Miami Beach Restaurateurs Say Spring Break Is Killing Business

Nossa Omakase sous chef Gino Isola sets up an intricate dish.
Nossa Omakase sous chef Gino Isola sets up an intricate dish. Photo by Nicole Danna
Spring break is in full force in Miami Beach, with tens of thousands of people flocking to the city for fun in the sun. But, as in years past, that fun can turn into chaos.

This past weekend two people were shot and killed on Ocean Drive and another person was injured. Despite the fatalities, the Miami Beach Commission voted 4-3 against issuing a curfew for the upcoming weekend.

Although spring break is designed to bring tourist dollars into Miami Beach's economy, some restaurant owners say it has the opposite effect.

Red South Beach's chef/partner Peter Vauthy says that the past two months had been some of the busiest his steakhouse has experienced. The chef hadn't taken off one day in seven weeks but wasn't complaining. "We were rocking and rolling," he tells New Times.

Then, he experienced a "hard stop" on business last Friday. "It was like falling off a cliff," says Vauthy, adding, "From a business perspective, it was a screeching halt." To entice business, Vauthy offered a corned beef special for St. Patrick's Day, but not even the allure of an overstuffed sandwich worked. "The streets South of Fifth were dead," he said.

Vauthy said even his regulars didn't want to come out to dine on his steaks and lobster mac and cheese. "Traffic was crazy getting onto the beach, and people didn't want to be on the streets."

Sebastian Labno's restaurants Koa Poke and the $385-per-person Nossa Omakase hidden beyond the poke shop are located on 16th Street and Collins Avenue.

Fearful for his employees' safety, he closed his restaurants last weekend. "There were people selling drugs and soliciting prostitution. There were people walking in groups that seemed really intimidating. It was that bad last weekend. Labno said he witnessed firsthand someone getting attacked. "There was a person who got beat up playing three-card monte. Some guys started kicking him to the ground."

Labno decided to keep Nossa Omakase closed for the rest of the week after the cancellations started rolling in. "Normally, we have a policy where we don't issue refunds, but people were telling me they were afraid to come to the restaurant, so what do you do?" Labno said he hoped the City Commissioners would institute a curfew, adding, "nothing good happens after midnight."  He also feels like there isn't enough police presence. "The traffic, the racing, people climbing onto cars in the middle of the street. I feel horrible for the police officers. They're overwhelmed."

Labno has kept Koa Poke open this week for lunch and early dinner (the restaurant will close at 8 p.m. nightly this week), though he says business is down by about 70 percent.

The restaurateur adds that he's losing tens of thousands of dollars keeping Nossa closed this week. The restaurant seats 15 people for its typically sold-out nightly omakase experience. In addition, most patrons purchase wine and sake. "I'm losing a minimum of $10,000 a day, but the safety of my employees is more important."

Labno says that on most weekends, Miami Beach is filled with families and tourists who come for sun, surf, and to experience the food and drink of the area. "People don't want to come to the beach now," he adds.

Labno doesn't even blame spring breakers for the mayhem. "For some reason, these are not kids. This isn't spring break. This is zero respect for property and people."

Red's Peter Vauthy says that maybe Miami Beach has outgrown spring break. "Miami Beach is becoming a culinary hub with new restaurants opening here. The city should be evolving, but some people seem reluctant to let go of some old ways. I'm a Miami resident full-time. I'm not a tourist on a weekend pass. I want what's best for the area, and spring break doesn't seem like a good fit anymore."
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss

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