nanny accused Kramer of drugging and raping her but subsequently declined to press charges.
"If this were Italy, he would already be dead," scowls Maria Luisa Landriani. "You cannot continue to provoke people like this and live in the same town."
Farinelli himself takes a more subdued view. "I am worried that people will think this is the type of restaurant where people get into fights," the restaurant owner says ruefully. "This is a family restaurant.