Restaurateur Mark Soyka shocked just about everybody in the restaurant industry when he announced this past June that News Café, his inaugural eatery that helped revitalize Ocean Drive, would be moving from its location on Eighth Street and Ocean Drive. This fall the 400-seat News Café will be reinvented on Thirteenth Street and Ocean Drive, in the lobby and on the porch of the Cardozo Hotel. Although the Cardozo has always been complimented for its chic look, the restaurants in the hotel (which is owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan) have failed to live up to expectations. Plus, at the moment that stretch of Ocean Drive is considered small change in the world of tourist dollars. After thirteen years and untold success, only something catastrophic could make Soyka give up his spot, insiders whispered, and take on a jinx.

Actually there's nothing unusual about Soyka's rationale. As an entrepreneur he's always gone for that “unknown” quality in a location; he's thrived on helping to turn around small, slummy sections of the city by virtue of adding a busy and popular eatery. In addition his recent endeavors -- Soyka on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami, a forthcoming Soyka on Harrison Street in Hollywood, and a restaurant to be named later at the Dancing Bear location on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale -- evidence a turn toward upscale locales. So if the Estefans are willing to get into bed with him, Soyka has got nothing to lose, at least reputation-wise, by breathing new life into a beautiful but suffering site.

Of course most of us doubt Soyka would be moving the News were it not for the back story: landlord troubles. Seems that he and Tony Goldman, who owns the current News Café location, can't agree on a new lease. It's also pretty clear to the casual observer that the restaurant, once established as a tourist destination, outgrew its home as fast as a teenager discards blue jeans. Rather than dicker over terms, Soyka simply is saying sayonara; he'll retain part of the original site and rename it something like The Corner.

Problems with the landlord prompt many restaurants to make precipitous departures. Soyka appears to be taking his anticipated move in stride, as did Christine Lee, who took her namesake Chinese steak house out of the Thunderbird Hotel in North Miami Beach in the early Nineties. Lee had already endured one move from the Golden Strand to the Thunderbird in the Eighties, and had spent 21 years under the latter's roof. Still, disputes with the landlord and the threat of a sale pushed her into the RK Plaza across the street, where her daughter, Mary Lee Carothers, now runs the place.

Vito Mariano, owner of Rex, an Italian restaurant formerly in Coconut Grove, is satisfied with his new quarters in South Miami. He moved into the old Chilango's spot after only nine months of business in his former location, the ex-Bocca di Rosa site. He says the parking is better where he is now, plus he has a full bar and patio, which he didn't have before. But the real reason for his move was prompted by the sale of the building in which he had been leasing; the new owner didn't want a restaurant on the premises. Mariano was not only lucky to find a tastier location quickly; he also was blessed with food purveyors who lent him trucks to help him make a smooth transition. In the end Rex was only closed for three days in between locations.

But other proprietors haven't been as fortunate. In Fort Lauderdale respected South African café zanZbar was forced to vacate when the building was scheduled for demolition. Thus far zanZbar looks to be a goner. Darrel Broek and Oliver Saucy, who owned the contemporary bistro East City Grill on Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, found themselves in a similar situation when their landlord decided to build luxury condominiums on the plot where East City held forth. “We were a victim of expansion,” Saucy waxes philosophically. “Every restaurant has a life span.” Nevertheless the pair plans to relocate and reopen the eatery, which was credited with pushing the former Fort Lauderdale strip upscale. Problem is they can't find a decent spot, so for the moment, East City Grill is in limbo.

It's not unusual for restaurants to flounder in an indeterminate state during a move. Although the building in which they were leasing wasn't scheduled to be torn down (in fact it's now a restaurant called Café Ponte Vecchio), Esther Flores and Jan Sitko, proprietors of Biscayne Wine Merchants & Bistro, decided to move when confronted with endless road construction back in 1992. “They'd begun work on the street and blocked our entrance,” Flores explains. “Plus they were stacking the bricks in our teeny-weeny parking lot, when there was a much bigger one connected to the Sizzler.” So the pair searched for and found a new home for the then-nine-year-old bistro on nearby 125th Street in North Miami. But despite careful planning, Biscayne Wine Merchants still had to close down for a month while the move was completed.

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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick

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