Mar 5, 2024 - News

Book celebrates the culture of Miami's ventanitas

Three women stand at the ventanita at Versailles.

Photo: Gesi Schilling

Walking into Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop is like stepping back in time. The Cuban eatery at 29th Street and NE Second Avenue is surrounded by sky-high residential buildings, modern workout studios and cranes towering over new developments.

  • Outside, at its ventanita, visitors gather to sip on their Cuban coffee, snack on croquetas and chat about the day's happenings.

The big picture: Enriqueta's is among 48 walk-up windows featured in a book being released Tuesday that pays homage to the unique culture of Miami's ventanitas.

  • In collaboration with O, Miami, a nonprofit that builds community through poetry, Daniela Perez Miron and local photographer Gesi Schilling developed a coffee table book titled "Ventanitas: A Window Into Miami's Coffee Culture."

Why it matters: "Miami is such a special, yet complicated city [and] so many times people are writing about it from the outside — saying it's an up-and-coming tech hub or comparing it to other cities," said Miron, who was born in Guatemala and raised in Miami.

  • This book is "from the people who understand the city and appreciate how special and complicated it is."

Case in point: Ventanitas are a "microcosm of the city," Schilling, who also sits on O, Miami's board, told Axios. "They are representative of the city [and] they're more important than anyone has ever given them credit for."

  • "It's not just a book about coffee — it's a cultural phenomenon," she said.

Flashback: At the start of the pandemic, the city of Hialeah issued an emergency order restricting ventanitas to food delivery and payments. Gatherings of any kind were prohibited.

  • "It was so funny to me that [the city] had to put out this official letter telling people you had to stop socializing" at the ventanitas, Miron told Axios.

The idea to highlight ventanitas began as a school project.

  • Miron spoke with local food writer and former WLRN host Carlos Frías and Felipe Valls Jr., owner of Versailles, home to one of the more famous windows, about the history and culture of the concept.
  • She spoke with more people and heard more stories to develop the idea. Then she contacted O, Miami and pitched the book.

What's inside: The book features 48 windows and poems by 20 Miamians about the culture and experience of a typical ventanita — all of which were already in O, Miami's archives — and original film photos by Schilling.

  • It's written in both English and Spanish, and design elements pay tribute to cultural aspects of the classic ventanita, such as the color orange, which represents the Gatorade water coolers often seen outside them.
  • Traditional ventanitas such as Versailles, Islas Canarias, Enriqueta's and Palacio de los Jugos are featured, as well as somewhat recent newcomers, like Tinta y Cafe.

What they're saying: "The purpose of the book isn't to prolong the life of the ventanitas, [but] to show the beauty and the love" surrounding them, Schilling told Axios.

  • She hopes it encourages readers to visit them, appreciate them and take care of them, especially as Miami continues to change.
  • Miron hopes readers see and understand the strong bonds created at the windows that extend into the community.

Bottom line: Miami is a fast-changing and dynamic city, Miron said. But it's "nice to hold something and know that this is what Miami was like at this point in time, through the eyes of the people that are from here and who care about this city."

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