After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico's La Social Restaurant Finds Success In Miami

Sep 17, 2018

Ivan Nieves and David Torres, a couple from Puerto Rico, used to own a restaurant, hair salon and a boutique in San Juan. But one year ago, Hurricane Maria seriously damaged the business, leaving them unable to work. 

So in October, the two business owners moved to Miami, where they've since opened a new version of their restaurant La Social—this time a restaurant and bakery in Midtown Miami. They serve a variety of pastries, like goat cheese with sliced peaches, pistachio cheesecake with honey meringue and mango papaya bread. And at the restaurant, customers can get bigger meals, like ginger carrot soup, avocado chicken and beef stew. 

The pair say they have been welcomed warmly by the Puerto Rican and Latino community of Miami. Sundial visited Flores and Nieves at their restaurant and talked with them about their journey to Miami after the storm.

WLRN: How long did it take and what was it that finally forced you guys to leave the island?

Nieves: It was hard. After Hurricane Maria a lot of things changed. It was hard to go out and see people's businesses destroyed. There was no electricity and no water. We lost our apartment. We were on the twelfth floor. It was the oldest buildings in the neighborhood and there were no other buildings as high as that one. Our twelve floor apartment was completely filled with water. Imagine the complete storm going through the windows and bringing everything from the outside to the inside.

Torres: After we couldn't get any power from anywhere we couldn't continue living in our apartment. It wasn't in a livable condition anymore. We couldn't find anywhere else to live because everything was destroyed. So that's when we started looking into moving to Miami. We thought if we open La Social we will figure it out later. We had nowhere to live here.

Nieves: I have to say I feel like at the beginning we were doubting people. Are customers going to come here [to Miami]? At the end we understood people just needed some safety and we needed something to attach to. I feel like La Social became that one spot where at least not everything changed.

How would you describe the location here in Miami compared to what you have in Puerto Rico? Are you trying to rebuild that here?

Nieves: I feel like for us it was really important to find a community where we can attach ourselves to. I remember having one conversation when I was looking for spaces to build La Social [here], they were saying, 'go to a small community, go to where people live together, Wynwood and Midtown.' When I got here, we got the sense that this community is really close and it feel like Puerto Rico. There's a lot of Latinos and people from all over the world and they needed a spot where they can get together and meet. We're not a franchise business, we encourage the family relationship.