December 2019, Miami's hospitality industry was looking forward to a prosperous tourist season featuring Super Bowl LIV in February.
We all know what actually transpired.
When we asked local chefs and restaurateurs to look back on 2020 and describe what they'd endured and learned, we heard about plenty of initial shock and sadness — but an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. The year brought challenges of biblical proportions, but it also provided an abject lesson in teamwork, perseverance, and never taking what you've got for granted.
We asked those same professionals a follow-up question: What are you looking forward to in 2021?
Some were hesitant to even try to answer, but many were cautiously optimistic. Though most noted that turning the page on a calendar doesn't change the world overnight, they agreed that symbolically saying goodbye to 2020 was exactly what they needed and that the advent of 2021 brings cause for hope. That, combined with the aforementioned valuable lessons, imbues the coming year with the the faint glow of a light at the end of the tunnel, at the very least.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Click here to read the companion piece to this story, "2020: Miami Chefs Look Back."
Brad Kilgore (Alter)
I'm not going into 2021 too agressively because I think the world isn't going to be too normalized until the third or fourth quarter. I've been looking at the industry and what I've been spending a lot of mental energy on is more casual concepts. I'm not focused on a big dining room. That's not to say it's all to-go, but a place where anyone can eat the food: It's accessible with ideas that are creative. I'm respectful of the idea that some people will be hesitant to go out into the world for quite some time. Instead of convincing myself that going 100 percent back into what used to be acceptable is the right way to think, I'm focusing on how we eat right now and how we will eat into the future.
I don't think the ball will drop at midnight on December 31 and things will magically change. It's going to take a lot of effort. I hope it's going to be an amazing year. I think people wil appreaciate servers and bartenders more and will be more understanding. I hope people will be more relaxed. I'm more calm, for sure — when you go through something shitty and you come out of it, you say to yourself: I can do anything.
Marc Falsetto (Handcrafted Hospitality)
If you're going to succeed in this industry, you have to be a fighter and an optimist. Right now, I'm bullish on Florida. And I'm bullish on expanding my businesses. With the number of people coming to this state, I think we're going to see one of the biggest economic booms of our time, with a bull run in both tourism and the industry. So I'm not just optimistic about 2021. I'm doubling down.
Greg Tetzner and Jackie Richie (Old Greg's Pizza)
We've been looking for a new space. We're seeking our future permanent home for 2021.We don't want to have to presell our pizzas and we don't want to sell out anymore. We just want to be your neighborhood pizzeria. We want to sponsor a Little League team. As for another pop-up or collaboration, they're fun but logistically harder to do. If the opportunity arises and it's fun for everyone, we would consider it.
David Grutman (Groot Hospitality)
We have a lot of exciting stuff on the horizon for 2021. Of course, I am super-pumped to open my first hotel, in partnership with Pharrell Williams: the Goodtime Hotel, including Strawberry Moon and three totally new concepts at the iconic Firestone building — Sushi Fly Chicken, Winker's, and Toothfairy — all such different venues on one Miami Beach corner. I think we have a lot to look forward to as a city. (via email)
Liz Machado (Vegan Cuban Cuisine)
In 2021, we want to sell and ship online. We are researching the most sustainable packaging options. We also want to introduce new dishes, including entrées like vegan ropa vieja, which we are recipe-testing now. I am not a formal chef, but I love to cook and what we do is our mission.
We're obviously not doing Wakefest in the same way. I wouldn't even think about doing something like that in 2021 — I don't even want to open that door. We will do an anniversary party but something on a much smaller scale. Maybe three sessions with 80 people in each session, all seated. So you're talking about 240 people versus about 2,000 people. It's a far cry from what it was, but it's better than nothing. The question remains how do you do something special but not put people at risk? Looking forward, we're going to keep going. We're finally seeing some positive traction. I'm hoping we get some semblance of normalcy in the coming months. I gotta believe that people are tired of being boxed up in their houses. We sanitize the taproom, we clean the bathrooms every 15 minutes, and we all wear masks. We are on top of this. You can come here and feel safe.
David Martinez (Café La Trova, Sweet Liberty)
We are trying to look past the first two quarters and figure out how we will make it to the summer, when we feel things will start to stabilize a bit. Hopefully, we will be able to rely on some much-needed federal relief; however, I think I speak for most people in our industry when I say restaurants were not designed to have this type of lapse of business and I believe we were left out or not thought of when Congress was drafting this new stimulus package. I would say if we make it out of this one and are still around at the beginning of 2022, we can withstand anything thrown at us. (via email)
Peter Vauthy (Red South Beach)
I'm going forward. I'll count my blessings and continue to do the things that make me happy. I want to bring people back together — that's what people miss the most. The separation has been tough. I'm a social person and not being able to socialize hurts. This new space will give Red a jolt of life. We're going from a dark space to a beautiful patio. I'm looking forward to doing those things and having people come together. At some point, this will pass.
