Some of the best decisions in life are made with a gut feeling. There are those who are lucky enough to trust their gut for a lifetime of good decisions. Steve Perricone is one of those people.
From the time he graduated from high school, Steve paved his own path through life. He became a serial entrepreneur. His path ultimately led him into a very prosperous restaurant business.
There were certainly times when situations looked bleak, but Steve was fortunate enough to rely on his intuition to take the right risks at the right times. It was a gut feeling that led him to open a restaurant at 15 SE 10th Street in Brickell when everyone else thought he was crazy.
The Club Promoter
It was during the start of the disco revolution that Perricone found his first opportunity to make money. It was the summer of 1974 when Steve approached the owner of the Oliver Twist restaurant in the Hamptons to promote weekend parties at a big vacant banquet hall attached to the restaurant. The agreement was that the owner can keep the bar receipts and Perricone would keep the cover charge.
The agreement was profitable for both parties. Steve filled the hall with 300 – 400 people every Friday and Saturday night during the summers of 1974 and 1975. Perricone brought in a sound system and a mirror ball. It was all that was needed during the disco era.
Following the summer of 1975, the owner of Oliver Twist decided not to renew the lease. The owner of the property reached out to Perricone and offered to lease both the restaurant and banquet hall to him.
Steve talked two friends into being a part of the enterprise. The three men invested $25,000 each into the operation. For the first time, Steve was now in the restaurant business. As the club continued to flourish, he and his partners learned the tough lessons of running a restaurant.
During the first year of their lease, the partners dealt with adversity. On August 8, 1976, a bad storm rolled into the Hamptons. During this storm, lightning struck the 100 year old building that the friends were leasing. The building was wood framed and burned to the ground.
The partners rebuilt the restaurant and club on the same location. The investment for new buildings was not in the financial plan for the partners. It was a lesson that Perricone would encounter again.
Despite the adversity, the partners would enjoy a prosperous eleven years running the restaurant and club in the Hamptons. The friends remained with the business until the summer of 1987.
Restaurants in New York City
In the early 1980s, Steve felt he understood the intricacies of running a restaurant well enough to expand into the city. He first opened a restaurant in the theater district. Then, he opened a café in the Chelsea neighborhood at 11th Avenue and West 23rd Street.
Perricone chose the Chelsea neighborhood because it was considered an up and coming area where he could get reasonable rent. The café later morphed into a night club.
Both operations were doing well until the stock market crash of 1987. Following the crash, times were hard economically in New York. Crime was on the rise. Steve chose to close both places.
Fortunately, Steve and his partners sold their business interests in the Hamptons during the summer of 1987, several months prior to the stock market crash. Following the closure of his operations in the city, Perricone felt that there was nothing left in New York to keep him there.
Opportunity in the Bahamas
Shortly after deciding to leave New York, a friend of Steve’s provided him an opportunity to get into paper business. The opportunity brought him to Nassau in the Bahamas.
It didn’t take long for Perricone to discover a new venture. He found a vacant night club and chose to get back into the night club business. The operation did very well with the spring break crowd. It featured thirteen bars and three dance floors. It also served as an after hour club. Given the weekly change of spring breakers, the place was very profitable for the spring break months.
However, Steve was not long for the Bahamas. He felt it was too reliant on tourism and was struggling economically. During his time in the Bahamas, Perricone would travel back and forth to South Florida to get away from the island. After three prosperous years running his club, Steve left the Bahamas and moved to Miami.
Stefanos on Miami Beach
The late 1980s and early 1990s was the beginning of a renaissance for Miami Beach. Steve had a good feeling about the direction of the beach and, with a partner, purchased a building to open a restaurant. The 1948 building was located at 1430 Washington Avenue. The name of the restaurant was Stefanos.
Perricone wanted to model his restaurant after a concept that he frequented in New York. The restaurant was called Supreme Macaroni Company. It combined an Italian marketplace and a restaurant.
Stefanos opened in 1990. The business consisted of a large marketplace with a small dining area. There were a total of twenty five seats located in the back upstairs portion of the building.
A few years later, Steve felt like Miami Beach was not where he wanted to run his business long term. Business was good during the tourist season, but dropped off during the summer months.
