Ernesto Llerandi tried to speak but soon the color rose in his cheeks and emotion choked out the words.
“Just image, 21 years. All this effort, lost,” he managed to croak as police officers removed the last of the tape around Delicias de España Spanish restaurant, bakery and market. A fire gutted the restaurant overnight Tuesday, with soot and the smell of smoke befouling every inch of what the flames did not touch.
Llerandi, 74, just stood in the doorway. Broken glass crunched underfoot. Through the darkness, he could see soot covering jars of jams and preserves and wine bottles stacked to the ceiling.
This is the same spot he stood in the winter of 1997 when friends told him he was crazy for trying to open a Spanish restaurant and market here, in a city with little Spanish culture, on a busy corner of Southwest 57th Avenue and Bird road with five parking spaces out front.
They were wrong. Delicias de España grew from a single storefront to six. They opened two other locations, one a seven minute drive west, another near the Dadeland Mall.
But for Llerandi and his wife Isabel, who had owned restaurants in their native Asturias, Spain, this original restaurant became an unofficial Spanish consulate.
They carried fine culinary items, Spanish wines, Pata Negra Iberico hams, cheeses that ran the gamut — manchego, titilla mahon. They stocked perfumes and hand-knitted baby clothes, imported from Spain. Every cooking supply to make a paella magnifica, you could find here. They started a small import company just so they could hand-pick items that expats wanted.
“That store was a home away from home as much for Spanish expats as for those with Spanish heritage,” said their oldest of two children, Cristina Llerandi, who runs the importing business.
Their daughters, Cristina and Anabel urged their parents to bring the whole family to the United States so they could attend Florida International University. Both ended up working in the family business. So did Cristina’s twin sons.
A customer since those early days stopped by the fire-torn restaurant to hug Llernadi and offer him encouragement — before heading to buy her Spanish supplies at their second store down the street.
“I’m really going to miss this spot,” said Carmen Molina, a Spanish national who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years. “All the hams, all the cheeses from Spain, they had it all.”
At their second store, Delicias de España II, phone calls from concerned customers wove together with the usual business. Others stopped in to give the Llerandis a hug.
“I’m so thankful. I truly appreciate the kind words,” Anabel Llerandi, the couple’s younger daughter who runs the second, spoke into the phone between packaging fresh-made chorizo and tortilla española omelets and a cafe con leche for a customer.
She turned a offered a sad smile, “That’s all they wanted. To say a kind word,” she said.
Before the fire, the Llerandis had agreed in principal to take over the corner location and expand into what was once the old Allen’s Drug Store. (The smoke barely touched the other businesses, a consignment shop at the other end of the strip mall. A Miami-Dade County firefighter injured in the fire was taken to the hospital for observation.)
Cristina Llerandi had spent the morning on the telephone with the insurance company. The cause of the fire has not been determined. Their goal, Anabel Llerandi said, is to rebuild the original, better than before. How soon, she said, remains to be seen.
“We know we have to start again,” Anabel Llerandi said. “We have to pick ourselves up and do it.”
Carlos Frías is the James Beard award-winning Miami Herald food editor. Contact: 305-376-4624; @carlos_frias
Delicias de España
4016 SW 57th Ave. (Closed due to fire)
7384 Bird Rd., Westchester
8950 SW 74th Ct Suite 101, Kendall