Building an empire: The journey of Stephanie Vitori and Cheese Burger Baby

When a tennis match at the 2022 Miami Open went into overtime, herds of hungry people exiting the Hard Rock Stadium were instantly drawn to maybe the only restaurant still open: the Cheese Burger Baby (CBB) truck. 

When Stephanie Vitori, 44, took over Cheese Burger Baby in 2004, she used money saved for college to make down payments totaling $12,000. Almost 20 years later, the business is thriving.

Vitori started working at Cheese Burger Baby in 2001 as a delivery driver. During her time as a crew member, the restaurant was sold several times by then owner Thomas Puccio, who went by Tommy Pooch — he also owned pizzerias and was a nightclub promoter. 

She made a deal with the owner to pay off the restaurant in five years, but was able to do it in two. 

“I attended [Miami-Dade College] and I left right before I got my associate’s degree, which sometimes I wish I would have finished because it’s not like me to start something I can’t finish,” Vitori said. “But my focus needed to be on CBB.”

Vitori’s parents were nervous when she first made the move to buy Cheese Burger Baby. Twenty years later, they now tell her they’re proud.

When Vitori first acquired Cheese Burger Baby, it made up to $150,000 in annual sales. It now brings in more than $1 million a year.

There was only one location then. Now there’s four locations and three food trucks.

Laura Pereira has been working at CBB’s South Beach location at 15th Street and Washington Avenue for three years. As a longtime employee, her favorite moments at work are the customer interactions.

“Some of them have made me very happy,” Pereira said. “I like to joke around with them, ask them where they’re from, if they like the weather here.”

The South Beach Cheese Burger Baby location has a picture on the wall of David Beckham at the restaurant (Courtesy of Valentina Gaspari).

The South Beach location’s long hours complement Miami nightlife, making it a celebrity hot spot. It’s open Monday through Friday from noon to 4 a.m. Beyonce and Kanye West are among the stars who have paid Cheese Burger Baby a visit. 

London Taylor, a customer, says proximity is one of the reasons why she goes so often. Her favorite item on the menu is the bacon cheeseburger.

“We came like three times,” Taylor said. “The cheeseburger is good. It’s cute that baby is in the name.” 

Vitori managed to keep the South Beach restaurant alive during hurricanes, an economic depression and a global pandemic. She struggled to make ends meet within the first 10 years, but she didn’t give up. 

“[If] something broke, I had to call my sister and get money from her and like, run her credit card on my credit card machine,” Vitori said. 

After the Great Recession, Vitori was faced with another challenge. Another burger joint opened right across the street from CBB’s South Beach location.

“I don’t agree with trying to purposely put out small local-owned businesses. Who does that?” Vitori said. “People that don’t see or work our side and the people that just care about dollars.”

Cheese Burger Baby was invited to be a part of the 2013 South Beach Wine and Food Festival (SOBEWFF), which hosted 65,000 guests this year. SOBEWFF, one of the biggest food festivals, holds a special place in Vitori’s heart.

“It gave me butterflies in my stomach. I love being part of an event, especially this one because everything they do for the FIU students, small businesses and our Magic City is truly remarkable,” Vitori said. “It’s built around food and wine, how could this not be our favorite?”

Vitori met Jerry Reed, who was the senior food and beverage director of the Miami Dolphins, at SOBEWFF. It took Vitori four years to open her first concession at the Hard Rock, which is located in the stadium’s club level. Vitori opened her second Hard Rock stand in 2022.

Customers line up for Cheese Burger Baby at Hard Rock Stadium 317A (Courtesy of Cheese Burger Baby).

While Vitori was working at the CBB’s first Hard Rock stand, a new opportunity came knocking.  

“I’ll never forget. I was cooking on the grill at the stadium and the regional vice president came in my stand wearing a suit, ” Vitori said. “ and I have burger grease all over my shirt, arms, face…and we talked in the back kitchen. That’s when we were invited to join [the Miami Beach Convention Center].”

Cheese Burger Baby has expanded its horizons beyond Miami. CBB has a location in Daytona Beach for half the year, giving Vitori the chance to serve guests at events like the Daytona 500.

The burger business recently opened at another convention center, but this time in Broward. The CBB food truck at the Broward County Convention Center opens during local events. 

CBB has its own separate, multi-purpose headquarters on NOrtheast 79th Street, where staff members work behind the scenes.

“We keep our food trucks and business vehicles there,” Vitori said. “It’s my office, mechanic shop, dry storage, cold storage, test kitchen, conference room, delivery and home base. It also has 24 years of memorabilia that’s pretty motivating.”

Despite its success, it’s not easy running a business.

As an LGBTQ+ woman in the male-dominated food industry, Vitori’s success story is one of resilience and empowerment. What sets it apart from other burger joints is that it’s run by mostly women. 

“I just try and do the best and be the best and try to, you know, motivate my female staff,” Vitori said. “I love…being able to help females, you know, I love helping anyone.”

When Vitori isn’t juggling big events, she raises money for important causes with her “Hamburgers for Heroes” fund, which she launched to give back to her community. Vitori has helped feed first responders when hurricanes hit Miami, raised money for breast cancer, fed essential workers and people in need during COVID-19 and provided meals for first responders at the site of the Champlain Towers collapse in Surfside. 

The future of Cheese Burger Baby looks bright. For Vitori, every day is a new opportunity to grow.

“It’s a different job everyday,” Vitori said. “You’re always learning, you’re always doing new events. So it just keeps that thrill or, you know, it just keeps the adrenaline going.”

Kelly has loved writing and photography for as long as she can remember. She hopes to someday leave a mark on the world by telling important stories.

Laura Iglesias is a sophomore majoring in TV & Broadcasting. After graduating, she dreams of pursuing a career in television to inform communities.

Alejandra Ranaudo is a junior majoring in Broadcast Journalism on a pre-law track. After her studies, she wishes to pursue a career as a political news reporter.

Valentina Gaspari is a sophomore majoring in Digital Broadcasting. A bilingual woman who enjoys traveling and covering/editing stories, Gaspari is passionate about working in the news or entertainment field as a reporter or producer after graduation.