APRIL 28, 2014

You can’t claim to be an up-and-coming international city without a high-class waterfront restaurant, and last December everybody was as happy as a Miami City Commissioner finding a bag full of unmarked hundred dollar bills in his mailbox when the word went out that Sea Salt and Pepper opened their doors just in time to cater to the Art Basel crowd.

Finally, there was a place where high-maintenance folks could cruise up in their Rolls Royces or their multi-million dollar yachts and hang out enjoying delicious seafood along the bank of the river where some of those same folks had managed to become rich smuggling kilos of cocaine back in the day.

Unfortunately, the folks operating Sea Salt and Pepper were in such a hurry to open for business that they never secured a Certificate of Use, a Business Tax Receipt license(BTR), or completed a number of inspections required for them to acquire these licenses.

On December 9th, 4 days after they opened and following what would have been a routine fire inspection of their kitchen equipment, the restaurant was ordered to shut down by a City Fire Marshal when it was discovered that the owners had managed to bypass most of the requirements that a business in Miami needs to comply with in order to do business legally.

Being shut down did not sit well with the owners and I’m told they wasted little time in showing up at the MRC and reaching out to every bureaucrat and elected official in the City of Miami to intervene so that they could reopen.

By the next day they had gotten a 2 week Special Events Permit from the Film and Special Events Office - a copy which no longer exists in the city’s files, if it ever did - that allowed them to operate until December 31st, when they got a Temporary Certificate of Use (TCU) that allowed them to continue to operate until January 26, 2014.

Boats tied up at the seawall at Sea Salt and Pepper on a Sunday afternoon.

The problem wasn’t just that they didn’t have any paperwork allowing them to open the restaurant like they did, they also didn’t have a Business Tax Receipt License(BTR) for the parking lot across the street where the fanciest cars were being valet parked.

It should come as no surprise that neither Chief Orosa, or Chief Kemp responded to the above email. In Regaladoland enforcing the laws and ordinances only apply to those not in the Family and Friends Plan.


On January 26th, the day the Temporary Certificate of Use expired was the day the owners decided to hold their official Ribbon Cutting, and not only did Mayor Tomas Regalado show up, but so did City Manager Johnny Martinez, Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo and Acting Assistant City Manager/Pretend Deputy Chief of Police Luis Cabrera.

if you click on this link photos of the event, you will see that the fact that the ribbon cutting ceremony was happening while the restaurant was continuing to operate without city permits or licenses did not detract from the good time that was had by all. The 11th photo down in the photos of the event shows Luis Cabrera and Johnny Martinez at a table waiting for lunch to be served.

Having received a Special Events Permit from December 9th to December 30th, and a Temporary Certificate of Use from December 31st thru January 26th, neither of which was sufficient to obtain a BTR, I was curious in late March when I first started looking into all of this whether the owners had managed, after January 26th, to get any additional permits in an attempt to pretend that they were operating legally.

First I went to the NET office to see if they had gotten another Special Event Permit. Nope, the record shows that no permit had been issued after January 26th.

Then I went to the Building Department to see whether they had acquired another Temporary Certificate of Use. They told me no, and provided me with a print out of the outstanding inspections that had not been completed as of March 18, 2014.







My document search indicated that after January 26th, no new Special Events Permits or Temporary Certificates of Use had been issued, and the restaurant continued to operate without  a BTR.

Even though the restaurant more or less operated without city permits or license for most, if not all of the last 5 months, at the end of the day, somehow, someway all of these outstanding inspections and permit issues will get ironed out.

This is Regaladoland after all, and whatever doesn’t get squared away the right way, will get squared away the Regalado way.


As bad as the above problems were/are however, they pale in comparison to the problems the owners of the restaurant have with the State of Florida’s  Environmental Protection Agency.

It turned out that the overflow weekend restaurant goers who showed up in boats big and small, and were tied up 3 and 4 deep against the seawall violated the lease that the property owners had with the state.

That lease only allows for 3 boats to be tied along the seawall, and on weekends you sometimes couldn’t see parts of the restaurant for the boats.

Another major problem the restaurant had was the outdoor dining area on the deck, which was also not authorized by the lease.

Having once lived on the river, and having been the president of the Houseboat Owners Association back in the day before Hurricane Andrew sunk most of the membership, I know that unlike the morons and ass-kissers at Miami City Hall, the people who work for agencies like the DEP take their jobs and the law seriously.

On April 10, 2014, the following document from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was sent to Carlos Miranda, one of the owners.

Code Compliance Inspection Failure - the location of the parking and the address doesn’t match. the location their operating out of it 630 NW 5th Street, and they have to apply for change of address to operate as a parking lot.

The failure to have a BTR for either the restaurant or the parking lot across the street - which as described above was being piggybacked off of the restaurant’s address - or to have a Certificate of Use is prima facie evidence that this restaurant was operating illegally within the City limits, and yet, both the Police and Fire Department had since December 5th, been providing manpower for off-duty support.

The Police Department was providing off-duty police, and the Fire Department, starting on December 9th, had started providing 2 Fire Marshals a for Fire Watch prompted by the failed inspections, and the failure to be hooked up to the County’s 8” water pipe. (This problem seems to be coming to an end as workers were laying in the connecting pipe on Friday.)

At City Hall on the afternoon of April 24th, I asked both Chief of Police Manny Orosa and Fire Chief Maurice Kemp about their departments providing manpower for a business operating without a Certificate of Use or a BTR, and later that night, at their request, I followed up with an email.

