A couple of days ago, Miami.com reported the sad news that Miami's Best Pizza would close its doors after 44 years in business. Located on South Dixie Highway just north of Sunset Place, the pizzeria is a Miami landmark.
Best known for its laid-back vibe, cheerful owners, and hand-tossed pizza, Miami's Best is uncertain whether it will re-open elsewhere. "Both owners love to work here. It's their life, and whatever decision they make is going to be best for them and the pizza shop," says Nick Butler, one of the managers at Miami's Best and son of co-owner Charles Butler.
See also: Miami's Ten Best Pizzas
Nick has the pizzeria to thank for his existence -- his mom and dad met there. She walked in for a pie, became an employee, and the rest is history. Although Nick's mom moved on to a job at Baptist Health, Miami's Best has been a family affair since its inception.
Owners Ray Papich and Charles Butler have been in business since the '90s, when former University of Miami football player "Big" Al Papich handed down the pizzeria to his son. For the first 20 years, it was a Little Caesar's franchise.
I remember getting dropped off at Sunset Place when I was in middle school and walking over for a Hawaiian pizza. It was my Saturday-night ritual, much like it must be for middle-schoolers today.
With its lease ending in November, Miami's Best is looking at a mid-November shuttering. "It's very sad," Nick says. "As far as that story goes, we had a great relationship with our landlord, but he passed a couple of years ago."
For decades, the owners never had a problem and always paid the rent on time. Yet when the property was handed over to the landlord's family, they sent over an inquiry a year and half before the lease was up asking the pizzeria's owners the highest amount they'd be willing to pay. "We didn't answer because it was a year and half in advance, and the next thing we heard from them recently was: 'We rented the place. Can you match it?'"
As far as reopening, Nick wants to remain optimistic and say yes, but nothing is definitive. "I hear a different story every day from the owners -- and one of them is my father. One day they are gung ho, and the next day it's uncertain."
The news has hit loyal customers and regulars hard. "It's total devastation. We've got customers who've been coming here their entire lives from when they were a baby. I've been coming here since I was a baby. It's sad not having a clear future."
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One thing is clear: Papich and Butler want to stay on South Dixie Highway and cater to the same customers who have kept the business thriving for the past 40 years. With commercial property values rising in Miami, it won't be easy finding a locale to match what they have now. "There are only so many places out there. It would be very sad for us not to move, but it's a realistic possibility that we don't open our doors."
Many locals hope that scenario doesn't happen, but in preparation for the possibility that Miami's Best Pizza never tosses dough again, stop by and pay Papich and the Butlers a visit. It's likely they'll do some type of big celebration, but nothing has been planned yet.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha