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A Restaurant Comes To Wynwood PDF Print E-mail
Written by By Erik Bojnansky   
November 2008

It’s in the new “café district” and -- no surprise -- it’s owned by Joey Goldman

The recently created “Wynwood Café District” is about to get its first café. Approved by the Miami City Commission in late July, the special district, encompassing roughly 14 square blocks, is designed to give the area an economic boost by waiving most restrictions on restaurants, bars, and nightclubs that sell alcoholic beverages.

Commissioners decided to allow 25 liquor licenses to operate within the district, and those businesses serving the beer, wine, and cocktails can also be bunched up as close together as they want. (Normally they can’t be within 1500 feet of each other.) The idea is to encourage a critical mass of dining and entertainment establishments that will attract crowds of consumers. Later this month, the first of those establishments will open its doors, and arriving customers will be greeted by none other than Joey Goldman.

Goldman is the 36-year-old son and business partner of Tony Goldman, whose development company owns some two dozen properties in the special district. Father and son, in fact, conceived the very idea of a Wynwood Café District and successfully guided it through the city bureaucracy. So it’s fitting that the neighborhood is about to welcome Joey’s, a sleek new Italian restaurant at 2506 NW 2nd Ave., owned by the namesake younger Goldman and his wife Thea.

With 75 seats -- 40 inside and 35 on an outdoor terrace -- Joey’s will serve affordable northern Italian cuisine at lunch and dinner, six days a week. Running the show will be general manager Simone Cattaneo and chef Ivo Mazzon, both natives of Italy. “It is a big deal opening a restaurant, getting it running,” says Goldman, who has done just that eight times over the past 15 years. “I want to make sure the finishes are the finest quality. There will be mosaic tiles and white marble tables.”

To complement the salads, pastas, and pizzas, Joey’s will offer premium beers and a variety of Italian wines he has personally selected. Serving beer and wine, of course, requires a license, which Goldman already has. It’s the kind of license that allows him to sell beer and wine only, not hard liquor. “At the moment it’s just a beer-and-wine license,” Goldman says, adding that he’s not sure whether he’ll want a full-liquor license in the future. “Maybe yes and maybe no, I don’t know,” he says. “Right now it’s not important.”

The most important thing on Goldman’s mind today is getting the restaurant up and running in time for the Art Basel extravaganza that kicks off the first week in December. Thousands of art-lovers from around the world will be wandering through Wynwood, and Goldman is determined to be ready for them, even if he can’t sell them a mojito. “Everything is going to be good,” he says. “That is the bigger picture.”

Licenses to serve alcohol, and how they’ll be used in the Wynwood Café District, are also part of the bigger picture, and that picture is anything but clear. Business owners who want to set up shop in the district and take advantage of the relaxed restrictions on alcoholic beverages must apply to the city for a special license known as a Class 2 permit. The applicant must provide many details about the proposed business and how it will operate. If approved by the planning department, the business owner can then start pouring drinks -- provided he or she already has a liquor license. If not, full-liquor licenses are available on the open market, but they are pricey, as much as $100,000. (The State of Florida issues the licenses to approved individuals, not the city.)

Goldman has not applied for a Class 2 permit and only has a simple beer and wine license, which is available from the state for just $392 per year. This means that his new restaurant will not enjoy the café district’s relaxed rules. For example, he will not be able to pour a glass of wine for a customer unless that customer has also ordered food. Even then, the wine cannot be served until the food is placed on the table. No sipping on that cool Pinot Grigio while the pasta is being prepared.

Despite the fact that Goldman didn’t secure a Class 2 permit and will have to play by much tougher rules, his beer-and-wine license still counts as one of the 25 permitted inside the boundaries of the special district. That situation may or may not have been anticipated by city officials, but the language of the ordinance creating the district is ambiguous enough that it appears Goldman, or anyone else, can open a restaurant offering beer and wine, and further reduce the number of liquor licenses available at “alcoholic beverage establishments,” as the ordinance puts it.

Soon there may be two businesses in the Wynwood Café District serving alcohol, leaving 23 licenses still available. On October 24, Ivette Naranjo was the first person in the new district to receive a Class 2 permit from the city. She’ll use it to convert her 3000-square-foot warehouse and 2500-square-foot outdoor area at 297 NW 23rd St. into a lounge and art gallery to be called Cafeina. Naranjo now needs to purchase the full-liquor license that will allow her to offer the martinis and mojitos that Joey Goldman can’t sell.

