Monday, March 18, 2019

It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times: The Story of Miami Small Businesses


There is a lot of chatter in Miami about big name brands pushing out local mom-and-pops. The concern is not off-base. Take a walk down Lincoln Road and tell me you feel differently. Small shops just can't compete with rising rents, shopping seasonality, our fickle "hot new thing" mentality, and other challenges of doing business in Miami. Yes, Lincoln Road has seen a lot of growth in recent years but at the expense of the strip's homegrown roots.

Amidst the paradigm shift, there is hope for Miami-born businesses. For starters, there is a myriad of movements—large and small—working diligently to "save Main Street." Take the Shop Small campaign, an effort from American Express to support local businesses that make a community strong, originating from the concept of Small Business Saturday. Similarly, the grassroots Witness the New Downtown movement, under the leadership of Nidal Barake's Gluttonomy in partnership with Stambul USA, is a unified voice of change to transform Downtown Miami with a focus on highlighting and drawing in small businesses. Among its ambassadors are notable Miami entrepreneurs including Elad Zvi and Gabe Orta of Bar Lab, Karina Iglesias of NIU Kitchen, Brian and Randy Alonso of local watering hole, Lost Boy Dry Goods.

Another nugget of good news is that there are small businesses that are surfing the wave of change. When I was walking home from work last week, I was pleasantly delighted to see Fritz's is not only still around but also upgraded its digs to Lincoln Road proper. (Before, the skate, bike and surf shop was located near Lincoln Road with a Washington Avenue address.) Similarly, my favorite working lunch staple Spris is still standing strong after all these years. In my perspective, a part of what gives them a fighting chance is our choice to support our neighbors and a part of it is that the internet has allowed them to elevate their presence beyond physical foot traffic.

I recently read an interview with Chris Brencans, the Chief Marketing Officer for On The Map Marketing, regarding the importance of SEO and how to build online presence. It is clear to me that if each business takes the right steps to increase their own visibility and the small business movements continue to gain momentum, we will see the transition continue—it’s inevitable—but we'll see it settle in a happy balance that allows for both corporate and community driven options to foster our economic growth. And, that's really all I can ask as a Miami-an and a consumer.
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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Old Traditions, New Friends


Miami is a conveyor belt of people. Except for the elusive few who were born and raised locally, people come and people go. The average length of stay for the friends I've had since I moved here in 2006 is around five years, just long enough to finish a degree or launch a career and then lay down roots somewhere "more serious, more adulty".

Through the tides of change, my Miami traditions have given me a sense of place and helped me burrow my roots deeper and deeper despite the seismic shifts. I'm going on 13 years with little incentive to change scenery. I adapt to each social earthquake by fostering new friendships with which to share the joys of the local experience.

The magic of being an elusive Miami constant is that I have been bequeathed the role of ambassador. I have the honor and responsibility of revealing Miami's charms to new and temporary arrivals and through the induction process, I get to enjoy old traditions with a filter of newness. Most recently, I dusted off one of my favorite South of Fifth rituals, dinner at Fratelli La Bufala, for a visitor from New York.




Even though I was living down the street at the time, I first heard of Fratelli La Bufala from Chef Scott Conant when he touted their calzone on the Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." It gained street cred for me the first time I went in on a date with an Italian New Yorker and he raved about the flavor of the tomato sauce. While I only went back for dinner one other time, their calzone became a permanent fixture of our nights out in the neighborhood, especially when SoFi Public House opened up on the same block and allowed us to savor its cheesy, bready goodness while we played pool. 

My most recent visit flooded me with memories of a very special period in my Miami story. It also flooded my palate with the delicious flavors and warmth of homemade Italian food. I devoured the gnocchi so fast I almost didn't get a chance to snap any pics! Most importantly, it allowed me to show my guest that Miami is more than fancy, expensive restaurants that are on occasion not worth their price tag. (Did you know that on Mondays their pizzas are only $10 if you eat in?) 

I am grateful for places like Fratelli La Bufala for giving a sense of stability amid constant change and for fostering an eating experience I can be proud of showing off to new friends. What are some of your favorite Miami traditions to share with new friends?
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