The Heat is On

Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables.
Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables. Image Used with Permission

Miami’s resurgence hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.

When Miami Beach was incorporated first as a town and then two years later as a city, wealthy entrepreneurs such as John S. Collins, Carl Graham Fisher, the Lummus brothers, and the Pancoast family had high hopes for the tropical paradise. Exactly 100 years later, the collective vision these intrepid pioneers had of drinking tropical cocktails, dining on sumptuous treats, and cavorting in Eden-like circumstances has paid off, not only for Miami Beach but for the entire Miami-Dade County region.

For 2015, the National Restaurant Association has predicted that Florida will be the No. 2 market in the country in terms of growth, with sales projected to reach $34.6 billion. Miami is largely responsible for that position, and CREW-Miami, an association of commercial real estate professionals, confirms the Magic City is “fueling the growth of the entire state’s industry.”

Such a forecast is noteworthy for any market that isn’t New York City, Chicago, or San Francisco. But it’s even more remarkable for one that has been devastated by Category 5 hurricanes twice. A city that has absorbed wave after wave of political refugees from Cuba, Haiti, and other countries. And, one that was allowed to fall, during the ’70s and ’80s, into an economic slump that could have spelled the end of what is today considered one of America’s most significant architectural districts. As it turned out, the inclusion of that Art Deco District (otherwise known as South Beach) on the National Register of Historic Places, and its subsequent rescue-by-renovation, was one of the most instrumental elements in Miami’s extraordinary comeback and the city’s current food-and-beverage market growth.

Landmarks Then and Now

Some restaurants have not only survived since those early days, they’ve also thrived. Joe’s Stone Crab, located at the southern point of South Beach, is a case in point. Open since 1913, it began as a simple lunch counter, serving fish sandwiches; morphed into a seafood restaurant with clients including Al Capone; and, in 1921, began experimenting with stone crabs. Boiled and served cold with mustard sauce at 75 cents per order, stone crabs were an immediate sensation. Joe’s began to draw an even larger crowd that included celebrities and socialites and—even when Fort Lauderdale, in the throes of spring break fame, was as far south as visitors would stay—Joe’s was considered a mandatory epicurean experience for residents and tourists alike. Today, run by Jo Ann Bass, Joe’s granddaughter, with her son Stephen and daughter Jodi, Joe’s Stone Crab is a multi-generation enterprise that grossed $35.3 million in 2014—and it doesn’t even stay open year-round, closing after stone crab season ends on May 15 and reopening when it begins on October 15.

The Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel, located about 40 blocks north of Joe’s, has a slightly rockier history that reflects the ups and downs that have plagued the city. Once the site of Firestone Mansion, it debuted in 1954 as the largest property in the entire South Florida region and was an instantaneous hit with the reigning luminaries of the time, including Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, and Lucille Ball.

After 25 years, the Fontainebleau, like every other property in the Magic City, lost allure. And when South Beach began to re-emerge from its slump in the mid-1990s, the historic resort was miles north of the excitement.

Enter perhaps the smartest business decision made in the new Millennium: A $1 billion investment to renovate and expand the structure. In 2008, after three years of construction, the Fontainebleau Miami Beach unveiled more than 1,500 luxurious guestrooms, the high-energy LIV Nightclub, and 12 restaurants and lounges. These include Michelin-starred Hakkasan, Scarpetta, and StripSteak and Michael Mina 74, both from award-winning chef Michael Mina.



Amazing + inspiring article! Thanks Jen + FSR!

I had not been to Miami in years when I  was hired to be a consultant on a remake of a Miami Restaurant project a couple years ago.  We worked on the re-conceptualization of RUSTY PELICAN and spent a great deal of time there.  Loved the excitement of not just the food but the design and beverage scene.  I am looking forward to getting back as a good Chef Friend of mine is now involved in a new project there.  Herb Wilson is making the journey. 


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