Yuca, the upscale nuevo latino restaurant that has been a Lincoln Road fixture for two decades, is facing eviction.
According to real estate website the Real Deal, the eatery's lease expires this Thursday, and property owner J. Berens & Sons Development Corp. wants them out in order to sell the building, located at 501 Lincoln Rd.
Both parties are fighting, with Yuca's owner, Janet Suarez, claiming they have a verbal agreement with their landlord to extend their lease for an additional five years under existing terms. Yuca Restaurant Corporation had already filed a complaint against he building's owners in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on October 8, 2014. The lawsuit is seeking actual and compensatory damages, along with lost profits, to be determined at trial.
The lawsuit states that Ms. Suarez invested about $500,000 in renovations to the restaurant space after getting assurances from property co-owner, Israel Berens that he would grant a lease extension to Ms. Suarez.
Robert Zarco, the attorney representing Yuca, says that before renovations were started, in late 2011, Suarez and Israel Berens, a partner in the building, entered into an oral agreement that if improvements were made to the restaurant, a lease extension at the same terms would be granted. The attorney says that the improvements, which included new fixtures, an upgraded sound system, and flooring, were made, with Mr. Berens visiting the restaurant frequently.
Then, in January 2014, Mr. Berens received an unsolicited offer on the building. He requested a meeting with Ms. Suarez and told her of the offer. As part of her lease, Ms. Suarez was given a right of first opportunity to purchase the property, good for 20 days, but according to the complaint, "given the recent developments with the recent purchase offer Defendant received, it had no intention of honoring the oral extension of the Second Lease and instead, requested that Yuca waive its Right of First Opportunity."
While there is no court date yet set for this lawsuit, time is running out on Yuca's lease, which is set to expire on April 30, 2015. Attorneys for J. Berens & Sons say there is no such lease extension deal and are expediting eviction proceedings. Adam Lamb of Hall, Lamb, and Hall told the Real Deal, “There is not a single document from 2011, 2012 or 2013, not a single email, no documented evidence whatsoever that even refers to a lease extension. They just made it up. Their whole case is ‘I have this oral lease extension based on two casual conversations when [my client] was in the restaurant.'”
Lamb added that as of Thursday, Yuca will be a "holdover tenant" and the landlord would then be legally entitled to double the monthly rent on the restaurant. An eviction trial is scheduled for August, and a separate trial concerning the lease has not been scheduled yet. A call to Mr. Lamb was not returned.
Yuca opened in 1989 in Coral Gables by Amancio V. Suarez, a pioneer of Radio Mambi. It was at Yuca that an up-and-coming chef named Douglas Rodriguez earned two James Beard nominations. The restaurant moved to South Beach in 1995. Suarez's health started failing in 2004, and Janet Suarez took over the restaurants in November 2004. Since then, the restaurant remains staple of Miami Beach. The upstairs lounge continues to be a happening venue for Latin music stars to try out new material and the downstairs restaurant remains one of the loveliest on Lincoln Road with the restaurant serving as a standby for politicians, celebrities, and locals who want to dine on Cuban cuisine in a beautiful setting.
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According to Zarco, "Yuca will remain at the current location for the foreseeable future. We intent to remain in the space until such time as a jury decides. We are going to pay the rent with a five percent increase."
Zarco, who stresses that "the restaurant is operating in a strong financial position", added that this is but one example of a trend of Lincoln Road landlords who are trying to get long-term independent businesses out of the pedestrian mall in order to make their buildings more attractive to lucrative buyers.