NYC restauranteurs flock to Miami for relaxed COVID-19 rules

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New York restaurants are on life support, but Miami is booming, and Big Apple eatery owners who can are flocking South to join the feast. 

Despite uncomfortably high coronavirus rates, Miami restaurants have been open for the winter at up to 100 percent capacity as long as social distancing regulations are followed. And with nightclubs hampered by a midnight curfew among other restrictions, the restaurant scene is on fire. 

Marcus Samuelsson opened an outpost of his Harlem hot spot Red Rooster in Miami in December, while Major Food Group opened a Carbone there earlier this month. Major is also planning to open three more South Florida additions: a sushi place, an Italian trattoria in the Miami Design District and a steakhouse in Brickell. 

The Altamarea Group behind Michelin-star rated Marea and Ai Fiori in Manhattan opened its fifth Osteria Morini in Miami on Feb. 4. Michelin-starred Korean steakhouse Cote is slated to open a Miami outpost on Feb. 12, and sushi chain Kissaki is eyeing two new locations in Miami. 

That’s not all. French eatery La Goulue, as well as Sant Ambroeus, Almond, Roberta’s Pizza and Joe’s Pizza, have signed leases for Miami outposts, while Bounce, Proper West and Keith McNally’s Pastis are looking, real-estate sources say. 

“We still have a high positivity rate, 8 to 9 percent,” said Joe Zubi, spokesman for the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. “But we have more open bars and restaurants than anywhere else in the US.” 

Of course, Miami’s hopping foodie scene is not for the faint of heart. Miami-Dade County has been topping the state’s list for COVID-19 infections, with 380,118, compared to 117,686 in nearby Broward County and 109,593 in Palm Beach County. And while restaurants there are supposed to follow social distancing requirements, many of them don’t, industry sources said. 

“It’s wild. No one seems to care about COVID here. There’s COVID fatigue and a false sense of security. It’s as if they think it’s safer because it’s sunny and they spend more time outside,” said Brett Friedman, CEO of Agency21, a culinary events and marketing agency. 

Some of Miami’s new openings were actually slated to open pre-pandemic. But others came because of the warmer climate and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ move in Sept. to lift many of the state’s COVID-19 business restrictions, including for food service establishments. 

For Garry Kanfer of Kissaki Sushi, opening in Miami was always the plan because it’s his “second home” after New York. But he admits that the pandemic has made the city’s warm climate more appealing now than ever. 

“People want to go to Miami because if something happens in the future, there is always good weather and you can always sit outside,” Kanfer told Side Dish from the airport en route from New York to “the sixth borough.” 

And it’s not just New Yorkers looking to set up shop in the Sunshine State, said Felix Bendersky of F+B Hospitality Leasing, a commercial broker specializing in restaurants, clubs and hotels. “Just off the top of my head I can count more than a hundred who signed leases. I show space to 15 to 20 groups a day. They are from New York but also from Canada, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas.” 

“I’ve had clients who have abandoned projects in Brooklyn and Manhattan because it makes more sense for them to come here and open right away, while in New York they don’t know if they will be open from one day to the next,” Bendersky said. “Miami is based on nightlife, and with the clubs closed, restaurants and bars are the only places where people can go.” 

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