Little Havana Celebrating Its 20th Anniversary Tomorrow

| April 26, 2017 | 0 Comments

Little Havana turned 20 this year and will be throwing a bash tomorrow from 5pm to 11pm at the restaurant and in its parking lot to celebrate. The bash is being called the ’20 year Havanaversary Party’ and it will feature a large tent in the parking lot, a pig roast, live music from ‘Real Geniuses’ and ‘Mambo Combo,’ a stilt walker, a fire juggler, and a rum bar.

“The party is going to be like a badass 80’s movie,” said Marc Gentile, co-owner of Little Havana. “We want every person who has loved Little Havana to come by.”

The outdoor tent will stay in place until Little Havana’s “Little Tijuana” Cinco de Mayo celebration on May 5th.

Making it to 20 years in South Baltimore has been an adventure for the Little Havana team. The restaurant began in 1996 when Tim Whisted moved back to Baltimore from the Florida Keys and wanted to open a place with the spirit of the South Florida islands. He found an abandoned 14,000 sq. ft. feed supply warehouse at 1325 Key Hwy. He believed in the future of this area of South Baltimore and decided to build out the restaurant with brother Chris Whisted. Little Havana opened on March 5, 1997.

At the time, there was only one building at HarborView, Ritz-Carlton Residences had not yet been proposed, and investment in adjacent Federal Hill was not the same it is today. Next door to Little Havana was Globe Brewing Co., which closed a few years after Little Havana opened.

Scott Donnelly and Gentile, who worked at Little Havana to put himself through law school, eventually became co-owners of the restaurant with Whisted.

The restaurant fell on tough times in the mid-2000s when the building almost became the next site for a waterfront redevelopment during a hot real estate market. The team was just renting the space at the time and with the building being offered for sale there was a “30-day kick out” clause for Little Havana. The Little Havana team would have 30 days to leave if exercised by the building’s owner.

Meanwhile the co-owners thought they had found their next home at 1000 E. Key Hwy., three blocks down the street, but were unable to get the zoning changed to move the restaurant to the building. Gentile told SouthBMore.com the process was very costly for Little Havana.

During this process and search for a permanent home, the real estate market began to collapse and Little Havana had not yet been kicked out at 1325 Key Hwy. The ownership team was able to borrow enough money for a down payment to buy its property, which also included the adjacent Globe Brewing site, in 2010.

“Little Havana was a bit ahead of its time, but Tim persevered. We borrowed at times, we went broke at times, and we made it work,” said Gentile.

Things began to look up for Little Havana with the co-owners having the stability of owning the property and having more control of its future. They demolished the former Globe Brewing warehouse, subdivided the space from its building, and sold it to a developer, although they currently rent back the space for a parking lot.

The team completed improvements at Little Havana including updates to its dining, bar room, and outdoor space, which can be used for private parties and events. New offices were built on the second floor of the building and improvements and murals have been added to the exterior.

The next project for Little Havana will be utilizing a retail space facing Key Hwy. Gentile told SouthBMore.com that a plan for the space is still in the works.

“We’re in a good place now and we love the neighborhood,” said Gentile. “Not only do we know a lot of people in neighborhood, but we know their kids and have watched them grow up. We’ll probably soon be employing kids who once crawled on the pool table!”

Photo Courtesy of tPoz Photography

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About the Author:

Creator of SouthBmore.com and resident of SoBo. Graduate of Towson University and owner of Incept Multimedia, a full service video production company. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover and "bar food" foodie. Email me at Kevin@InceptMM.com and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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