In light of the Labor Day holiday and an otherwise slow news week, there won’t be any Quick Hits posted this week. The only other item I’d be posting, besides the commentary below, is this fascinating post by Muriel Olivares at the Little River Market Garden.
Eater Miami broke the news this past weekend that Chef Michael Schwartz is taking over the food and beverage operations for The Raleigh Hotel on South Beach. The only thing that ever seems to have made a splash at The Raleigh is its pool, not its restaurant (the last try came from John DeLucie, all the way from New York City–you’re supposed to read that like a Pace salsa commercial). On the other hand, Schwartz has the hottest restaurant in Miami–Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District. This is a big “get” for The Raleigh, especially since Schwartz had generally resisted the urge to expand quickly and fans of MGFD are eager to see what is next (MGFD opened in 2007. Last year, he opened up an MGFD in Grand Cayman. On September 27th, he is opening a pizza joint in the Design District called Harry’s Pizzeria).
This isn’t a commentary on whether or not this is a good business move. Obviously, if it is a popular location and prints money like MGFD appears to do, then it is a financial success. I don’t see any reason to doubt that it will be popular. Beachgoers want to check out the hot new thing. It will be the hot new thing. And Schwartz has proven himself to be talented, successful, and a very savvy businessman.
But when Michael Schwartz opened up in the Design District on March 13, 2007, it was promising something different. The term ‘genuine’ wasn’t just a reference to the lack of pesticides on the fruit or even the farm-to-table cuisine, it was a part of the overall brand being developed (not all restaurants have a brand manager, this one does). Schwartz crossed the causeway from South Beach, where he had been chef and owner of Nemo, and became a pioneer in the Design District. This signified in some ways the passing of the torch from Miami Beach to the mainland as the place where Miami would lay down its roots as a more serious food town (not to diminish, however, the restaurants that predate MGFD, especially Michy’s). More than any other store or building on NE 40th Street, Schwartz helped to create a neighborhood. He employs a forager, he buys produce from several local farms, he teams up with local independent movie theater O Cinema. This is also part of the “Genuine” ethos, or brand. MGFD is an extension of the chef, and it is meant to exude realness.
Meanwhile, that murderer’s rows of hotels on Collins Avenue, where each meal comes with an exorbitant valet parking fee, caters to the tourists and the idea of Miami as a 24-hour party town. It is Miami Vice, Lamborghinis, perhaps a touch of silicone. Locals may endure the inconveniences of Collins Avenue on a Saturday night to check the new restaurant out, and certainly, if history is any guide, Schwartz will create a top-notch dining experience that draws people from all over Miami. But is a hotel restaurant, especially one on South Beach, “genuine?” Is this the same argument that has been hashed and rehashed over whether a chef who opens up in a Las Vegas casino is selling out? Probably. A hotel on Collins Avenue is pretty much our Las Vegas.
I don’t know exactly where I fall on whether this “feels” genuine or not. I’d like this post to be more of a conversation starter (an amuse bouche, or as Schwartz would call it, a snack). Also, there are plenty of compelling arguments as to why it is unfair to criticize someone for taking advantage of an opportunity that is likely lucrative in a business that can be fleeting and fickle. But on the other hand, Schwartz chose the word “genuine” to describe his brand (he is now referring to his group of restaurants as The Genuine Hospitality Group). He could have called his restaurant Michael’s Local Food & Drink, or something to that effect. So I think it is a fair discussion to have.
I don’t have any strict policies regarding comments but sandbox rules apply. Be nice, and no hair pulling.