Food Industry

Wynwood's Small Businesses Strive to Succeed Despite Rising Costs

Wynwood has seen plenty of makeovers in the past few decades. Until three or four years ago, the neighborhood was in a strange purgatory. It held its working-class past in one hand, and in the other was the seed of a home for Miami's nascent creative class.

For a time, it was a place where you would clutch a Solo cup of red wine while darting between dimly lit galleries but find few dining options. A barbecue truck used to park on the corner of NW Second Avenue and 29th Street. The Goldmans' Joey's Italian Café was long the lone bastion for any visitor seeking a sit-down meal amid the ever-changing landscape of technicolor murals.

Fast-forward to 2015, and Wynwood is stuffed with dining options, and there are more on the burner. The most notable of the new crop is Zak Stern's whitewashed bakery, Zak the Baker, which every day seems to be packed with longer lines and more employees rolling out loaves, grilling sandwiches, and turning out homemade pasta.

"We hope to lead by example, set the tone, and make decisions that are really best for the neighborhood."

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The business has grown fast enough in its first year that Stern and his wife Batsheva took out a lease on a nearby 7,000-square-foot former art gallery to house the baking operation. The original space will become a restaurant. Bradley Kilgore's Alter has emerged with some of Miami's most exciting cooking offered in a casual concrete-walled forum. There's a trio of breweries. Panther Coffee regularly attracts a line that runs out the door and sometimes mingles with the queue forming for duck carnitas at neighboring Coyo Taco.

Yet the growth of Wynwood has also drawn critics while larger companies like Ducati have moved in. Real-estate values have skyrocketed, boosting rents and making success harder for a lot of the independent small-business owners who helped give the area its start.

"The building we're in was recently purchased by a new entity, and they tripled our rent," says Wood Tavern owner Cesar Morales. "I'm concerned about small owner-operated businesses not being able to afford the rent, which is why you've seen many moving to places like Little Haiti."

Yet Stern says the Wynwood restaurants that helped spawn the neighborhood's growth also have a responsibility to ensure it finds the right path.

"Just because people are concerned with the direction doesn't mean we throw our hands up and start knocking it down," he says. "We're taking out a personal loan to commit to Wynwood. If this doesn't work out, I'm broke."

But it's difficult to see what a small group of independent businesses can do against moneyed developers like Moishe Mana, who now owns a massive swath of the neighborhood, or the other outfits looking to go vertical with condominiums, hotels, and apartments.

The onus then falls on the developers to find the right mix of tenants to maintain a balance to ensure it doesn't suffer a fate similar to that of Lincoln Road, where years of growth and turnover have pushed prices to the point where today it's occupied mostly by national retailers.

"We hope to lead by example, set the tone, and make decisions that are really best for the neighborhood even though they might not be the highest rent we can get," says Jessica Goldman Srebnick, who, along with her late father Tony Goldman, is lauded for helping Wynwood develop.

But the neighborhood will continue to grow for better or worse. A garage and a mixed-use complex are in the works, and the expansion of Wynwood Walls isn't far off. Those spaces are all part of the 400,000 square feet that Goldman Properties controls. In finding businesses to fill those spots, the owners will try to find something for everyone. It's unclear what small owners will pop up in the future and which of them will be able to afford Miami's hottest area. What is certain is that if no one steps up, a downward spiral could begin.

"Instead of dumping the dream and running on to the next emerging area, let's be proud of it and take control," Stern says. "There's no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. Be productive and help us out."