Naranjo, who says she wasn’t even aware her property was included in the café district until she read about it in the August BT, has hired Pepe Calderín, who created the ornate interior at the nightclub Karu and Y, to design Cafeina. She plans to have an outdoor sculpture garden and to showcase the work of local artists inside. Which artists? She doesn’t know yet. “We are in the process right now of figuring it out,” she says. Naranjo is aiming for a March or April opening.

Ken Bercel, owner of the Lost and Found Saloon at 185 NW 36th St., is envious of Naranjo’s opportunity. His popular and well-regarded restaurant is located in Wynwood, but outside the café district’s boundaries. As a result, he runs the risk having his business closed, or being arrested, if a customer is given a beer without food being present. (His predicament was chronicled by the BT in “Beer Bust,” December 2007.) “I’d like have my restrictions eased,” he says. “I’d like to be able to serve a bottle of wine or beer without [having to serve a meal].”

Bercel thinks it’s unfair that soon-to-open bars and restaurants nearby will be able to obtain liquor licenses and operate in ways he can’t. “Basically this was a lobbyist-driven ordinance,” he complains. “The Goldmans will make out like bandits.” He’d like to plead his case for a variance that would let him be more competitive, but he can’t even do that.

Miami attorney Lou Terminello explains: “The City of Miami does not have a procedure on the books to waive distance requirements. You can’t even go to a zoning board for a variance. We had a case in downtown where the police arrested the owner -- they actually put her in jail -- because a patron was drinking a beer while the owner was in back cooking the dinner [the customer ordered]. You can’t even have a glass of wine while waiting for your meal. It is absolutely ridiculous.”

Terminello, a specialist in liquor licenses and the municipal laws that govern them, says Miami officials have recently become more receptive to the idea of reforming the city’s restaurant regulations. “The city has been enlightened on the issue,” he asserts. Historically, however, Miami has opted to create special entertainment districts rather than overhaul its existing restaurant and alcohol regulations.

“The Wynwood Café District is the last in a series of entertainment districts created in the City of Miami that deal with some of these rules that inhibit alcohol uses and entertainment uses,” Terminello says. “They’ve created a number of entertainment districts, the first ones in 2000. The distance limitations are waived. You can have more restaurants, bars, and lounges in a concentrated area.” Terminello adds that many restaurant and lounge operators are now expressing interest in Wynwood. That may not help the Lost & Found Saloon, but as owner Bercel notes, it’s good for the Goldmans.

Tony Goldman, Joey’s father, has been remaking urban centers along the East Coast for three decades. He’s been credited with revitalizing SoHo in Manhattan in the 1970s, South Beach in the 1980s, and Center City in Philadelphia in the 1990s. Along the way he gained a reputation for upgrading neighborhoods without compromising their character.

Around five years ago, Tony and Joey Goldman were back in South Florida looking around for new opportunities when they discovered Wynwood. “We saw a sign on a property for sale,” Joey Goldman recalls. “We thought it would be a great warehouse building, and then we bought another and then another and then another.” Before they knew it, they had spent “millions of dollars” and purchased about 100 properties in Wynwood. “We are pioneers,” he says. “We are not afraid of challenges. We know things take time and you have to have a long-term approach.”

More than 20 of their parcels lie within the boundaries of the Wynwood Café District, among them 2506 NW 2nd Ave., which Goldman Properties bought for $3.9 million in February 2007. At the time Alba’s Café was located there, serving inexpensive Cuban and Honduran lunches and dinners. It closed this past January, the last restaurant to operate in the current Wynwood Café District.

Alba’s former space is the future home of Joey’s, the first of four restaurants Joey Goldman wants to open in the district. Sometime next year he hopes to open a French-Vietnamese restaurant nearby at 2550 NW 2nd Ave. He won’t reveal the proposed name, but does say he expects to obtain a full-liquor license for it. “The goal is to try and create a pedestrian destination,” Joey Goldman says. “Miami is in great need of places where people can walk. It’s still a blighted neighborhood and the only way to change it from a blighted area to a not-blighted area is to turn the light on by having people and activity.”

Among those who are rooting for the Goldmans is David Lombardi, a fellow Wynwood developer and property owner, who believes the area is on the “cusp of an explosion.” Goldman’s new restaurant, he predicts, could well be the spark that creates ignition. “Amen! I can’t wait until Joey’s opens. We need it,” Lombardi says, adding with a smile, “and the food better be good, too.”

 

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