If there’s one thing we do better in Miami than anywhere in America, it’s celebrating Hispanic and Latino heritage. And since September kicks off Heritage Month nationwide, we thought we’d profile some of our favourite Latino-owned businesses around South Florida. Some are innovative, sustainable concepts. Others give back to the community in dozens of ways. And others are just fantastic success stories. But all of them embody our city’s entrepreneurial spirit and bring a special flavour to Miami that makes the city so darn unique.
Online and at Vitamin Shoppe and GNC
Registered nurse and certified sports nutritionist Christie Besu saw a huge gap in the baked goods market, where options were either stuff yourself with carbs or nibble on “brownies” that taste like sawdust. So she began producing this line of high-quality, low-carb, protein-packed baked goods out of her small home kitchen. The brownies, wraps, and breads have proven so popular, they’ve even landed in Vitamin Shoppe and GNC last year. Besu is now paying it forward by supporting other female entrepreneurs, founding the You Glow Girl grant in 2021 in an effort to provide woman-run small businesses $10,000 cash injections. How to support: Order products for home delivery online or find them at your local Vitamin Shoppe and GNC.
Sometimes a great product is the key to a small business’ success. But more often, it’s the personalities that make it fly. In the case of Lucio wine shop, it’s both, seeing how affable, knowledgeable Lucio Bueno is as much of a draw as the exclusive natural wines his shop carries. Bueno founded the shop with his parents in 2016, and has amassed a loyal following by jovially assisting guests with their purchases, offering free tastings on the weekends before the pandemic, and promoting local artists on the shop’s walls. How to support: Stop by for instore shopping.
Single-use plastic may be the greatest scourge of the modern grocery industry, but Verde Market founders Martha Balaguer and Pam Barrerra set out to change all that. Inspired by sustainably run bulk-food markets in Europe, they opened Verde in 2018 to help encourage Miamians to waste less when they shop. The market has since become the city’s go-to for bulk everything-spices, soaps, detergent, juices, you name it. You’re welcome to bring your own container or pick up a reusable one at the store, weighing everything and paying as you leave. In a lot of cases, Verde saves you money, too, like when you’re looking for small quantities of a hard-to-find spice. How to support: Stop into either location for instore shopping or order ahead online.
When Peruvian-born Nicole Candusso had her first child, she began to think more about sustainability in terms of everything from the food they ate to the toys her kid played with. Noticing a lack of plastic-free educational toys in the area, she and her husband opened Miami’s most unique toy store, stocked with artisan wood toys from all over Europe. In addition to specialty items, Happy Monkey also offers stuff like backpacks made from recycled plastic, sustainable beach toys, and even imported bicycles. How to support: Stop by for instore shopping or order home delivery online.
Founded in 2005, this nonprofit NGO is dedicated to disaster relief and helping those most vulnerable to natural disasters around the world. Founded by Mexican-Israeli Benjamin Lanaido, the organization has acted with Jewish communities internationally to ease suffering. Over its 16 years, Cadena has aided over 3 million people over 1,000 missions, facilitating everything from medical visits to food and school supplies distribution. How to support: Donate and learn more online.
South Florida’s largest food bank is a lot more than a simple food distribution center. Yes, over the past year or so it’s doled out over 80,000 meal boxes to local families, and brought a staggering 154 million pounds of food to people in need. But this year President and CEO Paco Velez spearheaded FSF’s new Mobile FARMacy, bringing fresh food and 2-for-1 produce to food deserts in Palm Beach County. They also opened a new 5,000-square-foot Community Kitchen, offering a 12-week culinary training and job placement program for folks from high-risk areas. How to support: Learn more, sign up to volunteer, and donate online.
Miami’s favorite Vietnamese-Cajun restaurant isn’t just a great place for fried chicken or a relaxing drink in its lantern garden. It’s also a champion for feeding the hungry, as chef-owner Cesar Zapata has served as the South Florida co-chair for the national leadership council for No Kid Hungry. He’s also traveled to DC to lobby Marco Rubio for increases in SNAP benefits and EBT. How to support: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out via Upserve.
During the height of the pandemic, chef Rafael Barrera wanted to find a way for local artisans to support themselves while farmers markets were closed. The result was Vecinos Market, an online marketplace where you can buy local goods by everyone from Panther Coffee and SUR empanadas to Retox soap bars and clothes from local boutiques. Vecinos not only opened a platform for the entire world to shop local in Miami, it also supports South Florida artists, teaming with noted graffiti master @AholSniffsGlue for a number of projects. How to support: Learn more and order for home delivery online.
Cuban-American Alina Villasante began her design career making T-shirts, jewelry, and pajamas for her friends at her annual Love Parties. Her designs were so beloved, she decided to sell her aviation business and created Peace Love World. In the years since, she has developed a sizable celebrity following with folks like Oprah, J-Lo, and all the Kardashians all sporting her looks. How to support: Shop for home delivery online.
