Post-pandemic, the Wagons West Restaurant faces a crushing rent problem. They’re not alone.
Miami is ranked the number two city in America for access to breakfast restaurants by LawnLove. Still, one of its most beloved AM establishments is facing closure because of a post-pandemic economic hangover.
It is a social institution with a box-shaped counter that seats 25 customers and a dozen booths.
And for the last 40 years, it has become a community meeting place, older than the Village of Pinecrest where it resides.
If Wagons West doesn’t raise $75,000 to cover new back-rent charges after a change in landlords to one of the world’s largest private equity real estate firms, then it will go out of business for good.
That’s why they’ve turned to GoFundMe.
Help Save Wagons West!, organized by Wagons West
Wagons West Restaurant opened its doors in the Pinecrest neighborhood in 1981. What we couldn’t imagine is that we would…
Proprietor Wally Meunch is trying to raise money on GoFundMe and explained the situation with the beloved restaurant he and his brother founded in 1981.
“We survived the pandemic,” Muench told me, “but the business never fully returned. So, our last landlord was flexible with the rent. They agreed to reduce what I paid, and at the end of the last two lease terms, they wiped out the rest.”
When publicly listed Ares Capital bought the Colorado company that owns the Suniland (pronounced Sunny Land) Shopping Center, he says everything changed.
“Now,” says the Wagons West owner, “they’re demanding I pay the back rent that the old landlord’s managers never expected to collect!”
The 1574-square-foot restaurant had a rent of $900 a month when it started.
Today its rent is $16,000 a month.
That’s a lot of bread.
And anyone eating breakfast lately can tell you it costs a lot of dough to buy eggs due to the avian flu, which devastated supplies starting last fall, which can’t help the situation.
Sharply rising rents are a problem throughout Florida, particularly in Miami, where demand increases, tax increases, and runaway insurance rates are squeezing residents.
Restaurants have been hit harder because of rising food costs outpacing inflation — ironically often caused by private equity investments into the food sector, says the Wall Street Journal— as well as changing consumer habits about eating out.
It’s no secret that Meunch is in his seventies and looking for a successor to buy and run the business, a work of daily affirmation that is only a good fit for someone dedicated to being a full-time entrepreneur.
If the axe falls because of back rent, it’ll be the community that loses the longtime breakfast place.
“To Ares, we’re just a number on a spreadsheet,” Wally told me over a recent cup of coffee.
“To our customers, this place is so much more. I hope the community can help me keep it going.”
He hasn’t said how long the landlord will hold off on seeking to close down Wagon’s West if full payment isn’t made. Here is the GoFundMe link.