Miami is a city that has its fair share of crime, political hijinks, and sordid behavior. After all, it is a big city.
But, generally, the restaurant world's biggest scandals involve a fight between chefs or possibly a waiter scamming tips.
This year, the Miami food scene saw a lot of action -- from sex scandals to bitter lawsuits, to tragic deaths. Thankfully, there were some high points to the year, including the announcement of a giant mega-restaurant and one chef's great adventures.
Read on to find out the ten most shocking news stories that rocked the Miami food scene in 2014.
10. New York Times Columnist Melissa Clark Impersonator Writes for Miami Food Blog
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but impersonation will only get the New York Times' legal counsel to seek you out. According to Miami Food Review's Sergio Calzado, a woman purporting to be cookbook author and New York Times' columnist Melissa Clark offered to write a few posts for the blog on family-friendly South Florida restaurants. The problem? That writer actually wasn't Clark. Calzado removed the post in question promptly and has sent Clark any leads he has in trying to figure out the imposter.
For her part, Clark told Miami New Times in an email that she never heard of Calzado or his website, saying, "It's all completely out of the blue." She added, "This is scary,"
9. World's Largest Nobu to Open in Miami Beach
Miami Beach will join the list of jet-set cities like Las Vegas and Riyadh when Nobu Hotel at Eden Roc Miami Beach opens in 2015. The hotel-within-a-hotel will be the second in the United States under the Nobu Hospitality flag, with the Nobu Hotel at Caesars Palace in Vegas opening in February 2013. In addition to features like a separate entrance and in-room tea service, the property will also boast the world's largest Nobu Restaurant & Bar Lounge. Hopefully that means that we'll never have to wait long for a table.
8. Young Chef Antaun Teasley Killed at Mansion
Antaun Teasley, dubbed "Young Chef" for his young spirit and enthusiasm for life and cooking, had a bright future ahead of him. The Pennsylvania Culinary School graduate worked at some of the best restaurants in the United States before starting his own consulting firm that would land him lucrative culinary gigs cooking for some of the most prominent names in music and sports like Timbaland, Kenyon Martin, and Miami Heat guard Norris Cole. Young Chef also spent countless hours giving back to the Miami community, including hosting an annual Thanksgiving lunch at Camillus House.
Then, in June, an evening out at South Beach nightclub Mansion turned deadly for the promising chef. According to Miami Beach Police Department Sgt. Bobby Hernandez, "a fight broke out in the VIP section and when the dust settled we found the victim with a gunshot wound to the upper chest."
That victim was chef Teasley, who was rushed to Ryder Trauma Center. Efforts to save him were futile and he died a few hours earlier. According to the Miami Herald, Teasley's twin brother, Antwan Teasley, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Mansion that states it, "boasts an 'extensive history' of violent crime and questioning how a weapon could have gotten into the popular South Beach dance club."
7. Wine Educator Barry Alberts Killed in Car Accident
For decades, Barry Alberts was an integral part of the Miami food and beverage scene. As owner of consulting and event company, Berries to Wine Inc., Alberts was the host of the longest-running wine tasting series in Miami and curated pairings for some of South Florida's best restaurants. Alberts was returning home from an event around 11 p.m. on April 4 when his car crashed into a barrier wall not far from his Coconut Grove home. No other cars were involved, but Alberts was killed.
Word spread on Alberts' Facebook page of his passing, with thousands of people posting pictures and remembrances, noting not only special times, but special wines they had shared with the affable wine educator.
6. Nina Compton's Big Year
On Top Chef New Orleans, Nina Compton represented Miami well. The Saint Lucia native consistently won challenge after challenge, making it to the finals, only to have Nicholas Elmi of Philadelphia win the whole darn season. Only after we learned that Compton had won the coveted "fan favorite" award, did we stop throwing things at our television. Compton returned to her role as chef de cuisine at Scarpetta, telling Short Order back in March 2014, "I'm taking it one day at a time, enjoying all the people who come to see me. For a long-term goal, I would definitely open a restaurant if something does open up for me, but for right now I'm good where I am. I'm really happy and just enjoying the moment."
In June, Compton suddenly announced her departure from Scarpetta, tweeting, "It's been a hell of a run. Love you @conantnyc @Fontainebleau and @ScarpettaMiami thank you for everything xo."
Since then, Compton's had quite a year. The beautiful toque hosted a Top Chef cruise to Alaska, traveled the world, and hosted a pop-up at Cafe Mistral in November. Here's hoping that Compton's wanderlust is sated and that 2015 will see her hanging her shingle on the Miami restaurant she is rumored to be opening.
5. Seasalt & Pepper Ordered to Change its Name
Celebrity-studded Seasalt and Pepper has had its share of drama in its short year-long existence. The restaurant, which was catapulted to fame after mega-watt starts like Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Steven Tyler were spotted enjoying the food and the view, had executive chef Alfredo Alvarez along with his sous and pastry chefs walk out, citing, "a hostile work environment, mismanagement by restaurant's current experienced owners, and quality standards he does not want to be associated with," in a statement. The restaurant's partners were also embroiled in a legal battle, which was recently settled for an undisclosed amount of money and we thought the restaurant would regroup with a new terrace addition.