A frequent guest of the restaurant suggested that he look at the Brickell neighborhood. In the mid-1990s, Brickell consisted of a growing number of office buildings as well as residential neighborhoods.
Four years after opening Stefanos, Perricone thought it was time to look for a new location for his business. He looked west to find an area less reliant on tourism. Steve needed a place where he can rely on year round business.
Search for New Location
In 1994, Steve hired a real estate agent to help him find a new location. He decided to look for locations in both Brickell and Coral Gables. At first, he looked at a lot of spaces that were in the lobbies of large office buildings in Brickell. None of the lobby locations appealed to him.
Perricone eventually decided on a location in Coral Gables. While he was negotiating the terms of the lease, he had his real estate agent take him through the Brickell neighborhood one last time.
It was this last trip through Brickell that Steve found a better location. Much to the amazement of his realtor, Perricone looked at a duplex on Tenth Street and said “this is it”.
The building was located at 15 South East Tenth Street and it was an old wood frame duplex. It is likely that it was originally zoned for multi-family residential, but later re-zoned for commercial use. The building was set toward the front of the property and Steve remembers the back yard having plenty of space for expansion. Steve also remembers a large banyan tree proudly standing in the back yard. It is the same tree that sits in the back dining area of the restaurant today.
Another feature that Perricone liked about the property was that it was situated next to a park. While the park was overrun with weeds and vagrants, Steve saw the potential to eventually incorporate the park as part of the appeal of his restaurant and marketplace.
The immediate area around the neighborhood was mostly residential. Directly south of the duplex was the Greenwich Café at the corner of Tenth Street and South Miami Avenue. Prior to the structure being torn down for the Flat Iron condominium, Baru occupied the building where the Greenwich Cafe once resided.
Down the street was a small Italian restaurant called Mario’s Il Palio. It was located at 1024 South Miami Avenue, just south of the old fire station. Firehouse Four Saloon was a popular restaurant and disco located at the fire station from the 1970s through the 1990s. The Dolores / Lolita restaurant now operates in the historic firehouse building.
Across the street and to the west of the duplex were the offices of Emerson Fittipaldi, the Brazilian racecar driver. His offices were located where the Fado and Prime Ocean now reside. Fittipaldi owned a lot of the land where Mary Brickell Village was built.
Despite his real estate agent’s recommendation, Perricone submitted an offer to lease the building for his restaurant. It would take a year before Steve and the Allen Morris Company would come to terms on the lease agreement.
Steve sold his ownership interest in the Washington Avenue building to his partner. He was ready for a new beginning in what his gut told him would be a promising area.
Circumstances Lead to Barn Shopping
Once Perricone and the Allen Morris Company agreed on a lease, Steve went to work. He had his vision of a marketplace in the front, and seating for a restaurant in the back. He began demolition of the interior in the winter of 1994. On December 24, 1994, Steve discovered that fate would force a change of plans.
The roof of the old wood frame building collapsed on Christmas Eve. Perricone discovered that there was an old cistern on the roof of the duplex that created a leak. He also discovered that the roof and walls were infested with termites.
Perricone called on a friend who was a construction contractor to help him assess the damage. His friend told him, given the infestation of termites, nothing was salvageable from the original building. Steve loved the Dade county pine wood floors and was disappointed he couldn’t at least salvage the floor boards.
Steve and his friend went back to his home to determine what to do next. His friend suggested that they consider buying an old barn in Vermont and use the material to construct his building in Miami. The barn would give the restaurant and marketplace an old rustic look that would blend well within the neighborhood.
The two friends put an ad in the penny saver of his friend’s old home town of Rutland, Vermont. Eventually, they found a 200 year old vacant barn at the back of a farmer’s property. The purchased the barn for five hundred dollars under the stipulation that they leave the land clean.
The crew disassembled the barn and put all the wood on two forty foot trailers to transport to Miami. The wood was stored in a warehouse while the restaurant’s lot was cleared of the old building. The wood was also treated to ensure that termites would not be a problem for the new building.
Once the land was cleared, the construction crew reassembled the barn. The marketplace spanned the same footprint of the original duplex. The walls and gray board from the front porch through the front dining room were all from the barn. The beams are from the late 1700s. The building erected for the restaurant was built to look like an original structure in the neighborhood.
