Johnny V, a Las Olas dining fixture for the past 12 1/2 years that was the longtime home of acclaimed chef Johnny Vinczencz, abruptly closed last week. Owner Bob Woltin cited a proposed rent increase as the reason.
"It is with great sorrow that we have announced the closing of Johnny V Las Olas," Woltin writes in a Facebook post. "It was impossible to reach an agreement with the landlord [Las Olas Corporation]. With a 50 percent increase in rent starting July 1 for another five-year lease we have chosen to put our energies elsewhere."
Weekend diners were greeted with a note posted on the door of the Fort Lauderdale eatery, at 625 E. Las Olas Blvd., saying the rent increase would have made it "impossible to survive … We thank you for your many years of support."
It is unclear if Vinczencz, who was known as "the Caribbean Cowboy" during his rise to culinary prominence in the 1990s, was still involved with the restaurant in its final months.
Vinczencz and Woltin didn't respond to requests for comment left by telephone message and email. Partner Carl Karmin, a Fort Lauderdale attorney, says there are no plans to relocate the restaurant and wouldn't say whether Vinczencz had left before the closing or if things were still amicable between the three business partners.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss anything about anything," Karmin said when reached by telephone Monday. "I have nothing to add [to the posted notice]."
A visitor's comment on the restaurant's Facebook page says, "When you lost Johnny, it was only a matter of time."
Vinczencz, who became a foodie favorite at the Astor Hotel in South Beach in the mid-1990s before decamping to less harried Las Olas in 2003, still lists himself as "Chef/proprietor at Johnny V Las Olas" on his Facebook page.
Vinczencz earned critical praise and national fame for his talents, a protege of "Mango Gang" innovator Norman Van Aken. Vinczencz, who grew up in Ohio, became part of a second wave of local chefs that melded subtropical South Florida, Caribbean and traditional American ingredients in what became known as Floribbean or New World Cuisine. At his Las Olas location, Vinczencz also dabbled in whimsy, offering Cheez Whiz as part of his dessert cheese plate.
The closure of Johnny V marks the second prominent restaurant to shut within two months on the same block. Cafe de Paris closed after 50 years in May, with 80-year-old owner Louis Flematti saying he was retiring.
Vinczencz followed Mark Militello, another Mango Gang pioneer who also set up shop on Las Olas Boulevard, into Broward. The highly regarded Mark's Las Olas closed in 2008.
On Monday morning, outdoor tables were stacked outside Johnny V's locked doors. The interior was still intact, with tables and equipment remaining. In the note posted to the door, patrons were invited to visit Woltin's other Las Olas restaurants, Luigi's Coal Oven Pizza and the Tuscan Grill, which remain open for business.