You may not recognize his face, but you undoubtedly know his name. Most commonly referred to as "Barton G." Barton G. Weiss is one of Miami's most popular restaurateurs, event producers, and hoteliers, thanks to his string of successful business ventures, including The Villa by Barton G., Prelude by Barton G., and Barton G. The Restaurant, which celebrates its grand re-opening tonight after getting a facelift. Renovations took place in advance of the venue's 10-year anniversary celebration in November.
Weiss's first pro gig was as an ice skater, and he eventually got into set and costume design before building his own traveling ice show. He was born in Philly and lived in New York, but visited Miami often in the early '90s, eventually becoming enough of a familiar face to volunteer as a designer and producer for an AIDS fundraiser.
Next was a wedding gig and numerous other events, plus the establishment of catering and destination management divisions and Barton G. The Restaurant. Then, in 1999, he was asked to handle the city's performing arts center's groundbreaking.
"The hardest thing is to get hot food to the table when you're cooking in a parking lot," he remembered. "I choreographed how the evening was going to go. I had production lines. Eight hundred people got their steaks, sizzling. And I was also stupid enough to do ice cream sundaes. I bought snowsuits for the pastry staff and they were in the back of freezer trucks. I was making my mark."
Here's more from the creative genius:
New Times: Is your family involved in the event production/service industry?
Barton G. Weiss: No one is in this business. I am totally the black sheep. I created the company back in the day from the ground up. There was no model for the business. There was no role model. It was merely done on a vision. I didn't know what I wanted to do.
How do figure skating and service connect?
Figure skating is a very individualized sport. I was one of those people who didn't want choreography. I would see ice shows and I could envision doing a show. Years later, I started in my early twenties, touring with an ice show. I was the producer, star and director. I'm still the same person I was back then.
Where do you draw inspiration for all your creative ideas today?
Inspiration could be looking at a tree... dealing with animals... children. My whole mission is to make people happy. It comes back to the basics of wowing people and letting them have memorable moments.
Have you ever had to say no?
Oh, absolutely. In the beginning, I didn't turn anything down. My biggest challenge, since the day I started the business, is knowing who I am, knowing what I represent, and knowing my place.
The most common one is when they want to do a birthday party with Publix cake at home. You don't need me for that. I was offered a sit-down dinner for 3,000 people. It's not feasible to do something [like that] Barton G. style. [But] we're not scared of a challenge. Most of the time the jobs we get are when people want to leave a mark.
What are the latest demands for catered meals?
Years ago, the big overdone was in. The food was important, but not really. It was more utilitarian. My future was making food the star. I've become the guy who will take a risk.
Do you come up with all the recipes yourself and ask chefs to tweak them?
I have a discriminating palate and I know what I like. And I know what's marketable. I'm not a chef and I'm really not an eater.
I bet, with all the details you have to be on top of, you can sometimes be a bear.
I push my staff to the limit. My staff is always on the defensive. They're already, "What's the worst-case scenario?" [But] I'm not opinionated at all. I am my own worst enemy and I take criticism really well.
You started Barton G. Catering first, but then how did Barton G. The Restaurant come about? Why did you pick that location? It was really off the main drags.
That just shows you my personality. I had dinner there when it was Starfish. It was Gatti's in the early 1940s and it was the place to go. It's still the exact same building since 1928. I thought, why don't I open a restaurant? People who can't go to one of my events still want to go for a party of four, party of two. Why don't I give them an event every night?
And locals frequented it?
The locals didn't want to go to Ocean Drive or the heart of South Beach and that's the demographic I went after. I care very much about locals -- there's something to be said in August. Ten years later -- 60 percent local. Look, we're not a restaurant you go for a Tuesday night quick bite. It's all celebratory. Barton G. The Restaurant built its reputation on culinary theater.
As one of the "locals," however, I have to say your menu prices are still breathtaking.
The prices look like, oh-my-gawd this is outrageous! Most people do say that. I'm not trying to be the most expensive guy in town. There's a lot of work that goes into these pieces. You're paying for creativity and innovation. Each one of my pieces is a creation. To put out 700 of them a night, you've gotta know your shit.
Will the prices be changing?
We're not raising our prices. The menu is changing: 75 percent.
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Tell me about the renovations and these renderings.
We closed Labor Day. [We redid] the whole place. The furniture is new, the color palette. I'm going giraffe-print velvet bar stools, this wall is all test tubes. It's warm, it's oranges, reds... it pops. It's going to look like a different restaurant. It's simple. It's clean. This compliments the food.
Tune in Monday to hear more news about Barton G. Weiss.