(WSVN) - Through good times and bad, his restaurant has been the breakfast place in Opa-Locka– for 31 years. But now he is in trouble because the county says there is no record of the restaurant. How is that possible? It’s why he called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Bacon, sausage, eggs, grits, toast… It’s Curley’s in Opa-Locka.

Ernest Hill: “Great, great… 31 years greatness.”

Most restaurants don’t last three years, much less three decades.

Ernest Hill: “Yes, sir. I purchased it in 1990. I don’t have a mortgage. That’s another big thing on any type of business. That rent will eat you up.”

But now Ernest is worried about keeping the grill going after Miami-Dade County told him him DERM has no record of his restaurant.

Patrick Fraser: “So, DERM says this building doesn’t exist.”

Ernest Hill: “It doesn’t exist at all.”

No record of the restaurant, DERM says they never approved his fats oil and grease system, or grease trap, that has been working since 1990.

Ernest says he sure doesn’t have those plans from 1990.

Ernest Hill: “It’s not fair because I’m willing to bet you don’t have a set of plan blueprints from your house. You know what I mean?”

Might not be fair to Ernest, but now he has to submit engineering plans to the building department and a proposal for a new grease trap to DERM.

Ernest Hill: “It’s my livelihood here, and I can’t afford to put a new grease trap and do all these repairs that’s not needed.”

Ernest argues that was all done when he bought the property back in 1990.

Proof, he says, each year Opa-Locka renewed his occupational license, the county renewed his business license and the state did as well.

Patrick Fraser: “For 31 years, every year you renew your license, no problem.”

Ernest Hill: “No problem.”

Patrick Fraser: “Twenty twenty-one rolls around…”

Ernest Hill: “Twenty twenty-one rolls around now it’s a problem.”

When you make your living selling bacon and eggs, thousands and thousands of dollars for new plans and equipment could leave Curley’s fried.

Ernest Hill: “I just want to go back in business and go back to my normal life. Stress free.”

Well, Howard, can a government agency do this to Ernest and other business owners in Opa-Locka.

Howard Finkelstein, 7News Legal Expert: “Yes, it’s unfair to Ernest. He is a victim, but Opa-Locka brought this on. Opa-Locka was supposed to contact DERM every year to make sure the business owner had approval for a grease trap before Opa-Locka issued the occupational license. For decades Opa-Locka never did it, and now it’s left up to the business owners like Ernest to correct their mistakes.”

This is the consent form signed by Opa-Locka city officials agreeing to now comply with the law.

A spokesperson for the county told us its unlikely plans for Ernest’s property were ever submitted because a permit would have been issued, and there is no record of that either.

DERM does understand the financial difficulty Ernest is facing paying for engineering plans for the building and a new grease trap, and they told me they could provide the owner with an extension of time to comply with the code requirements.

The final question: Should Opa-Locka have to reimburse Ernest for what this will cost him?

Howard: “The answer is most likely no because the city has what the law calls sovereign immunity, and that protects them from their mistakes.”

Ernest Hill: “I am going to have to survive.”

Ernest doesn’t have the thousands to comply with the law, but he says he will not give up and shut his 31-year-old restaurant down.

Ernest Hill: “I will get though it hopefully. You know, I never really begged or asked nobody for nothing. I always managed to get through things, you know.”

So Ernest is going to do what he has never done, ask for help.

He has started a GoFundMe page you can find under this Help Me Howard.

Ernest says if you can only donate pennies he will take it– anything to keep his bacon and egg breakfasts going.

Feel like someone is grilling you? Don’t let ’em toast you. Egg us on and let us grease the way for you.

GoFundMe to help Curley’s in Opa-Locka to stay open: gofundme.com/f/keep-curleys-open.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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