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MIAMI BEACH — Location, location, location is the New York restaurateur’s mantra. But as Miami hits another style wave, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the mid-Nineties, landing a prime piece of South Florida real estate has become quite a challenge.
Luckily for partners Mark Thomas Amadei, photographer Pablo Alfaro, Stacy Pisone and Susan Leonard, they found the perfect spot for Cafeteria Miami, the second outpost of New York’s Cafeteria Restaurant, in a former Cadillac dealership (dating to 1927) on Lincoln Road in the tony South Beach area. They loved the building so much, they decided to keep the sign over the entrance.
This story first appeared in the December 2, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
After scouting the site almost four years ago, the partners literally wined and dined their new landlords to beat out such competitors as Balthazar, Angelo and Maxie’s Steakhouse and the Gap. The group even invited their landlord to the fashion show of Pablo’s brother, Victor Alfaro. “It’s kind of scary because at this point, we are almost like family,” says Amadei.
Next came the challenge of realizing the partners’ design dreams — a large white open space with open garage doors, a retractable roof and a rooftop garden lounge — without upsetting the town’s Art Deco-obsessed architectural review board or disregarding the district’s strict building codes. For a while, the whole deal looked shaky, “but as the project progressed, and they saw what we could do for the ambience of Lincoln Road, they signed our work permits,” says Amadei.
Finally, last year, in homage to the original Cafeteria menus, which are covered with photos of Manhattan characters and restaurant regulars, the partners threw a party to cast “characters” for the South Beach venue. Over 1,000 people — including models, drag queens, doormen and the mayor — came to drink, dance and have their photos taken by Pablo Alfaro. Of course, the landlords, Bob and Jeff Quittner, made the cut, as well as local designer Esteban Cortazar and club impresario Ingrid Casares.
Alfaro and Amadei, who has vacationed in the area for 10 years, were convinced Cafeteria’s 24/7 concept was ripe for Miami, where there are relatively few all-night dining spots. Wolfie’s, the most popular locale, will soon become an art museum. “We wanted a place to hang out and eat well, enjoy the space and crowd,” says Amadei. “Sort of an extension of our own kitchens.”
And since the restaurant’s opening last week, that kitchen has been plenty busy, serving over 1,000 meals on the first day. Luminaries like Bruce Weber and Ricky Martin have popped in. But though the partners could have cordoned off their new hot spot with burly doormen and a velvet rope, they turned down several opportunities to book private parties, fearing it might send the wrong message.
“We want everyone to feel welcome here,” says Amadei, “whether they stop in for lunch, a drink in the lounge before hitting the clubs or even a late night breakfast.”