Is Marcus Samuelsson's Planned Miami Restaurant Still Happening?

Marcus Samuelsson
Marcus Samuelsson

The Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) says negotiations are chugging along between itself and Marcus Samuelsson for a restaurant, lounge, and supper club in a onetime Overtown pool hall.

Yet a spokeswoman for the Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef and his restaurant company says otherwise. "Marcus does love Miami, but I spoke with [his team] earlier, and we do not have anything in the works in Miami," Baltz & Co.'s Sarah Abell wrote in an email to New Times  yesterday.

Neither the CRA's director, Clarence E. Woods, nor its director of architecture and development, Brian Zeltsman, who is overseeing the project, responded to requests for comment. The Samuelsson Group's Derek Fleming, who handles the company's expansions, didn't answer more than a dozen calls, a pair of voicemails, and a text message. 

Nevertheless, a CRA spokeswoman said talks regarding a lease for the 7,600-square-foot property are still underway, but she couldn't provide any details as to when the agency and Samuelsson's people last spoke. "Both parties are actively negotiating the terms and are very close to reaching the desired terms and conditions," Ann Marie Sorrell wrote in an email. "There are no indications or desire for this deal to fail."

The decision to enter into talks with Samuelsson, who was the youngest chef to receive a three-star review from the New York Times, was a sort of coup for the CRA, which had spent about $850,000 rehabbing the building. His company's pitch beat out six other applicants with a concept similar to his celebrated Harlem restaurant Red Rooster, which reanimated a dormant yet historic space into a hub of community life. The plan includes an open-kitchen restaurant serving Southern cuisine flecked with Caribbean, Latin American, and African-American influences, alongside a bar, catering managers to handle events, and a booker to manage live entertainment.

The NW Second Avenue building once housed famed music promoter Clyde Killens' pool hall. During the middle of the 20th Century and before the neighborhood was blighted by construction, Killens was a neighborhood legend, hosting acts such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Sam Cooke, and Aretha Franklin at the Knight Beat, the Harlem Square, and other clubs. It wasn't uncommon to find some of the generation's greatest thinkers and writers in the neighborhood. Yet at the time, segregation laws didn't allow black artists, hired to perform in Miami Beach, to stay there. They found respite in what is now Overtown.

If negotiations with Samuelsson's group fall through, the CRA could begin negotiations with the Johnson family, who until 2013 operated Biscayne Boulevard's Crescendo Jazz & Blues Lounge.

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