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Raise a glass: Coral Gables' beloved bierhaus Fritz and Franz could be set to stay

Harald Neuweg, owner of Coral Gables bierhaus Fritz and Franz
Pedro Portal
/
Miami Herald
Harald Neuweg, owner of Coral Gables bierhaus Fritz and Franz, serves traditional Austrian dishes at his decades-old restaurant.

On a cool December evening, Ernesto Diaz and four of his friends came to their favorite bierhaus to do the same thing they’ve done for the past 10 years. They saddled up around a long, varnished wood bench checkered in red and white, ordered a round of Bavarian brews, and caught up on the old days outside Fritz and Franz in Coral Gables.

The five were childhood friends in Cuba. When he first arrived in the U.S., and he could hardly afford a night out in Coral Gables, Diaz saw people going to Fritz and Franz as a sign of making it in the community.

“I had no money because I was paid $10 per hour, and I saw the bar... I said, ‘Wow, that's a place where I want in the future to drink a beer,’” he told WLRN.

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Now a practicing dentist, Diaz has made the Austrian bierhaus his regular spot. He brings his daughter to have ice cream and hangs out with neighbors to watch soccer games. The restaurant has even become an unlikely gathering place for him and his friends from the island. He said they come here once a week, to which his friend Alejandro Talavera interjects: “minimum once per week.”

But their community watering hole may soon disappear.

The landlord, the city of Coral Gables, recently informed them that it would not renew Fritz and Franz’s lease. The owner since been spending the past few months trying to negotiate to stay in the same spot where he’s spent the last 20 years.

At a city commission meeting on Feb. 13, Coral Gables commissioners are expected to discuss the restaurant and its possible future.

October notice

Coral Gables sent restaurant owner Harald Neuweg a notice of nonrenewal of lease. The bierhaus has been at its current location on Merrick Way for more than 20 years, but the city decided that rather than continue on as things have been for the past few decades, it may be time for something new.

City administrators informed Neuweg that the property would be put up for bid, and he would have a chance to submit his own proposal for an update.

“All we're saying is that we are going out for a request for proposals. That's what businesses do on an ongoing basis. We welcome Fritz and Franz to submit a request for proposal to continue to operate,” Martha Pantin, a city spokesperson, told WLRN.

Possible mold found by inspectors sent by the City of Coral Gables to Fritz and Franz. The city initially said they would be responsible for testing the mold, but then told the restaurant owner he'd be responsible for cleaning it.
City of Coral Gables
Possible mold found by inspectors sent by the City of Coral Gables to Fritz and Franz. The city initially said they would be responsible for testing the mold, but then told the restaurant owner he'd be responsible for cleaning it.

Maintenance issues

Residents and fans of the bierhaus reached out to city leaders in shock. In an email obtained by WLRN, a resident asked city leaders to keep Fritz and Franz as a local landmark. A city official responded citing maintenance issues as a reason Coral Gables was reevaluating the restaurant’s lease.

“Fritz & Franz, formerly Satchmo Blues Bar & Grill, has been at this city-owned property since 1997 and the history of the tenant/Landlord relationship over the past 25 years has not been without challenges. Most recently, the city requested that Fritz & Franz submit a proposal to the city that would address tenant improvements, and its maintenance responsibilities pursuant to the Lease… Fritz and Franz did not comply with the city’s request,” a city official wrote.

City inspectors had found various maintenance concerns in the restaurant, including exposed wiring, old plumbing and mold and informed Neuweg about the issues via email on Oct. 9. The city initially said the mold would be their responsibility to repair, but later informed Neuweg that he had to fix it.

However, according to an invoice received by WLRN in response to a public records request, Coral Gables had already been preparing to not renew Fritz and Franz’s lease at least a month prior.

Part of an invoice from the law firm Holland and Knight to the City of Coral Gables for legal services performed in September.
City of Coral Gables
Part of an invoice from the law firm Holland and Knight to the City of Coral Gables for legal services performed in September. The firm was working to create a notice of non-renewal of lease for the Fritz and Franz restaurant on Merrick Way.

Legal invoice

The law firm Holland & Knight billed the city in September for legal services involving “Lease with Fritz and Franz.”

The firm charged the city $110 to “Review correspondence and coordinate delivery of additional documents if any to ensure review of lease and amendments for no lease renewal” on Sept. 5.

In total, a month’s worth of work preparing Fritz and Franz’s non-renewal letter netted Holland & Knight $1,402.50 from Coral Gables in September, according to the invoice.

Commission meetings

Following public outcry about the possible closure of the bierhaus, some Coral Gables leaders have come around to Neuweg’s plight. At a Jan. 23 city commission meeting, Commissioner Ariel Fernandez said he believed the dispute between the city and Fritz and Franz was being “mishandled.”

The commission voted unanimously to extend negotiations with Neuweg to come up with a deal, and Neuweg tells WLRN he’s been in talks with city reach an agreement on a new lease.

“We talked about the maintenance deficiencies and everything has been fixed on our part,” Neuweg told WLRN this month. “We have done our part to negotiate in good faith.”

However, a Feb. 6 meeting with Assistant City Manager Alberto Parjus was canceled, Neuweg said, because the city was still waiting on a market value estimate of the property where his restaurant resides.

Neuweg expects the commission will discuss the lease at an upcoming meeting on Feb. 13, and he says he hopes to reach a positive conclusion for both himself and the City of Coral Gables before his lease is up in May.

Joshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Joshua Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org
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