"Wynwood is quiet. Let's just say it like that," he tells New Times.
Stern, who owns Zak the Baker, says the neighborhood, which usually bustles with tourists who come to admire the colorful murals that have made it world famous, is a virtual ghost town. With the Wynwood Walls shuttered temporarily and restaurants operating at half capacity at best, Stern says the area's artwork has taken on a new tone.
"It seems apocalyptic."
To help bring back Wynwood's lively spirit, Stern worked with the Wynwood Business Improvement District (BID) to take over the sidewalk and add outdoor seating to his café on NW 26th Street and Third Avenue. He also opened in the evenings for the first time, transforming his bakery into a falafel pop-up for dinner service.
Still, the silence spoke volumes. Wynwood needed live music back. And musicians needed a place to play. "The local music industry's been hit hard," Stern notes. "Some musicians haven't had a gig in months."
So he got in touch with a few local artists and began offering a "Live at the Bakery" music series.
On Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday evenings from 7 to 10 p.m. (note: this coming Sunday, September 20, remains up in the air owing to the Rosh Hashanah holiday), audiences can enjoy live jazz, funk, or bluegrass with no cover charge — though Stern strongly encourages guests to take advantage of his selection of local craft beers in order to help out Miami's breweries, and to tip the musicians.
Stern says the initiative is less about generating revenue for his business and more about helping the neighborhood to survive. "We're trying to get some spirit back to the community."
Rodolfo Zuniga, who heads up the Rodolfo Zuniga Trio, agrees.
"When Zak approached me about playing, he had the best attitude," Zuniga says. "He said he wanted to bring music to Zak the Baker and that musicians needed to play. A lot of places ask us to play and they put pressure on the band to increase business, but that's not Zak's approach."
Zuniga says 2020 was looking to be a lucrative year for his band until coronavirus closed music venues, bars, and restaurants in March. "I had a full year of performances booked — and they all vanished in a couple of weeks, day by day," he imparts. "That was a pretty big shock. We never thought that the industry would shut down in a matter of weeks."
Zuniga, whose trio will perform at Zak the Baker tonight, September 17, says he's grateful to be able to play for people again. "Live music is good for the musicians, it's good for Miami, it's good for everyone."
Stern says he plans to continue "Live at the Bakery" through the rest of the year, adding that he is working with the BID to provide more space for the ongoing event. "I've asked them to give us the street. Let us activate it. We need to create a scene. We need to get these musicians working again."
The baker says that last week, as he stepped back and listened to the music echo through Wynwood's streets and bounce off the vibrant murals for the first time in six months, he realized that was what had been missing. "To be honest, we're desperate for music. Life without art is brutal. But to hear the music, mixed in with the colors of the neighborhood? That's cool."
Local musicians interested in participating in future iterations can contact Zak the Baker via Instagram @zakthebaker.
"Live at the Bakery" music series. 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, at Zak the Baker. 295 NW 26th St., Miami; 786-294-0876; zakthebaker.com. (Call for information regarding the tentative September 20 performance.)