Mark Soyka has been eyeing a coral rock building just down the street from his namesake restaurant for nearly two decades. By the end of this year, the 71-year-old restaurateur says it will be revamped and turned into a 100-seater focused on vegetable dishes and wood-fired proteins.
"I finally got it," he said.
For The Coral House Restaurant he's brought back Gaby Hakman, who opened his eponymous restaurant along with Andiamo! Brick Oven Pizza more than 15 years ago, to helm the kitchen. The menu at the moment is still in flux and Hakman said they're bouncing in between traditional and shared formats. She like Soyka declined to offer any specific dishes but gave some hints.
"We’re going to do very rustic seasonal cooking with a little bit of Mediterranean influence try and change it frequently," she said.
A Mediterranean-inspired place aligns with local and national trends. My Ceviche's Sam Gorenstein and Roger Duarte are in the midst of building out Brickell concept Laffa overseen by Daniel Ganem, who — like Gorenstein — once worked under Michael Schwartz. Just last week chairs were being hauled into Byblos, a shared, mezze concept out of Toronto that will open soon in the James Royal Palm Hotel where Catch restaurant was located.
At the Coral House, Soyka says the space will be just as important as the menu. It was built in the early 1920s by developer and Delaware candy company owner James H. Nunnally as a pumping station for Morningside and the surrounding agricultural area of Lemon City. It went on to serve as a music venue, a private home, possibly a church, a chop shop, and a beauty salon, according to the Biscayne Times.
The City of Miami designated it historic in 2012, which might delay opening. The biggest project has been to clean up and restore the sprawling pond and waterfall that waits past the entrance.
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"It’s a complicated project because everything historical has to stay intact," Soyka says.
He nevertheless has a sharp eye when it comes to putting restaurants in the right places at the right time. The hub of his empire, which includes hot dog haven Dogma up the street, was in place long before MiMo's current boom. Soyka also set up Gianni Versace favorite News Café on Lincoln Road during South Beach's heyday.
"Everybody is buying anything that’s around here simply because of the Design District era and the Wynwood era," he said "I think now it’s the Upper Eastside era."