Opening of Perricones Marketplace & Restaurant in 1996
Steve had always believed in his vision. However, due to the unforeseen costs associated with rebuilding his leased building, he sought additional capital. He went to investors and banks in the area and no one wanted to take a chance.
So, on October 16, 1996, Steve opened his restaurant on a shoe string budget. While the evenings were slow, the lunch business exceeded his expectations. Steve remembered sitting out on the front porch with one waiter, one bartender and a cook and just hoping a passing car meant some dinner business.
Perricones would pass out flyers in the neighborhood and appealed to sports enthusiasts to eat dinner at the restaurant before games. The Heat and Panthers both played at the old Miami Arena during the early years of the restaurant. Perricones would offer free parking and shuttle service to and from the arena on game nights. During that time, there was plenty of street parking in Brickell.
Fortunately, his lunch business quickly put Perricone in a position to buy the property. What complicated the negotiations of the lease agreement with Allen Morris Company was determining a buy-out clause. Despite a higher than market rate to exercise the clause, Steve’s business was growing at a pace where it made sense for him to purchase the property versus paying rent plus revenue overrides.
Perricone got approved by Helm Bank, located east of the restaurant by a block, for a mortgage on the property. By early 1997, Steve Perricone, and Helm Bank, officially owned the land and building. Given the value of land in Brickell today, it would appear that Steve’s gut feeling on buy versus rent worked out just fine.
By 1998, Perricone’s business was thriving. During this time, Miami’s City Manager, Don Warshaw, was having lunch at the restaurant. Steve approached him with an idea. He wanted to utilize the park for overflow seating during lunch.
Steve proposed that Perricones upgrade and maintain the park in exchange for the restaurant’s right to use part of the park for outdoor seating. The City had not been maintaining the park and didn’t have budget to upgrade and maintain it.
Warshaw agreed to approve Perricones proposal provided that Allen Morris Company was okay with the plan. The land for the park was donated to the City of Miami by Allen Morris Senior, and therefore, his company had a say in how it could be used. They gave approval and Perricones upgraded the park and began using it for outside seating.
Business would continue to be steady until Emerson Fittipaldi hired the Paris-based Constructa to build Mary Brickell Village in 2002. Constructa developed Coco-Walk in Coconut Grove. As Mary Brickell Village was being built, One Broadway and Camden brought a lot of new residents to Brickell by the mid-2000s. The projects of this era changed the neighborhood dramatically.
While the housing bubble burst of 2008 slowed the growth in the area, it didn’t take long before another building boom got started. As the neighborhood grew, so did Perricone’s business. Steve had always wanted to provide good value for a fair price. It was this philosophy that allowed him to see his revenue grow every year since his business opened in 1996.
A Brickell Institution
On October 16, 2016, Perricones will celebrate twenty years in business at their Brickell location. When asked if he has plans to expand to a second location, Steve quickly admits that he is a ‘one operation at a time’ kind of business owner. Steve enjoys greeting and getting to know his customers.
While conventional wisdom would dictate that more restaurants in an area will only take away business, Steve Perricone has a different philosophy. He reflected on the days when his business was a destination restaurant. So, he learned to appreciate the old adage that it is better to be one of many rather than one of one.
Steve will likely continue to rely on his gut feeling to do what is right for his business. As a resident of the neighborhood and a frequent diner at Perricones, I hope that his gut feeling keeps him in Brickell for many more years.Click Here to Subscribe
- Interview: Steve Perricone on April 20, 2016.
- Article: “Where to Eat”, Palm Beach Post, May 23, 1993.
- Article: “Constructa to begin Mary Brickell Village”, South Florida Business Journal, May 3, 2002
- Cover: Front of Perricones Restaurant. Courtesy of Steve Perricone.
- Figure 1: Old Stefano’s location in 2016. Courtesy of Google Maps.
- Figure 2: Places to Eat in Palm Beach Post in 1993.
- Figure 3: Duplex on Tenth Street in 1994. Courtesy of Steve Perricone.
- Figure 4: Perricones Front Entrance at night. Courtesy of Steve Perricone.