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Sundial: He invented our Cuban coffee ‘ventanitas.’ How Versailles' late founder changed Miami forever

Felipe Valls Sr.png
Al Diaz
Miami Herald
Felipe Valls Sr., the late founder of Versailles Cuban restaurant, on Sept. 4, 2020.

What would Miami be without its famous ventanitas — the little coffee windows tucked into the sides of restaurants around South Florida?

Sundial’s new host Carlos Frías knows a little about cafecitos and croquetas. As the former food editor of the Miami Herald, the Cuban American has spent time reporting on the origins of the ventanitas as the town squares that influence so much of our culture.

Felipe Valls Jr.
Katie Lepri Cohen
Felipe Valls Jr. stands in front of the ventanita window at Versailles Restaurant in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood on December 5, 2022.

On the Dec. 12 episode of Sundial we are remembering the father of the ventanitas, Felipe Valls Sr. — the inventor of the Miami coffee window and founder of arguably the most famous Cuban restaurant in the world, Versailles. Valls died Nov. 26 at age 89.

Joining Sundial is Felipe Valls Jr., who worked with his father to open more than 30 restaurants in South Florida — making the late Valls one of the most important restaurateurs in Miami history.

“The guy who did the little café, who happened to be a designer from Cuba, did all these edged mirrors,” said Valls Jr. “And my dad goes, ‘This place looks like it’s the Palace in Versailles!’”

And that's how a Cuban restaurant in Miami was named after the Palace of Versailles.

On Sundial's previous episode, we spoke to author Kathie Klarreich about the book Don’t Shake the Spoon: A Journal of Prison Writing, an anthology of stories, poems and essays written by Florida inmates who took part in her Exchange for Change program. You can listen to that episode here.

Listen to Sundial Monday through Thursday on WLRN, 91.3 FM, live at 1 p.m., rebroadcast at 8 p.m. Missed a show? Find every episode of Sundial on your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.

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Carlos Frías is the host of WLRN's Sundial. He is a bilingual writer, a journalist of more than 25 years and the author of an award-winning memoir published by Simon & Schuster.
Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the lead producer behind WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.
Elisa Baena is an associate producer for Sundial.