It was nearly 10 o'clock on a Friday evening when Amir Ben-Zion strolled past the double doors of his new Design District eatery, South Street. Head cleanly shaven and dressed in distressed jeans, the 50-year-old sauntered by an expansive leather booth where Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union were tweeting about their meal, past busy waiters wearing plaid trilby hats and suspenders, and stopped at a DJ stand nestled at the far corner of the bumping upstairs lounge.
He signaled, and Rufus and Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good" blared through the speakers. As decibel levels increased, the crowd took notice; it was a trademark Ben-Zion moment: good sound, good food, and good-looking people.
In the past three years, Ben-Zion has become one of Florida's hottest restaurateurs. His empire stretches from Midtown's Gigi -- named best late-night dining restaurant by Miami New Times in 2011 -- to its funky next-door lounge, Bardot, to South Beach's cool BondSt at the Townhouse Hotel alongside Jonathan Morr.
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But now, Ben-Zion has embarked upon one of the most ambitious experiments ever seen in South Florida dining. In October, he opened two major dining establishments simultaneously: South Street inhabits one of the highest-profile spots in Miami's hottest dining area, the Design District. And Cooper Avenue, which occupies an entire block of 7,500 square feet near Lincoln Road in South Beach, is a multifaceted deli, bakery, lounge, restaurant, market, and boutique, located on the ground floor of the parking garage for the Frank Gehry-designed New World Art Center.