On March 13, 2007 Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink officially opened its doors to the public. Located in the then obscure Design District neighborhood — which has since transformed into Miami’s high-end shopping destination — it racked up buzz and accolades from the start garnering international attention, a James Beard award, book deals and launched the Genuine Hospitality empire, which now owns and operates multiple restaurants throughout the country including Harry’s Pizzeria, Fi’lia, Cypress Tavern, and ella cafe.
It’s owner and chef, Michael Schwartz, has been credited amongst many in the Miami restaurant scene as being a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement — well before it was a buzzword, or even now, the norm. And in a city where there’s a new restaurant on every block, and most don’t last more than a few years, Eater Miami sat down with Schwartz to learn about the first 10 years of the restaurant, what he has learned and where he plans to go from here.
Can you believe it's been 10 years?
Yeah, no, maybe. [laughs] I mean on the one hand it seems like it's been a 100 years. On the other hand it seems like it's been 10 minutes. I mean 10 years is a long time in our business. Yeah, I could believe it, I lived it.
What is your overwhelming emotion looking back on what Michael's has accomplished over the past 10 years.
The overwhelming emotion I would say — there's a lot of them. I don't know if I could pick one emotion, it depends on my mood. It depends on the day. I don't know I would say, "Relief, no." I would say mostly, "proud.” You know I'm proud of what we've accomplished there. I mean far and above from what we've set out to do, which is just have a place where we could cook what we want, in an environment that we're comfortable in. I guess, proud of how it resonated with Miami, and that it had an impact on the dining scene. I'm proud of that.
How would you say the Miami restaurant dining scene has changed in the past 10 years?
It's changed a lot. I mean it's evolved, it's legitimized itself, it's gotten better. People embrace local products more, chefs branched out and opened their own restaurants. I'm encouraged by how the dining scene has evolved in Miami.
How has Michael's changed, or forced to change in that time? How do you think it has evolved?
That's a good question, and we ask ourselves how we're going to innovate and stay relevant all the time. I think we've done a pretty good job of sort of innovating and creating, and evolving but within keeping within the framework of what made Michael's Genuine successful.
Every couple of years you have to look at what you're doing, how you're doing it? What it looks like and tastes like, and smells like, and sounds like. Over the years we've figured out a way to maximize the space. We went from dinner only, to occasional lunch, to full-time lunch, to brunch, to afternoon service, it's pretty hard core there at this point. Then the space too, you know so we took the room next door, which was a private dining room and then we blew that space out, and extended the bar.
To try to stay current, you know it's not easy. We're not the shiny new, flashy restaurant anymore but hopefully what stands out is hospitality and the ethos that we hope to create.
What do you think the things are that have helped the restaurant survive and flourish for this long?
I think being — and it sounds stupid — but being genuine. When we opened really that word became the measuring stick for everything that we did, and so whenever we talked about anything, it was always in the context of you know, “Is that genuine? Does it feel right? Is it authentic? Is it sincere? Is it thoughtful?” I think that is what has maintained the simplicity thought out the restaurant.
Hospitality, luck, being in the right place, at the right time. I had no idea that to Design District would blow up like it did. While it hurt for a while, and still, there's so much construction I think the area has transformed in a way that nobody ever expected.
What are you most proud of about the restaurant?
One thing that comes to mind for me, is that the extended family that it's sort of has created for us and our family. It has created other families, people that met there, people that worked together that wound up being married and having kids. I think the sort of a, in some regards a breeding ground for talent, that then went out and spread around Miami a little bit. I think I'm proud of that.
What has been your scariest moment?
The scariest moment? Was probably opening, you know my family had everything riding on the success of that place and we just weren't sure. We felt confident in what we did and what we set out to create, but you never know. I mean you can draw it up and then it can just not work. I would also say the time Matt Hinkley, the wood oven cook, almost burnt the restaurant down, that was scary.
Do you think Michael's would survive opening in today's climate?
That's a great question and I have no idea. It's a different world, and a different set of rules, and I don't know but we're still opening restaurants, so I would have to say, "Yes, for sure,” because of what the intentions are in the restaurant. It's just serve simple, honest food in an unpretentious setting, and have some cheer, you know have some ideas about hospitality. That should always ride and be successful in our society, I hope.
Speaking of hope, what do you hope you accomplish with Michael's moving forward?
More of the same I would say, to navigate through the changing times, and the demographics of the Design District, and new rules, and regulations, and guidelines, and mandates, and minimum wage. Hopefully be able to sustain success, and running the business, and the times are changing like crazy. For us, our intention is to keep doing what we're doing. Continue to try to innovate, make friends, and relationships with our suppliers, and farmers, and you know all that stuff.