Miami Icon and Restauranter Passes Away

Versailles, a Cuban restaurant that Valls Sr. founded in 1971 Photo credit: Sharon Hahn Darlin

Founder of famous Cuban restaurants La Carreta and Versailles, Felipe Valls Sr. passed away on Nov. 26 at the age of 89.

Valls fled from Cuba and the Castro regime in 1960 to Miami where he set aside money until he could afford to open his first restaurant, Badia’s. He later sold Badia’sto to create his most famous dining destination, Versailles.

Versailles became a landmark of Calle Ocho and Little Havana, often acting as a place to congregate for fellow Cubans that had fled their home country. It has been a popular destination for political figures trying to sway Miami voters and political demonstrations tied to the Cuban community, including a mass celebration of Fidel Casto’s death in 2016. The iconic restaurant just celebrated its 50th-anniversary last year.

Versailles has been a prominent fixture for not just Miamians, but tourists, students and politicians. Zoe Fundora, president of UM’s Federación de Estudiantes Cubanos, emphasized Valls’s lasting impact in Little Havana.

“I think we’re all very saddened by the loss,” Fundora, a senior political science and history major who grew up in Miami, said. “I grew up going to Versailles and his restaurants were a place for us to kind of return to our culture.”

Fundora also emphasized that Valls was such an important figurehead in Miami for many Cuban-Americans who immigrated to the states over the past 50 years. Valls had been a staunch supporter of anti-communism policies in the United States.

“I think he represented kind of that American dream where he was able to escape Cuba and come here and be successful,” Fundora said. “It’s always sad when somebody like that passes away.”

Valls is also credited with the invention of the ventanita, a small drive-through-like window where patrons flock to get cafecito and pastries. Many other Cuban coffee shops throughout South Florida later replicated Vall’s ventanita.

“The ventanita was a necessity,” Valls said in a 2020 interview with the Miami Herald. “I would install a window with a counter so we could sell those to the outside so the customer would not have to go inside.”

Before his passing, Valls’ son, Felipe Valls Jr., took over his father’s conglomerate of over 30 franchises, Vall’s Group restaurant holding company, which included Versailles and La Carreta and others such as Casa Juancho, MesaMar and Casa Cuba. He also leaves behind two daughters Leticia and Jeannette, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Even with his passing, Valls’ legacy remains strong in both the Cuban-American and Miami communities. Fundora believes that he will continue to be a figurehead in the community for generations to come.

“They [his restaurants] have pictures of him and continue to tell his story,” Fundora said. “It’s really up to us, you know the future owners and patrons of his restaurants to maintain his legacy.”