SOHO BAY RESTAURANT REOPENS WITH GUN TO HEAD
Management is “Not exactly thrilled by the circumstances”
27 November 2015
By David Arthur Walters
THE SOUTH BEACH HERALD
SOHO Restaurant at Bentley Bay, forced to close for nearly three months by unanticipated road construction, has finally reopened. The event was celebrated with the community in a two-hour, exceedingly generous Grand Reopening, well attended despite the fact that ingress from West Avenue was still blocked and access was otherwise tricky.
The closing in August was not so grand. Max Heindl, its general manager, complained to the New Times that the road construction that completely boxed in the upscale sushi restaurant on the north end of West Avenue had not been planned overnight although it caught him by surprise. He said he could have kept the place open with no customers or shut it down to save on expenses, likening the option to having a gun put to his head.
The closure naturally resulted in a significant loss of impetus, diminishing the expectations of potential customers, to mention the loss of employees, and the current loss of least $2 million of revenue, putting quite a drag on an estimated $3.5 million capital investment not counting extraordinary startup costs.
The gun is still to the head, figuratively speaking. Martin Marsh, SOHO’s assistant general manager, declined to discuss the numbers and other proprietary information except to say that the owners were “not exactly thrilled” by the circumstances; the gun-to-the-head metaphor was “a little excessive”; the restaurant was “working with the city” including a commissioner, in “an ongoing process to resolve issues”; and it would be “inappropriate” to complain about city officials.
He said he did not know if the landlord, prominent realtor and developer Scott Robins, a close friend and partner of developer Mayor Philip Levine, was aware of the upcoming road construction when he leased the space. He said that, to the best of his knowledge, Mr. Robins was not involved in working anything out with the city.
Government agencies are occasionally sued for interrupting businesses with construction. For example, Michael Jordon’s Steakhouse, which opened in 1998 and spearheaded the revival of Grand Center Station, has sued a state agency, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, for literally destroying its business with construction activities.
Holding cities liable for damages even for grossly negligent conduct is problematic in Florida given the sovereign immunity bestowed on agencies by the state’s highest court despite a statute supposedly waiving it. Sovereign immunity is said to have only added to the negligence and arrogance of public officials.
A sympathetic general manager for a Lincoln Road establishment, commenting anonymously to protect his business from retaliation, said that SOHO never should have tried to open when it did. It should have waited for construction to end, if it had known it was coming, and that would include the promised installation of a dock at its entrance where yachts could land.
“May God help them,” he said.
He recalled that Lincoln Road retailers and restaurants had recently approached City Manager Jimmy Morales about the scheduling of the upcoming re-landscaping of Lincoln Road. He said Mr. Morales promised there would be plenty of time before approval to work things out with the businesses. Two weeks later, the plan was approved without their input. He characterized the city manager as a liar in vulgar terms, saying businesses should never trust him.
He also said that the city would pay SOHO’s rent to Scott Robins for the period it was closed. Commissioner Michael Grieco denied that has yet occurred because it would have to be approved by the commission.
Brazilian Restaurateur Karine Queiroz opened her first restaurant in 1998, in Bahia. She had eight restaurants in Brazil when she opened in South Beach. She has nearly doubled her restaurant count since 2013.
She has not responded by deadline to several questions forwarded to her; for example, whether she believes the City of Miami Beach is easier to deal with than so-called Third World governments, and what is the secret of her success. We shall have to guess.
Location is important, but is not the all. SOHO is located at the Miami Beach end of MacArthur Causeway, which is becoming a sort of traffic center given recent developments. It is remote from other restaurants except for a successful one at the yacht harbor nearby, yet that is no problem if it can attract the sort of upscale clientele that live the beside water in that neighborhood, in addition to people who yacht and drive in. Parking and easy pedestrian access are key.
View from Dining Room
Of course employing the right wait staff, the foot soldiers, is crucial to success. They will be personable, intelligent servers committed to providing excellent service, and will want to stay around, on the average, for several years. That means they will need good tips. So the restaurant must be busy, and that means it must have, besides good service, good food hence good chefs and cooks.
SOHO is fusion sushi, and fusion is in now. When an area is flooded with the fusion of this and that with Asian or whatever, the fusion must be something special. Ricky Sauri, executive chef, is taking care of that at SOHO. He has top-notch experience. Besides, we know that many of the best chefs in the country are Puerto Ricans.
Ricky has Max Kamakura, an amazing Japanese sushi chef from Brazil, on his team. Fabian Failla, the service manager, had Max prepare a spectacular assortment of sushi for me. I asked Max if the delightful combination or all the items on the plate was on the menu. He said he would probably not duplicate the plate or some of the items in the future as he preferred to be creative once he knew the general preferences of customers.
Of course a good restaurant must have excellent management to facilitate the performance of everyone they manage instead of getting in their way and alienating them, and they must please customers and owners, and do a myriad of things including working things out constructively with city officials.
SOHO business is still impeded by construction besides West Avenue construction blockade. At present the large parking lot beside 520 West Avenue is helpful, but it will be soon replaced by a garage, so more construction. The intersection at Fifth and Alton is lacking two crosswalks that would allow pedestrians to safely approach the front entrance from the shopping center and the South of Fifth neighborhood. Again, access by car is tricky.
Notwithstanding the current impediments, the Grand Reopening was packed with people who managed to arrive to consume what must have been $20,000 in food, not to mention staffing costs.
Healthy Photo Credit- Michael Trainer
Mr. Marsh is a smart young man with good public relations skills. When I commented that it is taking way too long to get the restaurant up and running, he said that SOHO’s objective is “not to be the restaurant of the year,” but to “grow organically.”
View of from portico – Brazilian American Chamber event