MIAMI - Seasalt and Pepper patrons have bumped into Beyonce and Jay-Z, Adriana Lima, Karolina Kurkova, Bob Sinclair, David Ferrer, Paul Giamatti, Ryan Phillippe, Liv Tyler, the Estefans, Paulina Rubio, Thalia, and the occasional Miami Heat player and Bravo Real Housewives' star.
Stephane Dupoux's vision of turning a post-industrial warehouse on the banks of the Miami river into a nautical home with a "Hamptonite" relaxing pearl white and copper ambiance for socialites turned into a reality. But now he can't enjoy it.
When Mayor Tomas Regalado arrived at the Lummus Park seafood brasserie, 422 NW North River Dr., earlier this year to cut a red ribbon, co-owner Carlos Miranda, of Miami Shores, and Dupoux were hugging and laughing together. Now they can't stand each other.
"We haven't seen Mr. Dupoux here in a while," a restaurant employee said late Wednesday night. "I heard the last time he was here, he wasn't happy."
The Seasalt and Pepper brand is now on several lawsuits in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. A few blocks away in Little Havana, the land of the colorful rooster sculptures, the restaurant's legal drama would probably be described as an "arroz con mango."
Earlier this year, Dupoux "was mad when he found out they fired some people and changed things around without letting him know," a restaurant employee said. "I know the other owners didn't want him exploding in public."
And explode in public, Dupoux did. Standing on his side of the legal battle is Paul Huck Jr., a partner at Hunton & Williams and Harvard law grad. Huck did not return request for comment.
THE LEGAL DRAMA
During the first week of March, Dupoux took his complaints against the restaurant investors (Miranda, Hemingways Warehouse, Yunexy Eloy and Alex Jaimes) to Miami-Dade Circuit Court alleging the co-owners had planned "a coup" and were aggressively pushing him out.
The restaurant investors hired renowned attorney Robert Zarco, of Zarco Einhorn Salkowski & Brito. Zarco said Thursday the other owners did file a corporate resolution to exclude Dupoux from management, because "his presence was disruptive" and he "did not have a good relationship with the chef."
On April 9, Zarco filed a lawsuit in behalf of the restaurant investors (Hemingways Warehouse) against a lender (Parallel Fund III). Now that business is good the lender wanted to increase the interest on the $2.8 million loan and they wanted "30 percent ownership interest in the restaurant for free," Zarco said.
"There was a discussion as to the possibility that perhaps the lender would decide to convert the debt into an ownership investment ... that was never agreed to," Zarco said. "They are trying to put leverage on the restaurant by saying that if they don't get these terms – they are going to seek to foreclose on the loan."
The restaurant is bringing in thousands a day. From Wednesday through Sunday, the line at the valet looks like an auto show of Rolls Royce, Bentley, Maserati, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Bugatti, and even Koenigseggs. The cars can fill up two nearby lots.
Although executive chef Alfredo Alvarez and two Michelin star chef Giovanni "Gio" Puglisi were caught in the middle of this fight, some regulars agreed the administrative bitterness had not yet affected their seamless flavor pairings.
Their seafood casseroles, pastas and risottos were flowing out of the open kitchen late Wednesday night. It was a full house. The staff was friendly and attentive. And no walk-ins were welcome.
Their hand crafted signature cocktails have become verbs among some local socialites. Take for instance the need for "el momento 'L'Elephant Rose'," the "'Peach Caipirinha' Jueves," and the "happy verde," a nickname for the restaurant's SeaSalt Vida Verde tequila sweet and sour mix.
On a recent Sunday, the area was the Miami River Commission's dream come true. Luxury vessel passed by new high-rises -- Latitude on the River, Mint at Riverfront and Neo Vertica -- to get to Seasalt and Pepper. Crews had to make reservations at the restaurant's docking facility weeks in advance.
Perrier Joet champagne bellini and mimosa lovers, who now view Miami Beach's Nikki Beach, Fontainebleau and the Mondrian as old "#SundayFunday" social media news, flooded in with their tanned glow and laid-back French riviera flare.
A NEW HAVEN
Decades of government officials' obsession with water quality to push the untreated sewage past behind, appeared to be paying off. Real estate investors view the area west of Interstate-95 as up-and-coming.
The restaurant's iconic neighbor Garcia's Seafood Grille & Fish market has seen the river -- that in the 70s and 80s brought in blocks of Colombian powder to cocaine cowboys hoping to get rich quick -- get cleaner.
"The area is very Miami," said Juan Manuel Terra, a regular at Garcia's. "It's funny to watch the poor and the rich mix, you know, we are all refugees here. That Seasalt next door is just that -- a place for the rich to escape."
A recent Sunday afternoon on Seasalt and Pepper's wooden deck, a woman wearing a hat with the Venezuelan flag danced, as a few clapped. No one seemed to care about the legal troubles of the restaurant management or any troubles at all.
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