Choices Café Closes Upper Eastside Location

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Choices Café, Miami's onetime vegan chain, has closed its Upper Eastside location.

The NE 79th Street spot had been open about four years, but the building's recent owner decided to sell, and because of declining sales, the Choices team opted to shut the doors.

At one point, the company operated five locations throughout South Florida; now the Coconut Grove café is the only one that remains. Unfortunately, the expansion overextended them, says Choices president Lori Zito. Choices cofounder Alex Cuevas has consistently worked a full-time job to help support the restaurants, but with declining sales at 79th Street, he couldn't continue to funnel money.

"At five locations, we had upwards of 90 team members," Zito says. "That was a lot of people to motivate and manage, and, most importantly, to ensure that all five locations were being run competently and consistently. We tried everything — from opening our financial books to our team and sharing our profit with them, to holding team meetings to help connect people with our mission and our values. But the reality is that we grew too fast and we were stretched too thin to effectively oversee the operations of five locations. Even when you have a good team in place, and even when you think you are doing everything you can to motivate and inspire them, there is really no replacement for having the founders/owners present at the stores day in and day out."

Sales began to dip across all the stores, and they weren't running as well as the owners would have liked, Zito says. So one café after another was forced to close.

The Coconut Grove location will continue to operate, however, and Zito encourages Miamians to visit. "We have a lovely front patio and a huge indoor seating area, complete with bar seating and even cozy floor cushion seating. We would love to see this location become a community space for all things that align with our mission. We are happy to offer our space for events, workshops, and lectures that reflect our values. So far, we have a few free lectures on our calendar in 2018, and we're planning to hold more Paint & Lunch classes with local vegan artist Robbie Nuwanda."

Other suggestions for events are welcome, Zito adds.

"The Grove location will continue to remain the site where we produce all our vegan meats, sauces, soups, and baked goods — we do this right out front for our guests to see. Our current menu will remain, but we also are working some exciting new menu additions that we'll launch in January, and we plan to be open in the evenings starting in the New Year."

Despite the closures and downsizing of Choices' efforts, Zito and Cuevas remain optimistic and committed to their mission: spreading kindness and compassion. "We have seen consciousness rise in Miami over the years, and we are thrilled that so many more vegan restaurants are popping up," Zito says. "Please support them! If we want to keep small, ethical businesses in our community then we need to patronize them. At our inception, we had big plans to open 100 Choices locations across the country, as we wanted to make a huge impact for the animals. But all the trials and tribulations of this restaurant business have taught us that perhaps we need to focus on just being one really big drop in the ocean of change rather than trying to be a tidal wave. We realize we can still create change with one location and hope that what we do creates a ripple effect."

Choices Café Coconut Grove. 2895 McFarlane Rd., Miami; 305-569-4300; choicescafe.com.

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