He added that expanding to different markets can present unforeseen challenges. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know,” he said.
The chef Michelle Bernstein is a Miami native, a star of the early “Floribbean” local food movement and a veteran of the city’s boom-bust cycles. She runs food businesses across the city: catering, corporate, a swanky cocktail bar in Little Havana. She knows all the real estate developers who really run the restaurant business here — Craig Robins, Robert Wennett, David Grutman. But, she said, she can’t compete with empire builders with ready cash to build the kind of glossy restaurants that Miamians have come to expect.
“These groups are just so well funded,” she said, referring to companies like Major Food, the Tao Group and Boka.
The pandemic has been a kind of Darwinian test for Miami restaurants, and many did not survive. In the winter of 2020-21, when restaurants in New York, London and Los Angeles were barely open, Miami was offering 100 percent capacity. Deep-pocketed restaurateurs from around the world came calling. Mr. Zalaznick said the city sped up the permitting process for new vendors, and Major Food Group was able to move quickly into spaces in Brickell, South Beach and Coconut Grove.
“It’s so much easier to do business here,” said Mr. Zalaznick of his adopted city.
This is especially true for an entrepreneur who arrives with plenty of cash, from a family business worth billions.
Mr. Zalaznick is a grandson of the financier and real estate developer Paul Milstein, as in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life (the whale room) at the American Museum of Natural History; the Milstein Division of the New York Public Library; and the Milstein Hospital in Upper Manhattan.
He is also rich in NYC-MIA real estate connections: Tisches and LeFraks, Schragers and Rubells often show up at Major Food events, and Jared and Ivanka Trump attended the opening party for HaSalon Miami, the group’s collaboration with the celebrity Israeli chef Eyal Shani.