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La Bodega reopens after summer renovations, serves up Oxford favorites

Uptown restaurant and deli La Bodega has reopened after about three months of extensive renovations.

According to owner Sam Markey, the store has seen an uptick in business since their doors reopened last week.

"The first couple of days were absolutely incredible," said Markey. "We've been so busy this week I've been having trouble keeping the cases full."

Markey, having been La Bodega's cook for the past 15 years, became its owner in May. He closed the store June 1 to begin renovations, including the installation of new flooring, lighting, kitchen equipment, air conditioning and standing bar.

"From floor to ceiling we redid almost everything," Markey said.

J.C. Rupel, owner of the Oxford Copy Shop, had approached Markey in the spring when Diane DiPaolo, La Bodega's original owner, decided to leave the business. Rupel, who also owns the building where the restaurant is located, brought his business experience to Markey's vision for the store.

"If it weren't for him nothing would have ever happened," Markey said of Rupel.

"If it weren't for Sam we wouldn't have any food," he replied.

Markey started out as a chef at DiPaolo's, a restaurant run by the family of La Bodega's former owner. The Italian eatery was located where the restaurant and bar MIA now stands.

"It was the best place in town," said Rupel. "Sam was able to have his basis in cooking at a nice restaurant. This is good food."

Fifteen years ago, when Diane DiPaolo needed someone to cook for her at La Bodega, Markey made the switch. He said he prefers the laid-back atmosphere and opportunities to experiment with his cooking that he has had at this location.

With the new, more efficient equipment for the kitchen, Markey said, they are able to make food much quicker, addressing the main complaint they received from customers in the past about the length of the wait for food. Markey said he also hopes to utilize the new equipment by having more made-to-order specials.

He also hopes to emphasize more to customers that Markey himself is in their kitchen every day, making all of the food that fills the cases. Aside from one of the deli salads, Markey said, he makes everything from scratch.

Since taking over the store from DiPaolo, Markey has also started to reach out to customers, particularly Miami students, using social media. From sending out Twitter polls to determine that day's soup to posting a picture on Instagram of a freshly filled deli case, he believes using social media will be a crucial component of La Bodega's future.

"I think that's a huge part of interacting with the customers," Markey said.

Markey also has plans to expand La Bodega's collaboration with other local businesses. Currently, the restaurant features some of Norma Huston's Just Like Mom's baked goods and scattered on some of its tables are papers advertising Elephant Bread's gluten and preservative free products. Both are regular vendors at the Oxford Farmer's Market held every Saturday Uptown.

Soon Markey hopes to hang paintings from local artists on the restaurant's walls, and a signature La Bodega blend from the Oxford Coffee Company is in the works.

"It's really important to be involved in the community," said Markey. "We have so many cool businesses in the area. Why not use them?"

In the meantime, Markey said, he's going to continue to come into the store every day, preparing deli salads, chicken parmesans, spicy mac and other fare for La Bodega's customers without worrying about aging kitchen equipment, lighting fixtures or air conditioning.

"It's the best. I can just come in and start cooking right away," said Markey. "It's what I enjoy doing."