|Location||5121 North 12th Avenue|
|Established||April 8, 2008|
|Owner||Robert de Varona|
|Slogan||Authentic Cuban Cuisine|
|Hours of Operation||Tu-Sa: 11 AM-3 PM, 5 PM-until|
Su: 11 AM-2 PM
|Phone number||(850) 439-2822|
Varona's was a Cuban restaurant located at 5121 North 12th Avenue. It was the flagship operation of the Varona Enterprises chain of airport concessions owned by Robert de Varona, a native of Cuba who moved to America after being imprisoned for his participation in the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion against Fidel Castro's regime.
With a 150-seat main dining area and a 70-seat outdoor area, the restaurant contained 10,000 square feet of restaurant space and 4,000 square of office space for Varona Enterprises. Special areas included the Mojito Bar and 60-seat Capablanca Room, named for José Raúl Capablanca, equipped with A/V components for meetings and other events. Varona's also sold a variety of cigars from a custom-designed humidor, which patrons could smoke in an outdoor pergola.
Development & opening
With the success of Varona Enterprise's airport concessions and catering business, de Varona sought a downtown location to establish a standalone restaurant. He initially eyed the vacant lot at Alcaniz Street and Bayfront Parkway, site of the recently demolished William F. Lee House, and entered into an agreement to buy the land from West Florida Historic Preservation Inc. for $700,000. However, WFHPI eventually sold the property to Norma Murray for her Lee House Bed & Breakfast when de Varona decided to demolish the nearby McCollough Building, adjacent to his wife Eloise's Artel Gallery, and redevelop the property for his restaurant. This plan was also scrapped due to concerns over the archaeological excavation that would be required at the historic site. "We don't know how much it's going to cost us and how much time it'd take to get it completed," de Varona said. "We just couldn't get those issues pinned down."
Finally de Varona settled on the 12th Avenue building, formerly the local offices of State Farm Insurance. The location, close to de Varona's airport operations, was selected because "it also offers one of the few remaining available properties in a fast-growing part of Pensacola."
Renovations were designed by Caldwell Associates, and Greenhut Construction Company was the general contractor. De Varona commissioned pieces by Xavier Cortada and local artist Matias Longoria, as well as a custom bar-top collage by Rick Otoupalik, metal work by Kevin Marchetti of Renaissance Man, and glass work by Lou Mitchell Courtney of Elements Architectural Art Forms. The final cost of the building and improvements totaled around $5 million.
After a "soft opening" in which the media and others were treated to complimentary meals, Varona's opened to the public on April 8, 2008. Pensacola News Journal reporter Julio Diaz, himself of Cuban/Spanish descent, praised Varona's offerings as "the best this side of my mom."
- "Restaurant project to give downtown a Cuban flavor." Pensacola News Journal, June 26, 2006.
- "Lee House site plan reworked." Pensacola News Journal, July 18, 2006.
- "Plan for Cuban eatery scrapped." Pensacola News Journal, August 24, 2006.
- "Restaurateur to open new Cuban-style eatery." Pensacola News Journal, October 22, 2007.
- "Under Construction: Varona's Cuban Restaurant." Pensacola News Journal, December 9, 2007.
- "Quick Bites around town." Pensacola News Journal, April 9, 2008.
- [http://ricksblog.biz/?p=4445 "Varona's closes." Rick's Blog, December 7, 2008.