On the same afternoon I took the above photo, the yacht below was doing a U-Turn in the middle of the river in order to position itself as other, smaller boats, were moved away from the restaurant seawall so it could be docked.


The note that states that there was a Temporary Certificate of Use (TCU) is the ONLY evidence that ANY kind of permit was ever issued.  Efforts to get hard copies of this, and the Special Events Permit supposedly issued by the Film Office, were completely unsuccessful.


Over the decades, activities on the Miami River have reflected the cultural, social and economic changes occurring in the city.

Back in the 1950’s, when Miami was still a sleepy, small southern town, the Seminole Indians had a village on the south side of the river across from the old Nuda’s boatyard, and early in the morning you could sit on the dock, like I did as a boy, and smell the smoke from their fires while feeding the herd of Manatees that called the boatyard waters home with slices of bread.

By the 70’s and 80’s Miami was becoming less sleepy, and the river had become an integral part of the cocaine smuggling business, personified by the Miami River Cops scandal.

As other ways were found to get drugs into the country the river changed again and the warehouse building and seawall where Sea Salt and Pepper now operate from was one of several warehouse/seawalls along that part of the river that catered to a growing commercial freight business for tramp freighters plying the waters between Miami and Caribbean islands, most especially Haiti.

Haitian freighters were always easy to identify because they all seemed to have stolen bicycles piled high atop the decks as they loaded up for another trip south.

Throughout this time period Manatees became more and more scarce in the Miami River. In 1893 the State of Florida had enacted the first protections for Manatees, and in 2007 they established the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act in conjunction with the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act to try to stop their extinction.

Manatees are slow moving animals, and a constant movement of boats, such as what has been happening along the seawall at the restaurant is considered a potentially dangerous threat to these animals, and hence the reference to the Manatees in the above DEP document.

In recent years the river has become the focus of plans and projects that could bring a new vitality to large sections of the river.  Affecting some of these plans is a growing concern among some folks, including several entrepreneurs that I’ve talked with who have their own plans for new businesses on the river, that the bothersome questions raised by how such a high-profile restaurant could open and operate for 5 months without any permits or licenses raises a larger concern about the unequal, and often arbitrary regulatory treatment imposed on business owners by the City of Miami.

It would be charitable to say that the City of Miami has an uneven record when it comes to being supportive of businesses in the city.

As the ribbon cutting photo above attests, if you’re connected and obviously part of the Family and Friends Plan you can have the Mayor, the City Manager, both Assistant City Managers, and who knows how many people who stood behind the camera, show up for your ribbon cutting, and get off-duty police and a fire watch even though you’re operating your business without city permits or licenses.

On the other hand, there are business people in Miami who will attest - although not loudly or openly for fear of retribution - that if you’re not connected, or if you represent a problem to someone who is connected - you can be set upon repeatedly by Code Enforcement inspectors, at times directed by one of several City Commissioners who are known for having vindictive personalities to harass you and make your life miserable.

It’s a problem that I have heard repeatedly from business owners during the 4 years that I’ve been writing this blog.  Not only do business owners feel on occasion that they are being targeted unfairly by the regulatory departments in the city - especially Code Enforcement - but in what still remains the single most revealing, and explosive document that I’ve gotten my hands on during the time that I’ve been doing this blog that provided a window into how companies are sometimes forced to hire the lobbyist cronies of City Commissioners in order to get an item on the agenda, Carlos Gimenez Jr. the son of the Miami-Dade County Mayor described the process over the award of the contract for the Red Light cameras in an email that became part of my most viewed story of 2012.

This is the relevant part of that email.

There is no evidence that anything has changed at City Hall since that letter was written, and it’s probably gotten worse given all the skanky or questionable deals that continue to make their way before the Commission for a vote.

The one constant that I found as I researched this story was not only how many people, in and out of city government knew and were willing to offer either information or an opinion about how this restaurant was allowed to operate without city permits or licenses for so long, but the level of cynicism that best summed up the overall opinion was this comment, “So what else can you expect from Regalado and the rest of the thieves at City Hall?  I wonder how many free meals they got from those guys”

The irony is that Regalado and the rest of the thieves probably haven’t gotten many meals there - free or otherwise - since the ribbon cutting because I’ve been told by a reliable source that if you show up without a reservation and want a table it will cost you $500 before you can even look at a menu.

Now that’s the real Miami, Bitches!

“Unfortunately, at the City, we not only had to win a bid protest on legally supported grounds, we had to bring folks onto the team.  That is not the way it should work.  Obviously, all of this is WAY OFF THE RECORD.

At the end of the day, the evaluation committee was actually composed of members that had a good idea of how the system worked, and we scored 40 points higher than #2, ACS.  Brain May made a last ditch effort, but ATS was approved by a 5-0 vote at the end of the day.  The sad thing is, they forced an extension of the process, which gave their buddies additional money, regardless of who won (He is talking here of Commissioners Marc Sarnoff and Francis Suarez who were instrumental in voting in favor of an appeal of the original contract award lodged by ACS, the 2nd place company,) I am seeing that more and more.  They (meaning Sarnoff and Suarez) will delay, defer, or reject an item if either (lobbyists Steve) Marin or Armando (Guterriez) are on the sidelines, essentially forcing private companies to hire them for a chance.  That has got to change.

Carlos J. Gimenez”

The proposed “Resolution of issues” will certainly pose a challenge to the restaurant’s current business model, but they’ve already found a solution to the limit of 3 boats tied up to their seawall by arranging with property owners across the river to have boats tie up along their seawall, and then ferry the customers across the river.