24. Mark Soyka: Pioneer of New Neighborhoods
Photo by Lynn Parks Photography
New Times' Best of Miami 2014 issue arrives June 19. To celebrate, Short Order is paying tribute to Miami's culinary all-stars. These people forged our city's food scene into what it is today -- a thriving amalgam of tastes and cultures. Through their insight and talent, they've given the city a unique flavor and paved the way for bright new chefs and restaurateurs to follow their lead and take the Miami food scene into the future.
Mark Soyka has worn countless hats in his storied career, from entrepreneur and restaurateur to classic car collector. The role most often associated with him, however, is pioneer. Back when Miami Beach was a relative ghost town, Soyka opened the legendary 24-hour hangout News Café on Ocean Drive, where it continues to thrive more than 25 years later.
Born and raised in Israel, Soyka grew up around food in his parents' delis and grocery stores. He lived in New York more than 20 years, where he graduated from the New York School of Interior Design, earned his real estate license, and began opening his own food and clothing ventures. Soyka made his initial mark in the 1970s when he opened Manhattan's first roller-skating rink, the Metropolis Roller Skating Club. That innovative spirit eventually led Soyka to Miami, where he founded some of the city's most iconic businesses in collaboration with the late developer Tony Goldman, including News Café in 1988, Van Dyke Café on Lincoln Road in 1994, and Soyka Restaurant in the Biscayne corridor in 1999.
These eateries are widely credited with paving the way for the revitalization of each respective area, so much so that in 1999, the City of Miami Beach declared September 29 "Mark Soyka Day" in honor of his contributions to the city. In subsequent years, Soyka scooped up several other locations and created 55th Street Station, a collection of restaurants -- including Soyka and Andiamo Pizza -- boutiques, a gym, and the News Lounge, one of Midtown's most popular happy-hour spots, as well as Dogma Grill several blocks north on Biscayne Boulevard.
Although the restaurant and longtime live jazz spot Van Dyke Café closed earlier this year -- another local business lost in the ongoing Lincoln Road retail transformation -- its spirited memory won't be forgotten.
Soyka has been cutting tomatoes since he was 5 years old and has a soft spot for them. Although coffee might be the first thing to come to mind at a café, tomatoes are News Café's real gem. You'll sometimes spot a bright bowl of them at the front of the restaurant, where patrons can pick as they please. "Some restaurants are proud about the bread they have; tomato to me is like the bread," he told Miami Pop last year. "When I see somebody leave tomato behind and doesn't finish his food, I'm just like a Jewish mama. I go to them and say, "Leave the steak, leave everything; just eat your tomatoes."
In His Own Words
"When I came down, there was nothing but sand, palm trees, and whole deserted areas. The Deco District looked like Israel when I was growing up. I had no real plan...," he told SunPost Weekly in 2011. "As soon as I got here, I liked it. I felt like it was pioneer country or Never Never Land... It was supposed to be a six-month project -- it's become 25 years now."
Miami Food All-Stars
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Miami dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.