The restaurant's website posted a farewell message late last week, citing the pandemic as the cause.
SPARKY'S HAS CLOSED FOR GOOD. COVID-1, SPARKY-0. THANK YOU TO ALL OF OUR DEAR FANS, FRIENDS AND FAMILIES THAT HAVE COME AND RIDDEN THE WILD HOG WITH US. THANK YOU!
As depressing as the news might be for fans of the restaurant's brisket and chicken wings, for owner Hans Seitz, closing Sparky's doors provided a sense of relief.
Seitz tells New Times that after the past few years, which saw Sparky's co-owner, Kevin Kehoe succumb to lung cancer amid the COVID pandemic, it was time to let go.
"It's been a wild ride. There were times that I thought we were going to make it, but in the end, we were operating at a loss," Seitz says, adding that one thing he won't miss is the constant worry about his employees' safety and well-being.
He says he plans to take it easy and move on to another phase of his life, possibly returning to art as a career. Seitz studied film at the University of Miami and was an exhibition designer at the erstwhile Miami Art Museum (now the Pérez Art Museum Miami).
Kehoe and Seitz opened the restaurant in 2010, having worked together in the 1980s at Who's in the Grove alongside chef Michael Moran. The pair hit it off, calling each other "Sparky" in the kitchen when things went south. They immersed themselves in the craft of barbecue after Kehoe was invited to help out at barbecue maven and cookbook author Steven Raichlen's birthday party.
They considered a food truck but ultimately decided on the little 48-seater downtown.
Word quickly spread about their brisket and pulled pork. New Times tapped Sparky's as Best Restaurant in Downtown Miami in 2011; the spot has been a mainstay on the papers list of Miami's Ten Best Barbecue Restaurants. In 2017, Time Out named it one of the 28 best barbecue restaurants in America.
Kehoe died in February after a battle with lung cancer. During his partner's illness, Seitz took over the reins of the business. At the time, Seitz told New Times Sparky's would go on, though something would be missing: "There's definitely going to be a hole left. But we certainly had a wild, great ride."
Seitz says Sparky's location likely put it at a disadvantage when COVID descended. Most of the restaurant's business came during the lunch hour, with a fiercely loyal courthouse crowd.
"One time, my friend, who's a an attorney, visited during lunchtime and pointed out three state judges and two federal judges having lunch there," Seitz says. With COVID, the lunch crowds vanished.
Seitz says reassurance from his wife, Mimi, helped him to make the decision to move on. "She said it was okay to surrender rather than swimming against the tide all the time. I consider this to be a blessing."
He says he's looking forward to whatever might come next.
"My mother used to use that old expression, 'Out of the frying pan and into the fire'. Well, I keep falling up into a better pan."