Matt Kuscher isn't calling it a rebranding so much as an evolution of Stephen's, the Hialeah institution that dates all the way back to 1954.
Kuscher reopened Stephen's about a year ago after doing extensive work to upgrade essential areas like the kitchen. Though he added some modern touches like a secret bar in the back and a bathroom dedicated to the late Walter Mercado, he took care to retain the restaurant's vintage charm.
Stephen's did steady lunch traffic in the daytime and had a loyal following at its La Cocina bar, but with the bar industry hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, Kuscher realized he needed to rethink the entire concept.
When restaurants and bars were ordered closed by the State of Florida in March, Kuscher saw an opportunity to remodel Stephen's with the idea of offering burgers, cocktails, and vegan plates in addition to classic deli fare.
Creating the menu was easy. The challenge was to keep the old-school deli vibe while attracting a young audience for dinner service.
Kuscher's solution was to literally divide the dining room in half. "I kind of separated the space into two restaurants. When you walk in, the deli is on the right side, and the new space is on the left," he says.
The "deli" side still features Stephen's stained-glass signage and black-and-white photos of Kuscher's family. The left side is funkier, complete with a wall of beers available for carry-out purchase and a "Hialeah A F" sign.
Says Kuscher: "These two styles can coexist."
Perhaps most important: Stephen's most treasured employee, Henderson “Junior” Biggers, still has his space to cut pastrami and corned beef to order.
Favorites like deli sandwiches and matzo-ball soup remain on the menu, alongside items like the house-made "Goy-ish" croquetas ($9) made with pastrami and “Reuben” fillings, a chili con plantanitos ($9), and an assortment of vegan options, including a house-made veggie burger.
Kush by Stephen's will also offer cocktails, including a "Sex on the Sofa" ($11), made with rum, orgeat syrup, and pineapple and garnished with a faux-condom wrapper; and the "Señora Butterworth" ($13), made with bourbon, mezcal, sriracha maple syrup, and bitters and served in a miniature maple syrup jug with Kuscher’s mother-in-law’s face displayed on it. The restaurant also offers a pickleback, served in a Ba-Tampte pickle jar.
Kuscher says he has no immediate plans to reopen the tiny, adjacent La Cocina bar. But during dinner service, the sound system will switch from a Yacht Rock vibe to more of a hip-hop ambiance. He's also staying open an extra hour — till 10 p.m. — on Friday and Saturday nights.
"Now we've made it comfortable for you to have a date at a deli," Kuscher quips.
Kush by Stephen's reopens Wednesday, October 14, with a socially distanced celebration featuring one-dollar beers and five-dollar burgers from 5 to 9 p.m. There's also a Willy Wonka-inspired contest on opening day wherein guests will have an opportunity to find a golden ticket to win a year's worth of free food at Kush by Stephen's (restrictions and limitations apply).
If you can't make it to the grand reopening, the restaurant also offers a weekday happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m., with BOGO specials on select drafts and wines; $2 off specialty cocktails; $5 shot-and-a-beer, $5 selected appetizers, and $6 "Pata Sucia" punch.
Kush by Stephen’s. 1000 E. 16th St., Hialeah; 305-887-8863; stephensdeli.com. Sunday through Thursday noon to 9 p.m., Frida and Saturday noon to 10 p.m.