Despite a run of high-profile restaurant closures that have rolled through Miami like a summer squall, casualties are waning as sales figures pick up and begin outpacing major metro areas like Los Angeles and New York.
The numbers seemed to have bottomed out in March, when they climbed a paltry 0.8 percent compared to the same month the previous year, making Miami the third-lowest-performing region nationally, a spokeswoman for Applied Predictive Technologies (APT) said. National restaurant sales rose 3.5 percent that month.
The company, a subsidiary of payment giant MasterCard, aggregates data from more than 100,000 registers across the nation.
Miami's sales began recovering in May, though, when the 3.6 percent growth the region posted surpassed the nation’s 3.3 percent. Summer, long thought to be South Florida’s slow season, continued posting gains. In June, Miami’s 4.2 percent bump vaulted over the country’s 2.6 percent increase, according to APT.
May sales growth surpassed that of New York (1.5 percent) and Los Angeles (3.3 percent), while June’s numbers bested New York’s 3.4 increase and Chicago’s 2.9 percent bump.
Meanwhile, the number of restaurant closings has slowed, despite the shrill bleating of the Miami Herald since midspring. New Times' July restaurant opening and closings recap shows that less than a half-dozen spots closed last month while nearly 20 opened for business.
The rising sales, plus the opening of well-reviewed, high-profile restaurants, indicates it isn’t only seasonality that determines success. Owners’ business decisions now play an even more critical role as Miami bustles throughout the year.
Among the new openings are Tom Colicchio's Beachcraft; Michelle Bernstein’s Cena by Michy, a relaunch of her longstanding MiMo District restaurant; and Wynwood’s Alter, helmed by Bradley Kilgore. The last recently earned glowing reviews from New Times and the Herald.
Blackbrick and Sakaya Kitchen’s Richard Hales says opening in the summer is a challenge but more than doable with the right plan. “It’s not shocking that places closed when people say they can’t afford the rent,” says Hales, whose Centro Taco opened in downtown late last month. “It’s sort of like moving into an apartment you know you can’t afford.”
Miami is now a year-round destination for South Americans with piles of money to spend or park on our shores. With the flipped seasons, South Florida’s summer is the perfect time for big-spending Brazilians or Argentines to hop on a plane to escape winter. So there's no more blaming the heat and humidity for sending people packing.
Many of this summer’s casualties, such as Kris Wessel’s recently shuttered Oolite, have suffered similar symptoms. Fabio Viviani’s short-lived Siena Tavern on Fifth Street in South Beach was also too large, with too varied a menu, to sustain. The Pubbelly Boys’ L’echon Brasserie, hidden in a Mid-Beach hotel, failed to achieve the same success as its Sunset Harbour siblings.
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Previous summers have also seen their share of high-profile closures. In 2013, it was South Beach's Bond St. Lounge, Bernie's L.A. Café, Yakko-San offshoot Little Lotus, the landmark Crab House, and Sushi Maki's fast-casual pan-Asian concept, Pao Town. The following year, Catch, Porçao Farm to Table, Latin Burger & Taco, Umami Burger, Jerry’s Deli, Liberty City's iconic Jumbo's, Lorenzo, and PB Steak all bit the dust.
“The days of working for three months and waiting on reviews are gone,” Hales says. “People are coming in on day one demanding you’re firing on all cylinders.”