On a gorgeous Monday evening, young professionals gathered at the Wynwood Yard for a mixer and dinner. As they mingled at their cocktail hour, the Yard's Julie Frans, clad in a denim chef's apron, oversaw the setup of a large community table where the group would later break bread. At the bar, several guests were taking advantage of happy hour while a DJ played '70s R&B. All around, there was a relaxed yet buzzy vibe that happens when the weather is fine and people are expecting a good time.
By all indications, the Yard continues to be a thriving hub of food and entertainment in Miami's arts neighborhood. Yet this Sunday, May 5, after a weekend-long party, it will close to make way for an 11-story complex called Wynwood Green. The project will consist of 189 residential units and about 17,000 square feet of commercial space on a lot that encompasses the Yard and the former O Cinema space.
The Wynwood Yard's founder, 31-year-old Della Heiman, says that she always knew the space was temporary and that she's looking forward to opening the Doral Yard in the near future. Still, Heiman says, saying goodbye to the Wynwood Yard won't be easy. "It's going to be sad, thinking of it not being here, but everything has its time and place, and it's the right time to close this door and open a different one."
The Wynwood Yard resonates with so many because it truly represents the neighborhood where it resides: Both are scrappy and colorful hodgepodges run by people with a passion.
Heiman didn't plan to open anything resembling the Yard. With a newly minted degree from Harvard Business School, the young entrepreneur moved to Miami in 2014 with the aspiration of opening a brick-and-mortar version of Della Bowls, a concept she developed in her Boston apartment. "When I handed in my final set of building plans, I felt like it was more complicated than anything in school," she says. "The complexity of permitting this was the most mind-boggling thing I've ever done."
Reaction to Heiman's plan was both warm and cold. Some, such as restaurateur and business partner Ken Lyon and community and culinary director Julie Frans, believed in the vision from the beginning. Others were skeptical. Heiman says the contractors who quoted her plumbing prices were dumbfounded when she received approval from the City of Miami. And she won't reveal the name of the well-known chef she overheard talking to his wife on the phone at a pre-opening reception. "He was speaking in Spanish, saying, 'What a mess. This is a disaster.' He didn't realize I speak Spanish."But she acknowledges that, at the time, "the place was a wreck, and I spent the night just raking gravel."
But with a lot of sweat equity, Heiman turned the lot into a social and culinary hub for the community. The Miami omakase concept Myumi was the first food truck to roll in. It was followed by others such as Mr. Bing, House of Mac, and Heiman's own Della Bowls.
The Yard proved to be an exercise in balance and patience for Heiman and her crew. For each success, like a breakout food truck getting rave reviews, there were issues, like the official opening delayed by a week because of torrential rain. Heiman likens some of her experiences at the Yard to the ten plagues in the Old Testament's Book of Exodus. "When a transformer blew, there was darkness, and then, of course, came the locusts."
She's referring to Miami's Zika scare, which forced the Yard to close for two weeks in August 2016 after three of nearly 100 employees tested positive for the mosquito-borne virus. Heiman paid all employees during the shutdown in cash when the local bank was closed and did something many business owners don't think of doing: She was completely transparent with the public about everything that happened. "It was not a comfortable time and not a comfortable experience at all, but our team came together."
Heiman doubled down on the Yard after the Zika scare. "We realized we got down to rock bottom and said, 'Let's just be dreamers.'" Instead of breaking down, she and her partners expanded the lot size and added an edible garden as well as additional food concepts.
Rebirthed, the Yard thrived with seders, yoga sessions, and cooking classes. A robust music program allowed people to enjoy live music, including an impromptu performance by Coldplay's Chris Martin. The Yard even had its own fairy-tale love story when Youri Milfort and Kitty Curtis married there. They fell in love while working at the Yard's bar and got engaged there. Their reception was held at Charcoal, the Yard's fine-dining concept, and the couple, who recently had a baby, now run the Monsieur Poutine food truck on the lot.
Then there was the night in 2017 when Shakira performed. Heiman says that day she received a call from Prism Creative Group's Izzy Acker. "She said she could get Shakira to perform that night. We just started going into this crazy dive of logistics after saying yes, including getting a coconut cake for one of the singer's band member's birthday. I think we got the call at 10 in the morning, and it happened that night." She says word got out and the Yard grew super packed — but Shakira was late. "I just thought, If she doesn't show up, people are going to think this was all some scam. Then she got out of her car and walked onstage and did the most magical thing."
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Heiman hopes that kind of magic will translate to Doral. She says the soul of the Yard will remain the same: It will serve as a community hub and an incubator for entrepreneurs. "It's going to be amazing but different." She says the new locale will offer guests a 6,000-square-foot indoor space, a co-working hangout, and nightlife with a music program.
What will she miss most about the Wynwood Yard? Heiman gives a surprising answer: "The gravel. A lot of women who come here hate the gravel because they can't wear heels." That's what she's always loved about it, though. "You can wear heels anywhere in Miami. Here, I tell people to kick off their shoes and relax."
And Doral? "At the Doral Yard, you can wear heels. But you don't have to."
YardFest: Farewell to the Wynwood Yard. 5 p.m. Friday, May 3, to 11 p.m. Sunday, May 5, at the Wynwood Yard, 56 NW 29th St., Miami; 305-771-4810; thewynwoodyard.com. Admission is free with RSVP via eventbrite.com.