Cradling a heavy box of Budweiser against his flour-dusted apron, Mario Medina clicks open the door and greets two waitresses behind the counter at La Cascada, a retro Cuban pizza parlor in Northwest Miami-Dade. Besides the voice of a sports commentator on the TV and sporadic blips from arcade games in the back, the restaurant is quiet, and all five tables are empty. It’s 30 minutes into the lunch rush hour, but only three weary patrons in construction boots sit hunched over glasses of cold beer at the bar.“Before, we got more than 200 customers every week,” says Medina, La Cascada’s husky, white-mustached 58-year-old manager. “Now it’s 90 at best.” Over the past few months, Medina has lost 40 percent of his regulars, including many families that are afraid to bring their children to the area or to park their cars out front, he says. Though the place used to make about $8,000 every week, it’s now down to $3,000, which must be split among the restaurant’s five employees.
Medina attributes the parlor’s drop in customers to one problem. Less than a block away, pitched along both sides of the road, are 28 camping tents. In them live scores of registered sex offenders.