By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
The Gourmet Diner, located in North Miami Beach since 1983, was sentenced to an even longer purgatory. A victim of eminent domain -- the state needed three extra feet of land to widen Biscayne Boulevard, and the diner was in the way -- the restaurant was leveled in 1993. The Department of Transportation (DOT) initially offered proprietor Jean-Pierre Lejeune $117,000 for what he says was a million-dollar business; he bargained with DOT and got it to purchase for him a lot across the street instead. He then ordered a prefab steel-and-chrome diner to replace his old establishment, simply because it would be assembled rapidly and he could quickly get back to the business at hand: serving his signature custard tart. At the time Lejeune thought he got the better end of the deal. But instead, he says he was stuck with “rocks and sand. I had to develop the property, build a parking lot, and develop a sewage system. Just hooking the sewer up to the city was $45,000. If I hadn't been successful on the other side [of Biscayne Boulevard], I would have had to declare bankruptcy.” His forced march also cost him six months of dishing out his tarts and French-roots cuisine -- yet another significant loss.
Even when a move is voluntary, the results can be costly. Daily Bread Marketplace in Miami went from shabby to fabulous digs back in 1998. But to do so, the proprietors, the Mazzawi family, had to build from the ground up, drawing plans for an 8000-square-foot complex only about a mile south of the former location on Seventeenth Avenue and South Dixie Highway. Even paving the parking lot was an expensive endeavor, Monem Mazzawi told me just after the buildings had finally been completed. The Mazzawis were smart, though; they kept their original location open until after the move was accomplished. That way their customers received no interruption of service.
Fortunately for Lejeune and the Mazzawi family, both the Gourmet Diner and Daily Bread have not only endured but flourished, largely thanks to solid and loyal customer bases. Other restaurants that have moved haven't been so lucky. Sarah Moos, proprietor of By Sarah Café & Catering, relocated from South Beach to North Miami, and then watched her new site on 125th Street and NW Seventh Avenue burn down. She relocated again to a shopping center in North Miami, but closed up after almost a two-year run.
The North Miami and North Miami Beach areas have often been the misguided destination for other eateries. The Palm Grill, an award-winning eatery in Key West for nine years, moved in next to Paquito's (another place that has a move under its belt, thanks to demolition of its first quarters) in 1998. But a scant year later, its prize chef, Willis Loughhead, had been lured to Tantra, and about six months after that, the Palm Grill closed. At the time proprietors Wayne King and Michael Gallagher said they would move the Palm Grill to Coral Gables in the fall, which probably is a better market for their upwardly mobile cuisine. Only season will tell if we'll see a Grill in the Gables.
Meanwhile Andre's Diner has taken over the Palm Grill spot, a move that chef-proprietor Andre Filosa couldn't possibly have completed in less than a month. “[Moving a restaurant] is nothing like moving a house. It is more complicated,” he notes. “We worked every second of the day. We didn't stop.” Good thing Filosa is a seasoned mover. He first relocated his restaurant, which had been firmly entrenched for five years on 123rd Street in North Miami (and is now Il Piccolo Diner), when he split from his partners in 1996. After four years at Biscayne Boulevard and 144th Street in North Miami Beach, he was ready and eager to grow again. “My business was beginning to be too small,” he says simply. “We always had people waiting outside.” Now Andre's Diner, which opens for lunch and dinner this week, not only has 110 seats -- 70 more than previously -- and a full bar, “it is so beautiful you could sleep here,” Filosa boasts.
Aesthetics may be the single best reason for a restaurant to move and risk losing its clientele. And despite the landlord problems that may have necessitated the switch, News Café could very well survive its five-block sojourn into a more luxurious setting. At least it's staying on Ocean Drive, giving tourists a chance to find it by accident -- unlike another famed Ocean Drive eatery, I Paparazzi, which moved to Collins Avenue last winter and whose phone number is now “temporarily disconnected.”