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Meet the Miami restaurateur serving up neighborhood revitalization

If you build it, they will come has been a popular refrain among entrepreneurs ever since the hero in Universal Pictures’ 1989 film, “Field of Dreams” built a baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. But in the real world of business, customers only show up at the intersection of supply and demand.

In the world of self-driving, building is only half the battle. To really thrive, developers will have to convince people to both trust the idea and want to support it. Oddly enough, it’s a refrain that most chefs also know well.

On this week’s episode of No Parking, Bryan and I checked in with James Beard award-winning chef and restaurateur Michael Schwartz, who succeeded precisely because he built a restaurant in the Miami equivalent of that Iowa cornfield, and people did come.

Today Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink is an anchor tenant in Miami’s Design District, a now-thriving neighborhood that for decades was known for its empty warehouses and quiet streets.

I was curious about the relationship between food deserts (areas where dining options are poor) and transit deserts (places where there’s no public transportation), and how an entrepreneur perceives demand where none is apparent. Fast food chains are infamous for mapping optimal locations for new franchises, but Schwartz’s success depended on something a lot more fundamental.

“I just thought about a place where I could afford the rent that was accessible for people from all over parts of Miami, Miami Beach, and north and south. Where I could just land,” he said. “Thinking about it now … it’s sort of the path of least resistance. Like you need people, go where the people are. Even if you have to pay more rent, there’s a math equation that would support doing that. But I was a dumb ass and I didn’t know.”

Schwartz may not work in city planning, but his statement showed a lot of insight into the interplay of human nature and transportation problems unique to Miami. If you were going to open a restaurant in any city, common sense would suggest placing it as close to as many potential customers as possible. But in Miami that’s the Beach, a place where peak dining hours are also peak traffic hours, parking is awful, and valets need 30 minutes to retrieve your car.

Schwartz’s focus on accessibility unlocked demand from other neighborhoods—some of them quite far away—and his restaurant provided supply where parking was free and plentiful, at least it was initially.

“If the locals come, the tourists will come. It was really built for locals. People that lived wherever. They live on South beach, they’re coming. If they lived in Morningside or Bellmead or all these neighborhoods, that was what the restaurant was designed for. I think that once that word gets out and it’s a place where locals go, then tourists will find it. And they did.”

As demand grows, traffic follows, as do problems on the back end. Behind every restaurant—especially one that prides itself on fresh, farm-to-table ingredients—is a complex supply chain requiring just-in-time delivery every day. He’s hopeful services like Uber Eats, Postmates, and others could help. And if not them, maybe self-driving cars.

“Farmers are really good at one thing, like growing shit,” said Schwartz, “and really not great at like, getting it to you. … Efficiencies in our businesses are everything.”

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