The founder of one of Miami's most iconic restaurants which became a center for the city’s Cuban exile community, Felipe Valls, died Saturday. He was 89.
"With heavy hearts, Versailles announces the passing of our beloved founder, Felipe Valls, Sr.," the Versailles restaurant in Little Havana tweeted Saturday.
Valls fled the Caribbean island in 1960 following the rise to power by communist dictator Fidel Castro, and opened the cafe in 1971 on Calle Ocho. It quickly became what was dubbed “the most famous Cuban restaurant in the world,” and a center of political resistance for the exile community in Miami.
Soon, Versailles became the go-to spot for politicians and presidents like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, who sought to appeal to Florida’s influential Cuban-American vote.
"Felipe Valls lived the American dream and left an indelible mark on our community," said Raul Mas Canosa, whose late brother Jorge Mas Canosa was founder of the Cuban-American National Foundation and closely allied with Valls.
Valls was a member and supporter of the Cuban-American National Foundation and other groups seeking the island’s liberation.
Accolades poured in after news of his death.
Former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., tweeted Valls was a “bastion of our community and the cause of freedom.”
"Our community lost a legend yesterday," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., tweeted Sunday. "Felipe Valls was a patriot, an icon, and a true embodiment of the American dream.”
Rep. María Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., added, "Versailles … has witnessed the greatest struggles for freedom.”
Mas noted that Valls legacy will live on.
"His legendary restaurant Versailles, and other businesses he founded, made him wealthy and fueled countless livelihoods over the past half century, but he never forgot his native Cuba and was a patriot who loved both his native and adopted countries."
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