Stephen's Restaurant, Purchased by Lokal Owner, Closes for Renovation

Stephen's Photo by Karli Evans
Stephen's Restaurant, the oldest operating deli in Miami-Dade, has closed for renovation.

The Hialeah eatery is now under the ownership of Matt Kuscher of Kush Hospitality, which is known for popular concepts such as Kush, Lokal, Vicky's, and the Spillover.

The deal, solidified earlier this month, was a long time coming. This past May, the previous owner of Stephen's, Jack Frisch, disclosed plans to remodel the 63-year-old establishment and transform it into a “gastrobar” concept in the evening with cocktails, live music, and extended hours.

Kuscher estimates renovations will take six months to a year. The restaurant remains closed until further notice.

"I have a real passion for bringing back places that haven’t gotten enough attention and fulfill their potential," Kuscher says. "Without knowing what Frisch was thinking, one day after eating at the restaurant I asked him if he wanted to take the place to the next level." After much discussion, Kuscher decided to buy the restaurant and renovate it himself.

The 3,000-square-foot eatery, which marks Kuscher's largest space yet, opened in 1954 and has maintained its reputation as a weathered but charming Jewish-style deli. Through large-scale renovations, Kuscher will retain the authentic feel of the restaurant but add a slew of modern updates.

"We're definitely going to keep the same integrity of Stephen's," he says, "but I also want to make a separate bar in that back to give Hialeah a neighborhood spot they're really proud of. The new decor and design will revolve around Hialeah pride."

Located in the Leah Arts District, Stephen's will incorporate some of Kuscher's most popular items from his other concepts, such as burgers from Lokal and Kush.

"It's going to be a combination of what's been here for more than 60 years and some stuff that hasn't," he says. "It's also going to go from serving customers only at lunchtime to being open up to 17 hours a day with dinner and a late-night bar."

Henderson "Junior" Biggers, whose grandson is Miami Heat player Udonis Haslem, has been with Stephen's for more than 60 years. He started as a dishwasher and worked his way to lead chef. In the interim, Kuscher says, Biggers now works for other Kush concepts and will return to Stephen's once it reopens.

"My goal in this whole thing is to really activate the space and the area. I want to incorporate the history but also bring it to 2017," he says.

"This place deserves to be an institution, the kind of thing where you get off a plane and have to stop at Joe's Stone Crab or Versailles."

Stephen's Restaurant. 1000 E. 16th St., Hialeah; 305-887-8863. Reopening date to be announced.
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Clarissa Buch Zilberman is a writer and editor, with her work appearing in print and digital titles worldwide.
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