Pizza Rustica, other Lincoln Road restaurants face sidewalk permit suspensions

Pizza Rustica on Lincoln Road
Pizza Rustica on Lincoln Road

More than a dozen Lincoln Road restaurants’ owners and representatives are crying foul over a recent city of Miami Beach crackdown on unpermitted outdoor tables and chairs during Halloween.

In early December, Miami Beach officials notified the 13 alleged violators that the city would be revoking their sidewalk cafe permits for 20 days this month because they had illegally placed more tables and chairs than they are allowed in the public right of way.

However, the businesses appealed the city’s actions to Special Magistrate MaryAnne Lukacs, who on Wednesday sided with five of the owners, told another five she needed more time to make a decision, granted continuances to two operators, and upheld the suspension against one restaurant, Pizza Rustica at 667 Lincoln Road.

After Lukacs ruled against him, Pizza Rustica’s owner Joseph Piroso complained city officials were unfairly targeting Lincoln Road establishments that have suffered a downturn in sales and customers for more than six months. Piroso said business is down because less visitors came to South Beach when the neighborhood was declared a Zika virus zone over the summer and when Hurricane Matthew threatened to hit Florida’s east coast in late October.

“What the city is doing is totally anti-business,” Piroso said. “All the restaurants are suffering.”

Alexander Tachmes, a Shutts & Bowen partner representing Graziano Sbroggio, owner of Segafredo l’Originale at 1040 Lincoln Road, also criticized the city for going after his client.

“It’s not reasonable to take these severe actions against an owner who has been part of Miami Beach’s renaissance and who employs hundreds of people,” Tachmes told The Real Deal. “I understand the city wants to make an example on Lincoln Road. But this is a pretty extreme reaction.”

During the four-hour special magistrate session, several Miami Beach officials, including code compliance administrator Manny Vilar, explained that the city had notified Lincoln Road restaurant operators prior to October 31, one of the busiest nights of the year for the popular outdoor promenade, that any violations of their sidewalk cafe permits would result in 20-day suspensions. However, the 12 owners and their representatives all said they were caught off guard when they received violation notices last month.

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Segafredo was one of the restaurants that received a continuance after Tachmes successfully argued that he has the right to question City Manager Jimmy Morales under oath. During Segafredo’s hearing, the city’s Lincoln Road property manager Adrian Morales (no relation) said it was the city manager who witnessed Segafredo employees adding more outdoor tables and chairs than the restaurant is allowed on Halloween night.

Tachmes also claimed the city manager does not have the authority to impose the 20-day suspensions. “He has to follow due process,” Tachmes said. “He can’t get up and write a memo stating he has the right to suspend your permit for 20 days.”

In addition to Segafredo, Lukacs granted a continuance to the owners of Yuca at 501 Lincoln Road because their attorney could not be present for the hearing. Lukacs reversed the suspensions against Deco Drive Cigars and Hookah Lounge at 414 Lincoln Road, the Crabster Hookah Lounge at 433 Lincoln Road, Barolo Cucina Italiana at 626 Lincoln Road, Puntino-Dal Toro Bistro at 719 Lincoln Road, and Finnegan’s Road at 942 Lincoln Road.

Lukacs said she would make a decision on five other Lincoln Road eateries within a week and notify the owners via mail. Those restaurants are Cantinetta at 607 Lincoln Road, Aura at 613 Lincoln Road, Sebilla at 833 Lincoln Road, Groovy’s at 938 Lincoln Road and Quattro at 1014 Lincoln Road.

The special magistrate chided Lincoln Road property manager Morales for not being prepared to back up his assertions that he witnessed restaurant operators violating their sidewalk cafe permits on October 31. “If you can’t tell me specifically how many chairs and tables were there, how do you prove that expansion [of the permitted zone]?” she said. “In order to bring a case, you have to have proof.”

She instructed Morales to provide her with his notes from October 31 documenting the violations he witnessed in order to make her rulings. In the case against Pizza Rustica, a code compliance officer provided a detailed account and photographs documenting how pizzeria employees had moved tables and chairs from inside the restaurant to an outdoor area in front of two stores next door.

Lukacs also noted that Piroso and his wife admitted that they had placed the tables and chairs outside their permitted zone.

“The fact is that you put [the tables and chairs] in front of properties that were not yours and that you did not have authority to do so,” Lukacs said.