Zuma, Coya Co-Owner Arjun Waney Opens Brickell French Restaurant, Talks Angry Beginnings

Inside Brickell's recently opened of Coya.
Inside Brickell's recently opened of Coya.
Image courtesy Coya

Arjun Waney, a partner in the popular, pricey Zuma and recently opened Coya, will open a French restaurant in Brickell in the coming year, according to the Real Deal.

The announcement comes a little more than a month after Coya, a high-end Latin American spot focused on Peruvian cuisine, opened at 999 Brickell Ave., becoming the brand's third location. The other two are in London and Dubai.

Meanwhile, the French restaurant, named La Petit Maison, will be located at 1300 Brickell Bay Dr., Cervera Real Estate's Carmen Moré told the Real Deal. Late last year, Waney joined the ownership group behind Brickell's Lippi, once helmed by former Palme D'Or toque Philippe Ruiz, to overhaul it into the coastal-Italian-focused Tamarina.

New Times recently spoke with Waney, a peripatetic millionaire who helped found Pier 1 Imports. He says his background in international retail has helped him become a successful restaurateur. “I work in retail operations, so I know how to find successful markets.”

When not having a look after his latest opening, Waney prefers to spend his time giving back to the poor, the disabled, and the sick in his homeland, India. A chance meeting with Mother Teresa many years ago taught him the importance of sharing his success with those in greater need. “As long as I’m alive, my money is going to be dedicated to poor people. I’m not just saying it to say it. I genuinely believe that there are people with much greater needs, and if we all pool in, maybe it will make a difference,” he says, ending the story of his life that took up the better part of our time in Coya’s lounge.

Charity aside, even at 75, Waney remains an innovative businessman. Even after relating a life story that spans several continents, the buying and selling of large corporations, and a tear shed over how fortunate he is to be able to give back to his homeland, he was ready to talk about Coya and how his foray into the restaurant world began.

Below, read as Waney gushes, albeit briefly, about the success of Coya and Zuma in Miami, as well as the projects we can expect for the future.

New Times: Can we verify it’s true that you began opening restaurants because — 
Arjun Wanjey: Of being refused at Nobu? Yes, that’s very true. When Nobu was in London, he was with his daughter. When I told him the story, he said, “I wish I knew which one answered the phone because I’d kick her in the back of the head.”

It was Nobu London?
Yes. There were two Nobus, and I have never eaten there. All my friends were telling me I had to. I’m social, but I’m not the type to call up someone and ask if they can get me a table. So I used to call periodically and they said, “We’ll give you a table in August.” So one day I called and said, "I called you in June and you said August. I call you in August and now you say you’re still booked. You’re going to put me on the waiting list?” I lost my temper, so I said, "Go to hell. I’m opening my own Japanese restaurant." That was in 1999, early 2000.

When you opened Zuma, had you been to Miami before?
Yes, with Pier 1. But I didn’t know it very well. There was no such thing as Brickell in those days. And I never anticipated that we’d do the kind of revenue that we do in Miami. There’s no restaurant besides Joe’s Stone Crab that does that kind of revenue. We are probably one of the highest-revenue-producing restaurants in Miami.

And Zuma New York just opened recently, correct?
Yes, it’s the most unbelievable restaurant I’ve ever seen. I’ve heard from fund managers that it’s the most beautiful restaurant in the world.

How do you feel about Coya Miami now that it’s open?
I’m shocked. I didn’t think it would be as beautiful as it is. I really didn’t. I didn’t think they’d be able to get the same effect. I think Miami is probably the most beautiful one. I’m very happy.

When I saw this place jammed last night, I wondered how [the kitchen] does it. The food here is so good. It’s tasty. And Sanjay, the head chef, is a genius. He started doing these fusion Maki rolls. They’re so good. We don’t have them in London or Dubai. I’m going to make sure we add them to the menu.

Are there more Coya locations in the works?
Now we are going to open Coyas all over the United States. We’ll open the next one in Tokyo or Honolulu. After that, we’ll open in New York and Los Angeles. Then we’ll do smaller versions of it called Para Pichu. They won’t have a members' club. They’ll only be members' restaurants. I’m organizing that with Tim Gannon, who was the founder and chairman of Outback Steakhouse.

People now say you have a restaurant empire. How do you feel about that term?
Clichés are clichés. What does "empire" mean? We are very good at selecting the markets where they’ll be successful. We have another restaurant opening here, La Petit Maison. In London and Dubai, you can never get a table.

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