Things are going to take time to go back to whatever the new normal is. We're expecting the first half to be about the same. We're really planning for the second half of the year. We will still wear masks and social-distance at the taproom and we will continue with delivery. We have some great beers coming out and we have a little outdoor area. It's beautiful weather for at least the next three months, so we'd like people to come out to the brewery. We have a great artist series coming up, and our Laces IPA is growing very nicely.
Cindy Hutson (Ortanique [closed])
I am working on the menu for Cervecería La Tropical [opening in 2021], which is so amazing. The brewery has a big and beautiful story to tell. The property is beautiful. It was designed before the pandemic, but it's an open-air space with a roof, so it works so well for these times. My daughter had put all her time and effort into Ortanique. When it closed, she was so resilient, she opened up a dog-food company. She watched me almost crumble and she's going right out there and making her way.
Nicole Gates (Lil Greenhouse Grill)
I am going into the new year wiser and unstoppable. With what I've learned over the past nine months, I feel like I can do anything. I'm looking forward to the new year and I am going to celebrate it — in quarantine, of course. We came out of the year and we are stull fully operational and for that I am thankful. I'm a single mom and there were times this year that I would put my son to bed and feel lonely. There was no dating. But then I'd wake up and the sun would shine and you have another chance to do everything right. That's what 2021 is going to be — a chance to do everything right.
Could it be worse in 2021? Nothing would surprise me. Biden won — we have that going for us. In all seriousness, I'm optimistic. I think it's too early to tell, but so far, it doesn't seem like it's going to be worse. I know it sounds cliché, but this puts everything into perspective. I have my family. I got my shit together. I lost 35 pounds and changed my eating habits. I plan to continue that in 2021.
Michael Beltran (Ariete, Chug's Diner, Navé)
I predict nothing for 2021. The state of the world is day-to-day and we have to stay relentless. The only prediction I can bank on is that we will continue to do what we do every day, which is work hard to be a part of and a leader in the Miami dining scene and stay at the forefront. (via email)
Lee Schrager (South Beach Wine & Food Festival)
It's never going to go back to the way it was. 2021 is going to be different in terms of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. We've cut our numbers, we're expanding to multiple nights, and moving everything outdoors. In general, I think the industry will have a rocky first quarter. I'm really hopeful that by the second quarter, many people will have had the vaccine and restaurants will start to thrive. Until then, I'm hoping that restaurants can hold on and locals can support them with takeout. By early spring we should see a new day here in South Florida.
Diego Oka (La Mar by Gastón Acurio)
2021 will be much better for sure. We all need our normal lives back. I believe it will be amazing because people now appreciate the simple things in life, more. (via email)
Stephanie Vitori (Cheeseburger Baby)
I still think COVID will have an impact on the coming year. There are so many factors: a new president, the vaccine, and now there may be a second strain. I hope the curfew will be lifted in the future, and I'm looking forward to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in May and, further down the road, to Art Basel. I think 2021 will still have an impact from COVID, 2022 will be the hangover year, and 2023 is going to be recovery.
I think we are walking into 2021 wiser. I don't know what's coming, but the lessons we learned in 2020 should help us thrive in the year to come. I hope it's a more positive year. We certainly will appreciate things more. Maybe we will have learned how much we took for granted.
Michael Schwartz (The Genuine Hospitality Group)
I think the first half of 2021 will be more of the same. But planning ahead with so much uncertainty is difficult. I do see a lot of opportunity for people to start over once the vaccine takes hold. I would say the end of 2021 and 2022 should be great. I don't have a crystal ball, but I feel that by the time we really ramp things up, a year and a half will have passed. I'm just extremely grateful that we're even in the position to look ahead and that we didn't have to close our businesses.
Adrianne Calvo (Chef Adrianne's Vineyard Restaurant and Bar, Redfish by Chef Adrianne)
I have no idea what 2021 is going to look like. When you hear the news, you're scared, but if you walk into a store or restaurant, it looks normal. At my restaurants, we get tested every two days and we wear masks and we have 100 sanitizing stations. That won't change. I do hope we will see a little more normalcy. I'm still going to be in warrior mode until we see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Sandy Sanchez (La Fresa Francesa)
It's about taking it one day at a time. I think the silver lining of COVID is that things were brought into our reality that we needed to think about anyway. I think 2021 will be the year we are all more conscious about the state of the world, and thinking of other people.
