Michael Schwartz has a lot on his plate.
While the paint has barely dried on his new Design District restaurant, the Cypress Room, the chef and restaurateur is working on finalizing his place at the Raleigh Hotel in South Beach and is planning an eatery at the new SLS Hotel in Brickell, scheduled to open in 2015.
Add to that roster his two Michael's Genuine Food & Drink locations (in Miami and Grand Cayman), Harry's Pizzeria, and his collaboration with Royal Caribbean to design the menus for the cruise line's 150 Central Park restaurants on board mega ships Oasis of the Seas and, soon, Allure of the Seas, and you've got one busy guy.
We asked the James Beard winner about the new Cypress Room, how he manages multiple locations, and what's next in his quest to build a restaurant empire.
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New Times: The Cypress Room just opened in the Design District near Michael's Genuine and Harry's Pizzeria. Can you share the differences between Cypress Room and your other two establishments here?
Michael Schwartz: I thought it was important for there to be a clear distinction between The Cypress Room and what Michaels Genuine and Harry's does because of their proximity to each other. People wanted something a little...I don't want to say traditional, but something different.
I think it was time to change it up and create something more sophisticated and grownup.
I've always thought that there are so many things that go into a dining experience beside the food. The service, the pace, the environment. Even the bone china.There's a little more refinement on the plate without it being tweezer food, or stuffy and pretentious. It's also really a more traditional format in dining, where you have an appetizer and an entree. You might taste your companions dish but it's not three or four of five or more plates to hit the table all at once.
it's not that kind of experience.
Michael's Genuine and Harry's are known for being great values. Cypress Room is at a much higher price point. Can you explain the difference in price?
Well, I could justify it in many ways. There are so many Miami restaurants that are more expensive than Cypress Room and for what, I would say, offer much less quality and thoughtfulness and all of those things. But that's not why we're doing what we're doing. We buy for three restaurants in the Design District and we deal with a lot of local suppliers and farmers. There's a sort of progression when our forager comes.
So, Cypress cherry picks the best of the best products that we source. That often translates into more labor in sourcing, producing, and preparing. That translates into higher costs on the plate. We spend a lot of time and money and resources sourcing great products and I think in this venue it costs us more to produce a good meal. That's why you see higher prices.
You've got some projects in the works. The Restaurant at the Raleigh Hotel and, recently, the announcement of a Michael Schwartz restaurant at the SLS Brickell. What's the current status?
The SLS project is so far away that we're still in the distant planning process. The Raleigh is way more immediate. We've been doing the dance with the Raleigh for a year and a half now, and we're very close to announcing the what, where, and how. It's imminent.
We're also expanding our work with Royal Caribbean to two ships. We were working with Oasis of the Seas and now the Allure of the Seas.
Anything else coming up -- or is that enough for now?
There's always talk about lots of things.
How are you juggling multiple restaurants?
I have the best people working for me and that's the truth. Listen, I have not been in that kitchen cooking for a long time now. People always say to me, "who cooks when you're not there," and I always say, "the same people who cook when I am here." I'm surrounded by the greatest people operationally, the best wine director, and the finest culinary team, which includes Hedy [Goldsmith] and Bradley [Herron], who is moving into a broader role with all these projects.
So what's next?
I'm not sure yet. We're just really looking at what's immediately in front of us. There's no blueprint. I don't have a five-year plan.
Will you expand out of Miami or continue to grow here?
I am a Miami guy. I love Miami. It's my home, so we'll always be most interested in projects here and most connected with those projects.