Vanilla-scented waffles with spiced apricots aren’t what you’d expect to be eating in the shadow of an abandoned Downtown Liquor Mart. At least not ones this good.
But it seems an appropriate dish to enjoy at the literal and figurative crossroads of Overtown, where a couple blocks from the ghosttown-like NW 5th Street liquor store, you can also indulge in Miami’s hottest brunch.
The waffles are served at Rosie’s restaurant at the Copper Door B&B, a Black-owned business opened by a South Florida native Akino West and his fiancee Jamila Ross. It’s nearly impossible to get a brunch table here on the weekend, where West has taken what he learned as chef at Copenhagen’s NOMA, and serves it out of a makeshift trailer on the B&B’s patio.
Prior to the Copper Door, the building was the Demetree Hotel, which sat boarded up like a lot of Overtown over the past 50 years. But before that, it was everything from a brothel and a casino to a resting place for jazz legends.
The neighborhood itself has a rich and complicated history. Originally referred to as Colored Town, Overtown was the only section of Miami where Black residents were allowed to live because of Deep South segregation laws when the city of Miami was incorporated in 1896.
“It didn’t have amenities like paved roads, parks, or indoor plumbing,” says Paul George, the resident historian at HistoryMiami. “Despite that, it was a tightly knit community that drew Black, middle-class tourists [in the early 20th century]. And despite discrimination, if you look at revenue flow, it was pretty stable.”
Its legend as the Harlem of the South grew in the 1940s as Black musicians-including Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald-played the big resorts on Miami Beach and were forced to return “over town” at night. They would then play shows at spots like the Lyric Theatre later in the evening.
“It was kinda like where the real party happened,” Ross says. “All these great jazz musicians stayed at the hotels and ate at the diners and it had this great energy.”
All that came to an end in the late ’50s, as urban renewal programs and the construction of Interstate 95 through the heart of Overtown decimated the neighborhood. “The cloverleafs for 395 and 195 just took out block after block of Overtown,” George says. Because people were forced out of their homes to make way for the new highway, the population went from approximately 34,000 in 1960 to just 9,500 five years later.
Becoming a hub for Black entrepreneurship
For decades, Overtown fell into a steep decline, but in the last 10 years or so, both local and out-of-town entrepreneurs have been breathing new life into the historic neighborhood. And as Miami’s most celebrated Black enclave begins to reawaken, figuring out how to revitalize a neighborhood without succumbing to the pitfalls of gentrification is the challenge.
West and Ross are among the business owners who have begun the monumental task of bringing Overtown back to its former glory.
“Some people were nervous, like, is this being gentrified? Who is actually taking over this space?” says Ross, who opened Copper Door with West in 2018. “But once they saw us, these two young Black kids, they saw that you shouldn’t be afraid of change, because no one’s here to push you away. We still want you guys to be a part of our community.”
Another young entrepreneur, Ultrina Harris, is an Overtown native who opened clothing store Suite110 Urbanwear in 2017. Harris is also looking into funding to launch The Shops of Overtown, a retail hub featuring neighborhood businesses for outdoor vending.
Outside investors have also taken an interest in redeveloping the area. “There’s been a lot of promises to this neighborhood that haven’t been fulfilled,” says Derek Fleming, a New York native and partner in Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster, which opened in December 2020 inside the old Clyde Killens Pool Hall on NW 2nd Avenue.
The restaurant pays homage to the history of the neighborhood with its interior art-walls are adorned in pages from the Green Book, as well as images of local landmarks like the Hampton House, which was the setting for One Night in Miami. The food features Samuelsson’s take on traditional soul and Caribbean staples like conch fritters, sour orange pig ribs, and fried chicken with pigeon peas and orange honey.
“This restaurant is bringing people to Overtown who have never come here before,” Fleming says from the old pool hall’s new terrazzo floor. “So it creates a new perspective, and a sense of hope, that Overtown has all the potential to be just like any other neighborhood in this city.”
While there has been excitement around Red Rooster’s arrival, the price point isn’t necessarily friendly to locals, with entrees ranging from $17-42 and a $105 Wagyu on the menu. So some may argue that despite its Black ownership, it still contributes to gentrification.
“I see Rooster as a catalytic project to help revitalize the community, but also create new jobs for people living in the neighborhood,” Fleming says.
While there are obvious downsides to pricey new eateries, providing jobs to locals rather than bringing in transplants is an important part of community revitalization. It’s also driven a surge in the creation of affordable housing within new real estate developments.
Frank Melo, a real estate investor who has been managing property and investing in Overtown for more than 15 years, says the bulk of new developers are looking to build 200 units or more, although only 30% of those will be for affordable housing.
The outside money pouring into the area may also be a product of its location. Where the interstate once doomed Overtown, the new MiamiCentral station may bring it back to life.
