EXCLUSIVE — Two longtime anchors of Orlando’s dining scene have closed. Harvey’s Bistro and Manuel’s on the 28th, first- and top-floor tenants of the Bank of America building, served their last meals Saturday, Valentine’s Day. Sunday was a regular day off. At this hour, employees of both restaurants are being told the restaurants will not reopen.
Hal Valdes said that he and partner Manny Garcia, who developed the concepts, made the decision to close the restaurants after negotiations for lease renewals with the building’s management broke down. The building is managed by Miami-based America’s Capital Partners; a majority percentage of the building is owned by an out-of-state teachers’ credit union, said Valdes. An agent in the building’s management office declined to comment this morning.
Valdes said efforts were being made to find positions for the nearly 50 employees displaced by the closing of the two restaurants. Several kitchen workers, he said, would be hired on at Culinary Concepts, the company owned by Valdes and Garcia that produces soups, stocks and other items for restaurants around the country from its facility near Orlando International Airport. Valdes said he has spoken with owners of other area restaurants about taking on service personnel.
Harvey’s Bistro opened in 1993 in what was then the Barnett Bank building. The bistro’s name was a reference to a large statue by sculptor Barry Flanagan of a dancing rabbit, titled Nijinsky Hare, that stood outside the restaurant on the corner of Orange Avenue and Livingston Street. (The sculpture was removed in 2006.)
The name for Manuel’s on the 28th was chosen as a tribute to Garcia’s late father, a well-known Tampa area restaurateur. The numeric designation was a reference to the floor the restaurant occupied. The top-floor aerie afforded diners a panoramic view of downtown Orlando and beyond, and the low, moody lighting made it a favorite spot for romantic dinners. The space was not intended to be a restaurant originally. When the building was first constructed, as the duPont Centre, the top-floor space with its slanted windows was meant to be a boardroom. Manuel’s on the 28th opened in 1994. Over the years it was critically acclaimed and was the recipient of AAA’s four-diamond award, its second-highest honor.
“I think we could have gotten five diamonds,” said Garcia from Colorado, where he is vacationing with his family. “It’s been a great 15-year run.”
Valdes and Garcia indicated that both restaurants may reemerge — and once again in the same building with one downstairs and one on the top floor — elsewhere downtown.
More as it develops.