I hope we can gather inside safely soon, but we’ve gotten used to outdoor dining to a degree and would like to keep it. I also hope landlords learned how much they depend on restaurants.
Ben Potts (Beaker & Gray, the Sylvester)
Next year will be a brave new world for hospitality. The landscape will have already shifted from 2020 but could continue moving toward more takeout and delivery. Social distancing will be the norm for probably the first quarter, or at least until cases start to decline. Hospitality in Miami has always been a social experience but now will be more individualized. The rise of "experiences" to transport people to a different place will become more prevalent. It's difficult to know the future, but we are hopeful that when the dust settles, normalcy will return and we can go back to business as usual. (via email)
Tim Petrillo (The Restaurant People)
I don't expect to see full consumer confidence until the end 2021, or even into 2022. The unfortunate side to the pandemic was that so many restaurants had to close their doors or let go of employees. The bright spot for us has been our ability to absorb some really great talent. And because we were in a position to give them jobs in a time when we were basically shut down, we were also able to get creative, work on revamping our menus, and that's what I'm most excited about moving forward — showcasing all that talent in 2021.
Yonathan Ghersi (26 Degree Brewing Company)
We owe our landlord almost $100,000 in back rent. And the only way I can make that happen is if we can get back to pre-COVID numbers in the taproom and distribution. If we don't, and if the government doesn't provide some sort of aid, there's no telling what the future will look like. Hopefully there's a quick and effective distribution of the vaccine by March. That's what I'm hoping for. Conditions won't be perfect, and we're still going to have to be careful, but hopefully we can start to see some consumer confidence to get back out there supporting the local businesses.
We look forward to hosting workshops and events again at our new store. 2020 gave us a lot of perspectives we take into 2021 and I’m so thankful for our customers — they literally have made my dream come true.
Matt Kuscher (Kush Hospitality)
I'm very optimistic about 2021, though I don't think that a vaccine will be here tomorrow and suddenly we're going to be busy. Post-COVID, it's going to be a while for many people to even afford a burger at Kush. But my businesses are long-term. I'm doing this for the long haul. I'm looking past 2022 to 2023 and '24 and '25 and '26 and '27.
Della Heiman (The Doral Yard)
More now than ever, I believe that humans are craving connection, while at the same time needing to feel safe and "in control." It's a hard balance to strike. While we believe the vaccine will lead to major progress in 2021, we are continuing to build our strategy around the idea that masks and social-distancing are going to be part of the equation. At the Doral Yard, we are experimenting on a daily basis to figure out how we can find creative approaches to support local entrepreneurs, celebrate the uniting force of art, and create safe spaces for our community to gather and connect. Instead of getting "stuck" in problems, we are rallying around finding solutions and trying to have a sense of humor. The resilience of our local community, and the people who I interact with on a daily basis, give me a sense of optimism and hope. (via email)
Who knows what 2021 will bring? It's going to be interesting. Literally, not many people could stand another shutdown. You can't tell me to shut down my business and give me $600. 2021 is going to be the aftermath of the past year, but I am hopeful.
Myles Chefetz (Myles Restaurant Group)
I'm a little more optimistic about 2021. With the vaccines being distributed, the narrative is starting to change. I also believe that the COVID spikes will start to come down. With the vaccines, there will be enough immunity that by March restrictions will start to lift. That's my hope, at least. That's when we'll see a tremendous boom in business. Since Miami Beach is such a huge travel destination, I think the second half will be good. I believe in the medicine and I believe in the science. I'm hoping to see some normalcy and I'm hoping to save the season.
Emi Guerra (Breakwater Hospitality Group)
From an economic and industry standpoint, I believe the beginning of 2021 will be much of the same; however, I believe we may start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as we approach the second quarter. I am committed to working with my colleagues in uniting the voices of our local industry to effectively communicate with policy makers and with each other so we can find solutions to move forward and reopen our economy 100 percent in 2021. At the end of day, our industry just wants to get back to work serving our guests, helping them create amazing experiences. From a personal standpoint, I can’t wait for 2021 to hug my extended family members. I miss that. (via email)
Additional reporting by Nicole Danna, Juliana Accioly, and JennyLee Molina.