“You have this incredible connection between the airport, with this entire train system shooting out of Overtown,” Melo says. “It’s going to be very practical for someone who says, ‘Hey, I only have a few hours in Miami, what can I see?’ To get to Little Havana, you have to transfer. Here, you walk west off the train and you’re going to see things that are really unique to the neighborhood-and that are historical.”
But Overtown may not be ready for its tourism close-up quite yet. While it’s still rich in history, two new restaurants and a B&B do not a destination make. The Southeast Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) has kicked around the idea of building a museum to commemorate the neighborhood’s history, but no real plans have been put into place.
“It’s going to depend on what else comes into this area,” West says. “Like if we get this African-American museum the CRA is talking about? Maybe. But if you’re saying just let me walk the streets of Overtown? No, there’s not enough for me to do.”
Historian George, who leads walking tours around Miami and knows the neighborhood’s history all too well, agrees.
“It’s gonna take some more restaurants, another tourist hotel,” he says. “I think in a few years, Overtown will be a major stop with tour buses. But we don’t wanna see what happened in Wynwood happen in Overtown. You’ve got to make it affordable.”
For now, a handful of new Black-owned businesses foster optimism for Overtown’s revitalization. As blighted streets get freshly painted, the landscape is undeniably changing. But the key to keeping the neighborhood’s character intact is making sure locals at the forefront of the redevelopment process.
David Grutman is back at it again, and this time the hospitality guru is bringing a new partner into the fold-award-winning recording artist, Bad Bunny. Located in Miami’s trendy Brickell neighbourhood, Gekkō, which translates to “moonlight” is a Japanese-inspired steakhouse that will serve fancy cuts of Wagyu alongside a bevy of sushi offerings. In true Groot Hospitality form, this isn’t your basic steakhouse, it’s also got a lounge that very well may play the sounds of Bad Bunny and the like into the wee hours of the night.
“Gekkō is the result of so many of my obsessions in food,” says David Grutman, Founder of Groot Hospitality. “It’s a steakhouse inspired by Japanese cuisine. There are delicious, innovative sushi rolls. There’s a lounge. I knew I wanted to do something that combined these worlds, and once I started speaking with Bunny, I knew he’d be a great partner. Gekkō is about having an incredible meal while having an equally incredible night.”
To celebrate the opening of Gekkō (not so coincidentally the same weekend Bad Bunny has two shows scheduled in South Florida), the crew hosted a massive grand opening party that attracted dozens of A-list celebrities and friends of both Grutman and Bad Bunny. Upon arrival, in his white Bugatti, mobs of fans who spent the entire evening swarming the restaurant began chanting “Benito! Benito!” as he exited his car in an all black suit paired with black sunglasses.
The night went something like this. A-list artists of every genre came out to celebrate. Future and Lil Wayne were seen on a couch in deep conversation and catching up with Mack Maine. Bad Bunny and Karol G were spotted running from table to table together, while DJ Khaled was seen embracing Bad Bunny and congratulating him on such a beautiful new restaurant. Timbaland and Andy Garcia were spotted hanging out for a long period, while Sophie Turner and her husband, Joe Jonas, hung with Victoria and David Beckham. Amidst that hundreds of average joes mixed and mingled while attempting to make their way to the bar so they could get a peek at some of the restaurant’s cocktails and sushi bites. It was quite a scene.
Okay, so back to the restaurant. Gekkō was designed by New York City-based architecture and design firm, Rockwell Group, and is made up of three different rooms with seats for up to 185 diners. It’s centred around sultry jewel-toned decor with plush and stylistic elements like a custom gold and red dip-dyed rope installation, graphic wall coverings, and velvet drapery.
Now you might be wondering about the food, because that’s really why we’re going to a restaurant, right? Gekkō’s menu begins with shared plates where diners will find things like a signature Japanese milk bread, “Lava and Ice” Kumamoto Oysters, lobster dumplings, and a wedge salad. When it comes to raw plates there’s sushi and sashimi classics as well as an opulent 24k Otoro, that’s exactly what it sounds like-deliciously tender fatty tuna covered in a layer of 24k gold leaf.
Then there’s the steaks which include a Tomahawk cut, an olive-fed filet mignon from Kagawa, Japan, and a snow beef strip from Hokkaido, Japan. Specialty preparations include Wagyu skirt steak and a bone-in ribeye. And because Grutman is always sure his restaurants cater to the tastes of everyone, there’s even some plant-based chicken options and more.
“Sitting down with friends to enjoy a good meal is one of the moments I value the most,” says Bad Bunny. “I am thrilled that now I will have a hand in creating this experience for others.”
Gekkō opens tonight at 8 SE 8th Street in Brickell. The dining room and lounge serve customers from 6 to 11 pm Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and 6 pm to 12 am Friday and Saturday. Valet parking is available for $20 or you can attempt to find a street parking on Brickell. Visit gekko.com for reservations.