Undercurrents

A Fort Lauderdale eatery evicted, an arm severed, and a Sun-Sentinel writer reconsidered

If it's a great Cuban sandwich you seek, head for the Tropical Café on Andrews Avenue just south of Sunrise Boulevard. God help you if you have to park in the minuscule lot, but that's the price you pay for perfection. Pull up a stool and you're as likely to be seated next to a downtown smoothie in an expensive suit as a dude with his name sewn on his shirt pocket and grease under his nails.

Go soon, though -- a nasty tenant-landlord spat is threatening to put this beloved eatery, at least its Andrews Avenue location, out of business.

In late May Luis Valde's, artist and owner of the colorful building from which Tropical operates, sued to evict the restaurant. He cited overdue rent, a dirty parking lot, and a lack of adequate insurance. Humberto Fajardo, Tropical's owner, says Valde's is running him out.

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"Painting and Parking"

The grudge between the two men has been simmering since the restaurant opened three years ago. Recently the feud turned ugly.

Fajardo says that this past April 2 Valde's resorted to "blackmail" by giving him 72 hours to obtain $1 million in insurance coverage. Fajardo believes his landlord pulled the figure out of thin air to intimidate him into leaving. Valde's cited a condition in the handwritten lease, which was signed by both parties.

Not a man to stand idly by, Fajardo signed a contract for a new space in the nearby Sears Town Center -- a strip mall that's a poor substitute for his street-side stand -- the same day Valde's invoked the insurance clause. The new restaurant opened in mid-May under the same name, Tropical Café. "I was always ready," Fajardo says, "because I knew deep down that one day I was going to have problems with this guy."

In the months since, patrons have been treated to shouting matches between Valde's and Tropical employees Sol Maria Fajardo and Enrique Fajardo, Humberto's wife and brother. In May Valde's closed off the parking lot for three hours during the lunch rush while diners clamored to get in and out. A shoving match between Valde's and Enrique Fajardo resulted in a June restraining order mandating they stay at least ten feet apart from each other for six months. Valde's refused to speak to Undercurrents on the record, and his attorney, Skip DiRienzo, was unavailable for comment.

Oh well. You wouldn't have been able to pull up a stool for long at the old Tropical Café anyway. A "surprise" city inspection last week (two guesses who made the call) found lots of code violations including one that really hurt: Fajardo's sandwich heaven never had anything more than a "to-go" license. The stools were illegal all along.


Undercurrents loves a good, frivolous lawsuit. And when such a lawsuit involves a whirling airplane propeller, a misstep, and a flying severed arm, well that's just gravy.

In April Marvin Evans, age 25, jumped a fence at North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines so he could take a ride in his friend's Cessna 172. Unfortunately for Evans, the Cessna was running at the time. According to a police report, the pilot, Benjamin Stubbs, directed Evans and another man to walk around the right side of the plane and board in the rear. But Evans got too close to the prop. "The right side of Evans' body made contact with the propeller, causing massive wounds to his torso and severing his right arm," the cops wrote. "Evans' right arm flew approximately 83 feet in the air to the north and struck a 1977 Piper Navajo aircraft on the left wing. This aircraft was parked facing south. After striking the wing Evans' arm flew 25 feet north and came to final rest on the ramp."

Evans was taken to Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, where he recovered from his injuries. But surgeons were not able to reattach the limb, according to a report in the Sun-Sentinel.

In May Evans's lawyer, Gregg Silverstein, filed suit against everyone who might be considered even remotely liable: Stubbs; Tek-Plus Security and Cresair, two companies that own and maintain property adjacent to the airport; and Pelican Airways, the business that owns the Cessna and leased it to Stubbs. Silverstein disagrees with the cops' assertion that his client jumped a fence. "Obviously we dispute that this incident is primarily his fault," he says. Stubbs didn't return phone calls.

The silliness doesn't stop there. Chris Jackson, who is affiliated with Tek-Plus and owns the 1977 Piper Navajo mentioned in the police report, is unhappy that his company is being dragged into this. "When the guy's arm flew through the air, it damaged my plane," Jackson says. "I should be the one to sue him."

Morals of the story: Fences are there for a reason, and propellers can be dangerous. However, should you find yourself dismembered and think you might be able to turn your misfortune into a fortune, call Silverstein.


Back in March Undercurrents took Sun-Sentinel reporter Vanessa Bauza to task for being a suck-up to Fidel Castro. Bauza had recently been installed in the paper's new Cuba bureau, and we thought her work reflected a fear of being ousted.

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