As Miami restaurants close, NYC group comes to South Florida

Jaime E. Love

MIAMI (AP) — Count some of New York City’s most beloved restaurants among the influx of new pandemic migrants to Miami.

Major Food Group is bringing its restaurant empire to South Florida, signing leases to open four new restaurants in Miami-Dade this year, starting with the Manhattan crowd pleaser Carbone as early as Jan. 15, one of its founders said.

The restaurant will open at the former South Beach location for Upland, the defunct outpost of another New York City original, situated near Prime 112 and Joe’s Stone Crab at 49 Collins Ave.

“The amount of people I know who are moving here is unbelievable,” Carbone co-founder and New York native Jeff Zalaznick said.


It will start, as their success in New York did, with Carbone (the “e” is silent).

Zalaznick teamed with chefs Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi to open a slate of New York-based restaurants — 25, in all — that became instant favorites. The idea behind each was simple: shift away from tasting menus to a selection of well-known dishes.

At Carbone that means classic Italian-American “red sauce” dishes, where the kitchen takes special requests and portions are meant to be shared: a monster veal Parmesan, spicy rigatoni, a classic Cesar salad.

“Our goal is not to make you something you’ve never eaten before. It’s to make the best version of something you’ve had hundreds of times,” Zalaznick said.

The spirit of Carbone is the idea of a big meal and a big night out, often with prices to match. The restaurant aims to slot between a mom-and-pop restaurant and night club, Zalaznick said.

“If dinner’s not fun, why did you go out?” he said.

The owners will move quickly to make Miami’s long-list of restaurant losses their gain.

The group takes over the Design District spaces of two short-lived restaurants, Kaido and Ember, early favorites from celebrated Miami chef Brad Kilgore that were part of his first big expansion. His restaurants barely found their footing before the economic crush of the pandemic forced them to shut down for months, and, eventually, for good.

Major Food will combine Kilgore’s upstairs Japanese-inspired lounge and the downstairs Ember into a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar planned to open this spring. They have leased a nearby space for an Italian-style trattoria planned for early Fall 2021, Zalaznick said. And they have signed a lease in Brickell to open a steakhouse by the start of next season, possibly a spinoff of their New York success Dirty French.

“Why Miami” is a question many businesses nationally are answering the same way, as tech companies have shown their inclination to move to South Florida: favorable tax laws and a wide-open economy despite the pandemic.

Restaurant dining rooms remain closed across the country, from San Francisco to New York City, where they reopened in late September, only to close again as COVID-19 cases spiked on Dec. 14. After private gatherings, inside dining rooms have been shown in scientific studies to be one of the highest-risk places, since diners must take off masks to eat.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has allowed up to 100 percent capacity.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has been courting outside businesses, particularly in the tech sector, from their familiar locations in Silicon Valley and New York to Miami.

“It’s a great place to have your business,” Zalaznick said. “We’re in this exciting moment where all that is coming together.”

Zalaznick was working remotely in Miami Beach when city orders closed restaurant dining rooms for the first time in March, and he said he made his move to South Florida semi-permanent. He convinced his partners to do the same.

Moreover, he said Carbone will be staffed with unemployed workers from the group’s New York City restaurants, which are operating at limited capacity.

“From the CEO to busboys,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to bring back our best people combined with a great amount of local people.”

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