President Of Puerto Rican Restaurant 'La Placita' Gives Answers To Flag Mural Controversy

Mar 14, 2019

It’s possible you’ve seen this particular Puerto Rican flag if you've traveled up Biscayne Boulevard into Miami’s Upper East Side or scrolled through your Instagram feed lately. The restaurant "La Placita," which opened its doors in January, has been faced with controversy for the massive mural with the  Puerto flag that decorates the exterior of the building.  

"We wanted to make a statement," said Joey Cancel, CEO and President of La Placita on Sundial.

The colorful mural has helped attract patrons  to try the restaurant's Puerto Rican dishes: from mofongo to bacalao and arroz con pollo. There's also a Puerto Rican bodega or shop for staples.

Cancel says the goal for him was to, "get people who live in Miami the perfect Puerto Rico cuisine without having to go to the island."  

Last week, the City of Miami’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board voted 5-3 against granting a permit that would allow for the mural with Puerto Rican flag to stay. The next city commission meeting where their appeal could be heard is scheduled for April 11th. Sundial's Luis Hernandez visited the restaurant beefore the vote and sat down with Cancel to talk about the popularity of the restaurant and their ongoing fight with the city.

WLRN:  The city said, "Hold on you didn't get the permits [for the mural]. You might have to take it down." Where is that conversation right now? Has that been resolved?

CANCEL: Yeah, I got to say there was a loophole in the process and someone dropped the ball. But we're people of order. We like to comply and we like to be in full compliance with everything. Unfortunately, some people say that we didn't have the permit. That's totally incorrect. We painted that flag in the presence of police officers and having Mayor Francis Suarez coming in to see the project developing. If we were doing that without a permit that would be totally illegal.

CEO and President of the Puerto Rican restaurant "La Placita" Joey Cancel told Sundial he "wanted to make a statement" with the giant flag mural painted on the building.
Credit Alejandra Martinez

So we did have a permit,  just not the perfect permit due to a process that we are not the ones in charge of. That loophole was generated and now we're complying with it. We submitted all the information, renderings, pictures, everything to support our application for the certificate of appropriateness. Now we are waiting for the city to let us know a yay or nay.

Just out of curiosity if the city say nay, are you prepared for that? What would happen next?

We are prepared for that. For every situation there is an exception. I come from banking and there are policies, there are procedures and objectives. And once you're aiming at the objective then exceptions can be considered. We're talking here about a bunch of alternatives. We have to work along with the city to make this complaint -- especially to integrate the community, to integrate the other businesses and to continue moving forward with our plan.

The plan is economic development. What we are trying to do here is to invest generate income that creates jobs and get this Boulevard more vibrant than ever before. Right now if you look at our neighbors in terms of businesses they close down. We used to be a flower shop. This hotel in front is still renovation, it's partially renovated but not functionally. We have another building on the other side of 67 Street completely vacant. We are doing the opposite. We're investing we're creating jobs. People are around they like this because this [area] used to be suffering from a little depression.

The dining seating area inside of the Puerto Rican restaurant "La Placita."
Credit Alejandra Martinez