Morro Castle, one of Little Havana's oldest, best, and most beloved frita spots, will close its doors sometime in the coming months, says owner Alberto Villalobos, who sold the property last month.
But don't fret. Villalobos says he's looking to relocate the beloved cafeteria at 2500 NW Seventh St. farther west to a larger, more comfortable space that will better accommodate customers who've been coming to the place since it opened in 1962.
"There’s no air conditioning," Villalobos says. "I know it's uncomfortable and many people complain. I figured it was time and I got a decent offer."
The deal for the land closed on March 30. The buyer, Alejandro J. Farias, paid about $330,000, according to county property records. State corporation records show Farias is the manager of a number of health-care corporations.
The departure of Morro Castle is another sign that Little Havana is undergoing a transition similar to the one that took place when Villalobos' father, Alejandro Villalobos, opened the place after emigrating from Havana's Jaruco neighborhood to Miami in 1961.
"He was an entrepreneur, he was an actor, he was a radio personality, he had cafeterias in Cuba," Alberto Villalobos says of his father.
A year later, Little Havana's favorite spot for fritas ($2.99), batidos ($3.29), and fresh churros ($1.75 for five) opened on NW Seventh Street in a building that once housed a Dairy Queen. About a decade later, when Villalobos's brother managed to escape the island, he helped open a second Morro Castle at 1201 W. 44th Pl. in Hialeah that remains open today and is run by the younger Alberto's cousins.
The sadness in Villalobos' voice was obvious this week as he talked about selling the place where he grew up. His father began bringing him to work when he was four or five years old, and threw him a dollar or two every so often for helping out around the kitchen. He took over in the early 1990s and today still arrives every morning around 5 a.m. to grind the juicy pork-and-beef patties for their fritas and make fresh churro batter.
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"This neighborhood has always been in transition," Villalobos says. "They built the [Marlins] ballpark, but that hasn't worked for us."
Over the last two decades, Little Havana's Cuban population has slowly dwindled and been replaced by all stripes of Central Americans who've brought their pupusas, baleadas, and encurtido with them in search of a better life. In the meantime, Miami's Cuban population has moved to other parts of the county as members have grown more affluent.
Time will tell whether Morro Castle continues to peddle those perfect fritas in a new place. Food enthusiasts will be waiting for a taste.