After 21 years in Coral Gables, Ortanique on the Mile has closed its doors for good, citing COVID-19 as the reason.
In a July 10 open letter posted on Facebook that called the restaurant's guests "part of the Ortanique family," partners Cindy Hutson and Delius Shirley noted, "We knew the tables you liked, the servers you requested, drinks and wine you loved. When your orders came in the kitchen, we knew exactly how you wanted your food cooked."
In a phone call with New Times, Cindy Hutson said it was on July 1 — Ortanique's 21st anniversary — that she and Shirley made the decision to close the restaurant.
"Since COVID shut down dining, we looked at the numbers and it just doesn't make sense anymore. I guess it came to a point where we feel it was too much stress to keep Ortanique open. It's time to move on."
The chef says the restaurant adapted during the first shutdown, and that at the end of May, when restaurants were given the green light to reopen their dining rooms, business really picked up.
"People started coming in to dine. A lot of our older crowd weren't coming, but their kids were," Hutson says. "Then, when they started talking about the spike, business got awful."
Hutson says that Ortanique isn't the only Coral Gables business affected by the coronavirus. "It's weird when you walk down the streets in Coral Gables. On Giralda Avenue, there's no one."
She says she and Shirley are generally OK with their decision — until they get a call or see a post on social media from a former employee or patron. "Every time I read one of those posts I start to cry again. So many really great chefs have come through our doors. I have so much to be thankful for."
When Ortanique opened back in July of 1999, the Caribbean-inspired fine-dining concept was a bit of a hard sell in tony Coral Gables. But the vibrant restaurant proved to be a favorite with locals, who came for creamy pumpkin soup and spicy jerk pork.
Hutson says she's still the culinary ambassador for the Miami Cancer Institute, though right now the bulk of that work transpires via meetings on Zoom. She and Shirley also operate a restaurant at the Cliff Hotel in Negril, Jamaica. The pair will consult on the menu at Cerveceria La Tropical, set to open in Wynwood this fall. (Hutson is also available for private catering and can be contacted at cindyhutsoncuisine.com.)
And for now, there's still work to be done at Ortanique. Hutson and her family are packing up two decades' worth of equipment and memories. "What do I do with all the stories and awards that I have framed on my walls? Do I put them in some box somewhere or do I close my eyes and throw them all away?" she asks.
Surplus food will be donated, some pots and pans will be kept, and plants will be given away. As for the extensive wine collection housed in the colorful little restaurant that served Hutson's own "cuisine of the sun"? That won't go to waste, Hutson promises.
"We've been drinking away."
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