The Donut Gallery, a family-owned diner serving breakfast to generations of island residents and visitors, will be closing this summer after losing its lease, owner Nelson Zambrano said.
The landmark eatery had just marked its 50th anniversary earlier this year.
Zambrano said the family had been in the process of securing a buyer for the restaurant, but was told by the landlord, Commodore Realty, that the lease would not be renewed and was being given to an unknown new tenant. He said that the lease price was not an issue.
“I’ve never been late on my bills,” Zambrano said as he worked a busy counter Thursday. “They never gave me an option to continue.”
But Donna Rice, whose family owns the Harbor Plaza shopping center, disputed that account. She said the Zambranos had informed them the family no longer wanted to operate the restaurant and that accordingly, the search started for a new tenant.
“That’s what you do when you own a shopping center,” Rice said. She declined to identify the new tenant.
Staff members have been telling regular customers that the Donut Galley would be closing in August. On Saturday, Kaleia Zambrano, a student working in the family business, held back tears after one such conversation.
“This is not the way they wanted it to end,” she said of her parents. “It’s very sad.”
The Donut Gallery has survived recessions, hurricanes, and a pandemic, serving its own blend of traditional diner fare with friendly counter service, to a steady collection of regulars. The vibe was definitely a throwback in an era of gentrification, but the small restaurant managed to attract new customers even as the island’s demographics shifted over the years.
Some island businesses have been struggling with inflation and higher commercial rents, said Tatyana Chiocchetti, the executive director of the Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce. To survive the pandemic, some restaurants added open-air dining, but some landlords have increased rents in response.
Figures compiled by the Chamber showed rents have gone up 7.6% at Key Colony Plaza year over year, while other tenants said there were no increases. Some shopping centers did not share rent information, however.
Nationally, commercial rents peaked since the pandemic started and have started to retreat, but South Florida is an exception. Miami has the eighth highest commercial rent in the nation, up 14% from a year ago, and the rate of increase was the third highest, according to November figures in the Waller, Weeks and Johnson Rental Index.
Customer John Herman, who said he’s been coming to the Donut Gallery for 25 years, was shocked when staff told him about the closing.
“It’s part of the character of Key Biscayne,” he said, as he, wife Lori and shih tzu Henry, all settled in for breakfast.
“They have a special way of cooking things, you know, like a real diner. They know how to cook your eggs,” Lori said.
Kaleia Zambrano said she plans to carefully preserve the wall of photos depicting hundreds of former customers over the years.
“There’s a lot of history here,” she said, wiping away a tear.
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Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.