Cuban businessman Felipe Valls Sr., founder of the iconic Versailles restaurant in Miami, Florida, died Saturday, his granddaughter, Nicole Valls confirmed to CNN. He was 89 years old.
Nicole Valls did not provide further details on her grandfather’s death, but said the family’s spokespeople are expected to provide more information at a later time.
After Valls opened his restaurant on Miami’s emblematic Calle Ocho 51 years ago, it became a vital gathering place for exiled Cubans who could congregate over flaky guava pastelitos and other familiar dishes.
The landmark spot in the city’s Little Havana neighborhood is still a usual point of concentration for activists and members of the Cuban community in South Florida. It also serves as a meeting point for demonstrations on political issues involving the island.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez mourned Valls’ loss on Saturday, describing the businessman as “an extraordinary human being who served his family, his beloved Miami, and the freedom of Cuba with supreme devotion.”
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a tweet Valls was “the true embodiment of the American dream.”
“As a leader, philanthropist and brilliant businessman, he shaped (Versailles) into the pulse of our community for over five decades,” the mayor wrote.
Those sentiments were echoed by Florida State Representative Daniel Perez, who tweeted his condolences for the loss of “an icon in our community.”
Media outlets, including CNN, have visited Versailles over the years to gauge the opinions of the Cuban community on various issues and significant events such as Fidel Castro’s death in 2016, when crowds filled the streets around the cafe, banding pots and pans and popping champagne, according to CNN affiliate WSVN.