Then, Seasalt and Pepper was hit with an injunction, filed by Naples, Florida restaurant, Sea Salt, which was was granted a trademark for the use of "Sea Salt" in "services for providing food and drink; temporary accommodations" in March 2013. Sea Salt has been using the name since 2008. A judge filed in favor of the Gulf Coast restaurant, stating that Seasalt and Pepper has until January 1, 2015 to change its name. After January 1, 2015, if the trademarked name is used, "Defendant Seasalt and Pepper, or its representatives, shall pay Nane Jan its legal expenses in successfully pursuing a contempt and/or other enforcement proceedings."
Henceforth, Seasalt and Pepper will be known as Seaspice Brasserie & Lounge, starting January 1, 2015.
4. Novecento's Hector Rolotti Dies Saving a Man in India
Hector Rolotti, the founder and owner of the Novecento chain of restaurants, died this past spring while at a spiritual retreat in India with his wife, Mora, and a group of about 30 people. The 47-year-old business man jumped into the Ganges to rescue a member of the group who fell into the raging river, along with five other men. The other men managed to pull out their friend and made it to safety, but Rolotti was swept away. His body was found six days later. The Novocento Group issued a statement that said, "We will keep in our hearts all memories of his infinite generosity, his deep sense of friendship and concern for all who were lucky enough to have been around him. He was so passionate in helping others through numerous humanitarian causes."
3. Iconic Restaurants Close
Miami, like all major cities, is cyclical. People move here for business or the climate, and move away. Restaurants and businesses open and close. But, sometimes, a place is so iconic or beloved that the closing takes on a bigger meaning.
This year, Miami was hit particularly hard with a string of restaurants that have been around for at least a decade closing.
In January, Van Dyke Cafe closed after 20 years of al fresco dining and people watching on Lincoln Road. To add insult to injury, high priced yoga-wear company Lululemon opened in its place.
In April, David's Cafe closed after serving cafecitos since 1977 -- longer than most Miami Beach residents have been alive. Thankfully, David's Cafe plans on reopening on Alton Road.
In July, Jerry's Famous Deli closed after serving pastrami sandwiches on a round the clock basis for over a dozen years.
Jumbo's, the iconic Liberty City shrimp shack, opened in 1955 with then-owner Isadore Flam running the restaurant. Son Bobby took over the reigns in 1966 and desegregated the restaurant in 1968, hiring black employees. The restaurant survived race riots, and hurricanes, but couldn't survive a shrinking business. The land was sold to a developer who plans on building affordable housing in its place and Jumbo's closed in July.
For over 100 years Tobacco Road existed in one form or another...speakeasy, brothel, blues joint, bakery, gay club, gangster hideout. Having the oldest liquor license in Miami, the "Road" also saw some of the greatest musicians play on its stages. But, a century can put wear and tear on a building and Tobacco Road finally closed in October, to be torn down nearly immediately. A new Tobacco Road is being planned, along with a Tobacco Road bar on the Norwegian Escape cruise ship.
2. Bartender Louis Salgar Killed in His Home
On June 23, the close-knit Miami bar family was rocked when Louis Salgar was fatally shot inside his Shorecrest home. A few days later, 51 year-old Raul Reinosa was arrested, with police believing Reinosa "randomly selected Salgar's home at 8551 NE Eighth Court to rob it because he needed food and wanted drugs".
Though the murder was a senseless act of violence, Salgar's sister, Nicole, is seeking to give Salgar's short life meaning by launching a scholarship fund in his name, raising money through events and t-shirt sales. Nicole told Short Order, "This is my way to keep him alive. I want to give back to this community as much as I can, as he would have done."
1. Versailles Sex Scandal
Little Havana institution Versailles was involved in several unseemly allegations in 2014.
In March, a lawsuit was filed in Miami-Dade Civil Court claiming the restaurant fired two employees for reporting illegal goings-on at the iconic eatery, including hiring undocumented workers, sexual-orientation harassment, and wage and hour violations. The lawsuit, which named Versailles and its owner, Felipe A. Valls Sr., as defendants, was filed on behalf of former Versailles general manager Rigoberto Hernandez and Adriam Mena, a former waiter there. The suit lists numerous charges the two men claim they witnessed during their time at the restaurant, including a claim that the restaurant's human resources officer and co-owner, Janet Valls, said that "she could make the undocumented workers 'disappear' if they were ever investigated by immigration authorities."
But the real shocker came in September when it was discovered a lawsuit was filed on August 29 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court that claimed that Felipe Valls Sr. and a former employee "began to have an 'extremely sordid' sexual relationship that "included having Ms. Ayala engage in sexual relations with Mr. Valls, requesting that Ms. Ayala engage in sexual relationships with another female Valls Group employees at the Miami Princess hotel, photographing and videotaping Ms. Ayala naked and in sexually explicit poses, and engaging in sexual relations with Ms. Ayala in a secret room at the back of Mr. Valls' private office in the restaurant that contained a bed and bathroom and was littered with sex toys and sex paraphernalia."
Lawyers for Versailles, Victor Diaz, and Rey Velazquez of Global Miami JV, issued a statement in response to the lawsuit that said, in part, "Not only is this lawsuit baseless and devoid of any merit, it is a blatant attempt by a former disgruntled employee to use the court system to improperly extract money from an employer through salacious, ludicrous and irrelevant allegations."
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