Local Favorite Rita Tennyson Makes a Bid to Keep the Icon Intact
Few issues have created as much of a community backlash as the possible replacement of Burger Bob’s, the old-fashioned diner on the Granada Golf Course that has served low-cost American food – cheeseburgers, chili, BLTs – for nearly three decades. While proprietor Bob Maguire’s lease was up for renewal on August 31, few were prepared for an unsolicited bid from the Barreto Hospitality Group, the same company that upgraded the Red Fish Grill in Matheson Hammock Park– making it among the most expensive restaurants in the city. Their plans for Burger Bob’s included upgrades for $800,000.
The community uproar was so great that city commissioners voted to extend Bob’s lease through Dec. 31, to create enough time to better decide the diner’s fate. Riding that wave of community support, chef Rita Tennyson has now submitted a bid to run Burger Bob’s – where she has worked for more than 26 years – vowing to maintain the 56-seat diner as a hub “for coffee, sometimes food and mostly for the neighborhood camaraderie.”
Tennyson’s 83-page proposal to lease the city-owned property puts her in competition with the Barreto Group, a diversified food and entertainment company run by businessman Rodney Barreto. Earlier this year Barreto’s unsolicited bid detailed a make-over of the soda-and-hamburger joint that included a major expansion of seating capacity with an outdoor patio. Barreto’s bid would also have ousted Maguire, as well as Tennyson, who refused Barreto’s offer to stay on in the kitchen.
In her proposal, put together with a pro bono assist from customers, including architects, financial advisorsand lawyers, Tennyson says the restaurant “will complement the past and the neighborhood. We will continue as a small eatery, and I will be on-site running the business with my family.”
While pledging to stay small, Tennyson acknowledges that the cash-only diner needs an upgrade, including an expanded menu, longer opening hours, credit card capability, new kitchen equipment and a bathroom that meets federal disability standards. Currently, customers must use a bathroom in the adjacent pro shop. Working with the city as the pro shop is also remodeled, Tennyson said initial renovations could be done for $60,000.
Maguire, 85, has run Burger Bob’s for 28 years. Closed for months during the pandemic, Maguire fell behind in the rent, and the city did not automatically renew his lease. A local crowd-funding effort raised some $15,000 to help the beleaguered Bob.
As word spread that the Barreto Group (which also operates Forte on Miracle Mile) wanted to up-scale Burger Bob’s, loyal fans expressed outrage. “We have many elegant restaurants in the city, but there is only one Burger Bob’s,” said former city mayor Dorothy Thomson. “It’s not all about money. Burger Bob’s is the last bastion, the last hope to keep a small-town identity in a historic spot.”
A petition posted on Change.org that has garnered more than 1,300 signatures asserts that the diner “occupies a sweet spot where it supports the community rather than disrupting it, which would not be the case for a larger establishment.”
Reacting to the community backlash, Barreto said he reviewed his proposal and “tweaked it some.” He says he is committed to “preserving the old diner look and perspective. We heard the public on pricing.” A burger at Burger Bob’s now costs $6. Under a proposed menu submitted by the Barreto Group, a single patty burger would be $5, a double $9.
Since the restaurant and pro shop are in a residential neighborhood, the limited available parking is another concern that prompted the City Commission to extend Bob’s lease in the hope of saving the diner. While commissioners were admonished by Mayor Vince Lago to be careful about giving huge rent concessions to tenants “because they are nice” (the city owns the property), Commissioner Jorge Fors commented that “I think this is one of the times that I will not make a decision based on very strict commercial reasonable analysis. I do believe Burger Bob’s is an institution.”
Barreto says he can deal with the need for more parking if the city accepts his bid to also take over Liberty Caffé at the adjacent Coral Gables Country Club. “The parking will be considerably less nightmarish if there were one operator with control… with valet service (on the Club side),” he said in an email. Valet parking for Burger Bob’s? Stay tuned.