Kris Wessel on Why Red Light Little River Closed

Red Light Little River is closed.

Read also:
- Kris Wessel: Florida Cookery at the James Royal Palm is Personal

The restaurant always seemed like dining at the small house party of a friend who cared more about making beautiful food than location, location, location.

Miami's Restaurant Power Rankings broke the story yesterday and Wessel followed up with a statement in which he noted "the restaurant that I built from an abandoned crack-prostitute dwelling on an undeveloped riverfront to a reputable 100-seat restaurant and bar, is not shuttering completely by choice."

Short Order spoke with Wessel, who told us that although the closing was announced yesterday, he has been working on trying to save the restaurant for the past three weeks. Wessel had put Red Light on hiatus so he could focus on opening Florida Cookery at the James Royal Palm Hotel on South Beach.

"I had no intention of giving up Red Light. Up until a few days ago, I was still fighting for it," he told us.

Wessel said that he originally signed a five-year lease with an additional five year renewal, but the hotel which he rents Red Light from, changed hands during his lease. "The new group didn't want to renew my lease option."

The restaurateur said he consulted with an attorney, who said that he could tie this up for months in court but the current landlord would probably counter by setting the new rent so high he would be priced out of the restaurant, anyway. The eviction by Motel Blu, says Wessel, was a maneuver to make him give up the fight. "At the end of the day, I don't have the resources to counter."

Wessel said that his biggest challenge in keeping Red Light Little River successful these past years was financial. "It was a struggle because I had no capital and no help. I opened Red Light in the recession and carrying it through the recession was work. It's always tough in the restaurant business, but most of my stories are about just getting by."

Wessel opened the eatery in 2008, first breaking ground on Lincoln Road in 1995 as a partner in Paninoteca then moving on to Liaison on Espanola Way and Elia in Bal Harbor before opening Red Light Little River in the then-sketchy MiMo district.

In an August, 2008 review, Lee Klein said Red Light consisted  of "great food prepared by a gifted chef at peerless prices -- either in a boisterous, fun-filled environment or by a serenely flowing river."

Wessel is devoting his time to the opening of Florida Cookery at the James Royal Palm hotel in South Beach. The restaurant will focus on traditional Florida cuisine, inspired by Wessel's family recipes. The restaurant was scheduled for a November 14 opening, but Wessel is waiting for the City of Miami Beach to complete the inspection process. Since the restaurant is tied in with the entire hotel property, Wessel has to wait for elevator inspections and other unrelated permits to be signed off on before he can open his doors.

"I can't even cook there, so I'm in a stalemate. I can't even test recipes," he said. "The second I get that Certificate of Occupancy, I'm opening my doors."

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss