MIAMI – What originally started as a small, limited seating cafe 50 years ago has grown into the world’s most famous Cuban restaurant.
In the early ’60s, Cuban businessman Felipe Valls arrived in Miami and began selling restaurant equipment which led him to open a coffee stand known today as the famous ‘ventanita,’ or little window.
That’s where people hang out grab their cafecito, a pastelito, or a croqueta and talk about pretty much anything. Now there are over 1,000 of these ventanitas in Miami and it’s all thanks to Felipe Valls, a man with a vision.
That vision quickly morphed into an actual Cuban restaurant, the iconic Versailles in the heart of Little Havana.
“The designer did all these French mirrors and etched with acid and blades. It had a very peculiar French look to it. So, he just said let’s put Versailles, it’s more like a cafe Versailles kind of thing, and that’s how it opened,” said Felipe Valls Jr., owner of Versailles Restaurant.
They first opened their doors in 1971, since then they’ve expanded but the feel and decor remain the same. Felipe Valls Jr. now leading most of the operations has been by his father’s side every step of the way.
“Did you ever imagine that it would be what it is today? Known as the world’s most well-known Cuban restaurant?’ asked CBS 4’s Marybel Rodriguez.
“No, it really is that it’s singular. It’s the only one,” replied Valls.
The one and only for sure. Throughout the years the Valls have had the honor of welcoming not only tourists and locals alike, but also Hollywood A-listers, top politicians, and nearly a dozen U.S. presidents.
“They’ve all been very memorable. Obviously when the presidents come, when Bush came and Clinton came, it was a tremendous honor and very interesting how people react. President Clinton had a buffet of Cuban food in the mirrored room. Bush came various times and we gave him a guayabera,” said Valls Jr.
If those mirrors could talk, they’d have quite the story to tell. As for the younger Valls, they have their own stories to share.
“When I was little, it was more of like there is this big place with a bunch of mirrors where I could run around and sneak into the bakery and take some candy and stuff,” said Nicole Valls, daughter.
And as they celebrate their 50th anniversary, Nicole, one of Felipe Valls Jr.’s 6 daughters, who also works in the family business and says they are grateful for Versailles but more importantly to the city for giving it life.
“I always say Versailles isn’t ours, it belongs to the city of Miami. It’s bigger than us. It’s part of the Cuban American community here in Miami,” said Nicole.
The Valls have created an empire. Not only do they own Versailles, they own La Carreta, Casa Juancho, Casa Cuba, Mesa Mar, La Palma and several businesses at Miami International Airport.
On Wednesday, they will be having a huge celebration for their 50th anniversary.