Andy Travaglia Spreads Autism Awareness at Lee & Marie's Cakery and Bar Crudo in SoBe

Andrea "Andy" Travaglia, owner of Lee & Marie's Cakery (Best Bakery 2013) and raw food restaurant Bar Crudo, spreads autism awareness by employing autistic adults.

"I developed the Lee & Marie's Cakery Co., a real estate company (Exclusive Miami Rentals), and Bar Crudo all with the mission to hire people with [autism]. I am using these companies as prototypes to educate and influence other businesses to hire people on the autism spectrum," the transplanted New Yorker says. She also wanted to offer South Pointe residents dining options beyond the usual tourist-driven eateries of South Beach.

Her years in New York helped shape her vision for South Pointe.

"I had the idea to start the bakery when I moved into the neighborhood and realized there was not a place to have fresh-baked goods and coffee within a 12-block radius. I grew up going to a neighborhood bakery in Greenwich Village on a daily basis with my family. It was the hot spot for everyone's daily routine and an integral part of our community. South of Fifth was slowly developing into a residential neighborhood but with few cafés and restaurants to hang out in. Most of the eating establishments were tourist-driven," Travaglia says. "I thought the bakery was a perfect venue for me to introduce my dream to hire people on the autism spectrum."

Short Order: Conceptually, Bar Crudo is completely divergent from Lee & Marie's Cakery. What inspired the concept?

Andrea Travaglia: We are located below a residential building, which limits us; we cannot have any stoves or vents. We serve ceviche, salads, carpaccio,  tartare, crostini, raw shellfish, and sashimi along with foods prepared sous vide. These are our creative solutions to not having a stove. I became familiar with this type of cuisine while traveling around the world to coastal communities. When we hired chef Reto von Weissenfluh, he was asked to come up with a menu serving only raw food. Luckily, he was up for the challenge.

What's your story?

I was born in 1956 and raised in downtown Manhattan by parents who were artists and part of the abstract expressionist movement in NYC. I spent my childhood in many restaurants and bars with my parents and their friends, who were writers, artists, musicians, and dancers. I was exposed to a bohemian lifestyle where food, wine, and camaraderie prevailed. My parents loved to cook and entertain, so we had lots of people over for dinner. I have an extensive background in dance and some theater. I did not go to college but worked for a large advertising agency in NYC in qualitative marketing, got married in '82, and became a single mom in '91. In 2008, I moved to Miami and started the real estate business; then came L&M's and Bar Crudo.

Can you tell us about the art on the walls at the restaurant?

The art in Bar Crudo are etchings and drawings my mom and dad created. They are both in their 80s and are still working in their studios on a regular basis. All the art work was hanging in my home in NYC and I decided to exhibit it in Bar Crudo because it helped me create a personal connection to the space.

Why did you move from New York to Miami?

I have been a New Yorker for most of my life and raised my children there as well. When my youngest went off to college, I had an empty nest and was ready to move on and try something new and different. I wanted to move to an area that had the diversity of NYC but more opportunities to start a new business as well as offer me better quality of life. I also liked the close proximity to the airports to fly easily between NY and Miami to visit my family.

You mentioned that Bar Crudo will employ adults with ASD, as does Lee & Marie's. Is there anything you're doing differently this time around?

When I opened L&M's, I was so excited that I hired my employees with ASD before I had the right team of managers and chefs in place. I learned that I needed to build a solid foundation and infrastructure first, and that takes time in the restaurant business.

What do you hope to accomplish with your latest endeavor, Bar Crudo?

I would like Bar Crudo to become the evening extension of Lee & Marie's. I would like it to be a place where people can eat and drink, relax, and meet new people in a casual setting with innovative and great-quality food along with friendly customer service. Bar Crudo is a place for customers to make a connection with someone with autism. I want people to experience something that is fun, delicious, special, and familial. Chef Reto has lots of experience but is also an artist and is creating new and different recipes all the time. The staff makes everyone feel welcome as if Bar Crudo is their home away from home. The introduction of employees with autism will add another positive dimension to Bar Crudo's unique personality.

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