Honduran-American brothers JC and Fredis Perdomo founded the original Spot Barber Shop in 2001 in a 450-square-foot space with five barbers. Since then it’s expanded to 18 locations throughout South Florida. Its most recent advent has been teaming with another Latino-owned business, Blos Roses Blow Dry Bar, in some of its locations, creating a one-stop shop for folks of all genders to get their groom on together. How to support: Schedule and appointment online.
This family-owned bakery is now on its third-generation of Cuban-American ownership and has grown to 12 locations spread throughout South Florida. It’s also become a staple in the community, not only thanks to its delicious pastelitos, but also by doing things like giving away free Cuban bread on Mondays during the height of the pandemic, donating lunches to Miami-Dade Public Schools, delivering baked goods to low income areas, and working with the Joshua’s Heart Foundation to repurpose their leftover products. How to support: Stop by for counter service or order take-out via Toast.
Gilbert’s has been serving croquetas, pastelitos, and other baked slices of heaven to the people of Miami since 1976. The family-run bakery also works with local high schools to give students vocational training in baking, donates its eggshells and coffee grounds to a local rock garden, and provides food for United Way events throughout the city. Every four years, it’s also the official caterer for Miami International Airport’s emergency fire drill (it has a location in Terminal J), and has become so popular owner Maria Peris said people ask her days ahead of time if they’re going to be there again. How to support: Order online through Postmates.
Despite her endorsement deals and TV appearances, Adrianne Calvo is still a small business owner at her core. And though she’s been occupied with opening her new location of Chef Adrianne’s — as well as Redfish — she still finds time to give back through her Make it Count Foundation, working in conjunction with St. Jude’s to help cancer-stricken children and their families. How to support: Visit one of her restaurants or order online through Toast.
David Grutman is back at it again, and this time the hospitality guru is bringing a new partner into the fold-award-winning recording artist, Bad Bunny. Located in Miami’s trendy Brickell neighbourhood, Gekkō, which translates to “moonlight” is a Japanese-inspired steakhouse that will serve fancy cuts of Wagyu alongside a bevy of sushi offerings. In true Groot Hospitality form, this isn’t your basic steakhouse, it’s also got a lounge that very well may play the sounds of Bad Bunny and the like into the wee hours of the night.
“Gekkō is the result of so many of my obsessions in food,” says David Grutman, Founder of Groot Hospitality. “It’s a steakhouse inspired by Japanese cuisine. There are delicious, innovative sushi rolls. There’s a lounge. I knew I wanted to do something that combined these worlds, and once I started speaking with Bunny, I knew he’d be a great partner. Gekkō is about having an incredible meal while having an equally incredible night.”
To celebrate the opening of Gekkō (not so coincidentally the same weekend Bad Bunny has two shows scheduled in South Florida), the crew hosted a massive grand opening party that attracted dozens of A-list celebrities and friends of both Grutman and Bad Bunny. Upon arrival, in his white Bugatti, mobs of fans who spent the entire evening swarming the restaurant began chanting “Benito! Benito!” as he exited his car in an all black suit paired with black sunglasses.
The night went something like this. A-list artists of every genre came out to celebrate. Future and Lil Wayne were seen on a couch in deep conversation and catching up with Mack Maine. Bad Bunny and Karol G were spotted running from table to table together, while DJ Khaled was seen embracing Bad Bunny and congratulating him on such a beautiful new restaurant. Timbaland and Andy Garcia were spotted hanging out for a long period, while Sophie Turner and her husband, Joe Jonas, hung with Victoria and David Beckham. Amidst that hundreds of average joes mixed and mingled while attempting to make their way to the bar so they could get a peek at some of the restaurant’s cocktails and sushi bites. It was quite a scene.
Okay, so back to the restaurant. Gekkō was designed by New York City-based architecture and design firm, Rockwell Group, and is made up of three different rooms with seats for up to 185 diners. It’s centred around sultry jewel-toned decor with plush and stylistic elements like a custom gold and red dip-dyed rope installation, graphic wall coverings, and velvet drapery.
Now you might be wondering about the food, because that’s really why we’re going to a restaurant, right? Gekkō’s menu begins with shared plates where diners will find things like a signature Japanese milk bread, “Lava and Ice” Kumamoto Oysters, lobster dumplings, and a wedge salad. When it comes to raw plates there’s sushi and sashimi classics as well as an opulent 24k Otoro, that’s exactly what it sounds like-deliciously tender fatty tuna covered in a layer of 24k gold leaf.
Then there’s the steaks which include a Tomahawk cut, an olive-fed filet mignon from Kagawa, Japan, and a snow beef strip from Hokkaido, Japan. Specialty preparations include Wagyu skirt steak and a bone-in ribeye. And because Grutman is always sure his restaurants cater to the tastes of everyone, there’s even some plant-based chicken options and more.
“Sitting down with friends to enjoy a good meal is one of the moments I value the most,” says Bad Bunny. “I am thrilled that now I will have a hand in creating this experience for others.”
Gekkō opens tonight at 8 SE 8th Street in Brickell. The dining room and lounge serve customers from 6 to 11 pm Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and 6 pm to 12 am Friday and Saturday. Valet parking is available for $20 or you can attempt to find a street parking on Brickell. Visit gekko.com for reservations.