Since opening his first Miami restaurant, Lokal, in 2011, Matt Kuscher has become one of the the city's most savvy restaurateurs by catering to locals and offering value-driven food and drink in friendly settings.
Now, Kuscher is about to embark on his most ambitious project as he takes over the food program at the Clevelander South Beach Hotel & Bar, in partnership with property owner, Jesta Hotels & Resorts.
Kuscher tells New Times that he was approached by Jesta to help upgrade the Clevelander's food operations and to help attract locals back to the hotel, which has become more of a tourist attraction than a spot for Miamians to hang out. "I'm always trying to take Miami classics and bring them back to life," says Kuscher, adding, "This has got me super excited. Everyone has partied at the Clevelander, but not probably in the past ten years. I want to change that."
Kuscher's Kush Hospitality Group has been a presence at the hotel since July 19, when the group took over the back-of-house food responsibilities. Kuscher's team has revamped the menus, focusing on using freshly ground beef, locally baked bread, and housemade sauces. "We wanted to make the transition on the hush because we were training the staff, basically, to go from a "frozen" kitchen to a scratch kitchen," says Kuscher. "Luckily, the staff is super excited. I think they needed the change."
In addition to revamping the food at the Clevelander, Kuscher will open Kush Clevelander, a restaurant and sports bar at the former Games on Sports restaurant, located behind the iconic Clevelander pool. "They had a back room behind the pool bar that they basically stopped using except for big nights. It was a really cool space to do a sports bar, so I saw this as an opportunity," says Kuscher, adding that Kush Clevelander should open sometime toward the end of August. "What we need to do is purely from a design standpoint," he adds.
Though a menu isn't yet set for Kush Clevelander, think burgers, sandwiches, and some vegan options. The bar menu for Kush Clevelander will be designed by Kush's corporate beverage director Cristina Suarez and will offer a variety of craft beers, classic cocktails, and drinks created specifically for the Clevelander. The beverage program at the pool bar and any other satellite bars will continue to be handled by Jesta. Kuscher explains, "Obviously, the Clevelander has a very successful pool bar business and a party vibe. My focus is on the food and the sports bar."
To further delineate the pool party scene from Kush Clevelander, the restaurant will have a separate entrance, so guests can circumnavigate the pool and crowds altogether if they want. "There's a party vibe and that's great. My goal is to create a space that locals who live in South Beach can feel comfortable about going to."
Kuscher has one more goal with Kush Clevelander. "Dan Le Batard's studio is right upstairs from the sports bar. He's known for his Miami pride. I want to make him and his guests say, 'wow' when they walk through the space. I want them to think this is the coolest sports bar ever — and I'm sure they've been to a million sports bars."
Kuscher didn't pinpoint exactly the bar's decor, but factor in the restaurateur's creativity — coupled with his love for Miami — and it's a safe bet to say that Kush Clevelander will pay homage to the greatest moments in Miami sports history, with memorabilia, murals, and nods to figures like Don Shula, Dwyane Wade, Dan Marino, and other greats.
And plenty of televisions to watch sports. "I was in South Beach during the Heat playoffs, and I couldn't think of too many places to watch the game. That's going to change," Kuscher says.
Miamians will just have to wait a few weeks more to see the final product.
Kush Clevelander. 1020 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; kushhospitality.com. Opening August 2022.