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What It’s Like Renting A Restaurant In Miami Right Now: Locals, Landlords, Newcomers, And Grease Traps

Miami dining lost hundreds of millions of dollars to the pandemic, but out-of-state cash and a run on space are keeping the market hot.

“I was born and raised in Miami in a Cuban-American family,” declares chef and restaurateur Miguel Massens. After learning the trade in Miami and elsewhere under big names like Norman Van Aken and Thomas Keller, Massens came back to his hometown in 2019 to test out his own restaurant idea as a popup. Antilla operated at the Time Out Market for three months, and that success propelled Massens to start looking for permanent brick-and-mortar space.

But even before the pandemic flipped the script, Massens was fighting through the high-priced hurricane of South Florida restaurant real estate. He went looking at “approximately 50 or 60 locations throughout Miami.” The search made abundantly clear the serious risks of prioritizing a flashy location. And the pandemic stress on the local market only made the situation worse. “OK, what kind of chef do I want to be?” wonders Massen. “Do I want to compete with the Daniel Bouluds in Brickell? Sure, but the reality is that if the market corrects, Daniel Boulud will weather the storm, and I’ll be wiped out.”

So Massens is looking elsewhere. “I need to be somewhere where it’s safe … In my opinion, the best value is Coral Gables. Unless you’re on the prime corner next to Hillstone, anything else in the Gables, you’re paying 40 to 50 percent less than you would in the Design District or Brickell. You can’t get into Brickell and expect to survive unless you have big-shot money behind you.”

Despite those seemingly bulletproof rent rates, Miami’s restaurant and hospitality industry suffered through 2020 as badly as anywhere in the country. One estimate puts the loss to Miami-Dade County restaurant revenue from the six months of March through August 2020 at $742 million, compared to the same period in 2019. Statewide, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association pegs the number of restaurants shuttered by the pandemic at 10,000 closures.

A combination of factors improved Miami’s restaurant prospects earlier than elsewhere. The warmer climate meant it was easier to accommodate outside dining. Florida resisted extended lockdowns and other restrictions, becoming one of the first states to allow indoor dining at restaurants again. And an influx of out-of-state investment created a “gold rush” mentality that drew in restaurant operators looking to expand to South Florida.

And those rents have not gone down—for the most part, commercial rents have held firm or even increased over the course of the pandemic, and restaurants are no exception. In fact, outliers on the high side for marquee restaurant space are more expensive than ever. Consider that the insanely popular Miami outpost of New York restaurant Carbone is reportedly paying $80,000 per month in rent for their prime South Beach spot.