Food News

Panther Coffee and Ms. Cheezious Open Post-Irma Despite the Odds

Photo by Laine Doss
Panther Coffee
Brian Mullins, is swamped. It's 3 p.m. the day after Hurricane Irma, and his popular fast casual restaurant, Ms. Cheezious, is filled with people trying to get a hot meal and a cold beer.

The restaurateur is doing double duty — bussing tables and helping in the kitchen, as two employees manage the throngs of people waiting to order. A customer requests a patty melt and Jessica, who works the counter, says they're all out. "Try the short rib sandwich. It's my favorite." The kitchen is so backed up it needs a 15-minute break to keep up, as Jessica explains to people on line, taking their orders for beer and soda first so they can at least have a cold beverage - possibly the first one in days.

Two City of Miami officers come in to order six pulled pork sandwiches for their brethren. Mullins takes their order, explaining the wait. They say they'll return when the food is ready. "It's crazy out there." They return just as the kitchen catches up. As the officer tries to pay, Mullins makes a small hand gesture — lunch on the house. The officer pulls out his wallet and stuffs a few twenties into the tip jar on the counter.

The mood is jovial in the restaurant, as people enjoy their food and drink in air-conditioned comfort. One man sitting at the counter orders three PBR's.

Mullins has opened despite suffering damage to his home. He pulls out his cell phone and shows pictures of trees felled. "That used to be my fence," he says as he points to a jumble of white wood. "This is the only location open, but we had power so I decided to feed people."

How long with the restaurant be open? . "Until we run out of bread. Or beer," says Jessica.

One of the few places where the lights are on in Wynwood is Panther Coffee. Panther's Leticia Pollock, in Michigan at her in-laws, says by phone that it was a group decision to open this location (for now the only Panther open). "We closed Wednesday at 1 p.m. to give everyone time to prepare for the hurricane. After so many days, some of our baristas had cabin fever. We texted, and decided that if there was power our manager would open the store. Wynwood is the only location with power."

Iris Cegarra and Lee Ifans are sipping iced lattes along with a little black and white dog with a pink harness. "That's Coco," says Cegarra. "She's not ours She belongs to a neighbor who evacuated. She asked if we could watch Coco since we were staying."

Ifans says they learned of Panther being open through a massive group chat. From across the pond, Ifans has been in Miami a little over six years. Irma was his first hurricane. "I didn't know what to expect, but we had power." As he sips his coffee, he says he's grateful for finding Panther open. "I just wish Wynwood Brewing was open, as well."

In the corner, B Bistro's Henry Hane is having a cup of Joe. "Monday is my day off, so going to Panther is our ritual for coffee and an almond croissant. It's just lucky they're open." Have plans on doing cleanup and prep at his restaurant on Tuesday in anticipation of reopening Wednesday. There's one problem, though. "I haven't been able to get in touch with purveyors. Right now, all I have in the refrigerator are vinaigrettes."