It Took Rodney Barreto a Year, But the Man Who Headed Miami’s Super Bowl Committee Had the Stamina Required
For nearly two years after Hurricane Irma gutted the iconic Red Fish Grill with a six-foot surge from Biscayne Bay, the coral rock structure remained hollowed out and boarded up. Then entrepreneur Rodney Barreto bought the lease for the historic building, and spent a year bringing Coral Gables’ only waterfront restaurant back to life. Late last month it finally reopened. “I have invested millions here and feel very good about where we’re at,” says Barreto. “Our phone is blowing up off the hook with requests for reservations. And rightfully so – it’s such a gorgeous setting.”
Originally built as a bathhouse in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt’s FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Act) program to boost employment during the Great Depression, the property went through various permutations before becoming the Red Fish Grill. Until Irma hit, it was widely regarded as among the most romantic dining spots in Miami-Dade, as well as a reliably good place for fresh seafood.
The newly renovated Redfish (the name grill dropped) now features more than 100 seats in its outside patio overlooking Matheson Hammock Beach, along with four waterfront cabanas. Another 44 people can sit inside at tables, with 10 more at a custom-built oyster bar (though these numbers will be halved until COVID is over). Barreto, whose son Brad did a lot of the heavy lifting as the project’s general contractor, also added a novel element – a rooftop observation deck.
Barreto, who has earned a reputation as a fearless entrepreneur and master event organizer, said he had no trepidation about opening Redfish during COVID – largely because most of the seating is al fresco. “I think most people, and most friends I know, want to eat outside,” he says. “It’s much more desirable for the time being. And we have a beautiful place for it.”
Adding to the attraction is the imprimatur of cookbook author and chef Adrianne Calvo, one of the brightest stars in the local culinary firmament (the restaurant’s new, full name is Redfish by Chef Adrianne). The force behind the acclaimed Vineyard Restaurant and Wine Bar (in West Kendall) and Cracked (in South Miami), Calvo has created a seafood-centric menu, with dishes like brown sugar crusted salmon and peppercorn-seared tuna. “I believe in the magic of Redfish,” Calvo says. “My goal is to restore the love affair South Florida had with this restaurant and location.”
For Barreto, Redfish is the latest in a long string of business ventures, including restaurants (such as The Wharf in Fort Lauderdale), a medical records company, a title insurance company and various real estate investments. “I’m a serial entrepreneur,” he says. “I love business no matter what it is. If we can make money and have fun, I’m in.” Civic involvement is another passion for Barretto. A past chair of the Florida Wildlife Commission, he currently serves on that and numerous other boards. He is probably best known for his role with the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee, which he chaired in 2007, 2010 and this past year.
That sense of civic contribution was another reason he undertook the Redfish project, since it restored a part of Coral Gables’ historic fabric. “We had a lot of work to make it go, but this is in the city where I live and it was sorely needed in this area,” says Barreto. “I’m very bullish about it. I just hope we don’t have another hurricane.”