Hospitality kings Jeff Soffer and David Grutman discuss surviving pandemic at TRD Miami event
“I just wrote checks and hoped for the best,” when shutdowns occurred, Fontainebleau Miami Beach’s owner Soffer said
During the early days of the pandemic, Fontainebleau Miami Beach owner Jeffrey Soffer constantly chatted with Miami nightlife guru David Grutman about whether to close down LIV, the hotel’s immensely popular nightclub.
“He was like, ‘We have to shut down LIV,’” Grutman told a crowd of thousands of people on Wednesday. “My response was, ‘what are you crazy?’”
But Soffer, chairman and CEO of Aventura-based Fontainebleau Development, insisted they lead the way as the coronavirus quickly ravaged across America. When the National Basketball Association shut down its season on March 11, 2020, there was no turning back, Grutman said.
“To his credit, [Soffer] was ahead of the curve,” Grutman said. “Everybody else shut down as soon as we did.”
Grutman and Soffer headlined a panel about charting a comeback for the hospitality market at the seventh annual TRD Real Estate Showcase and Forum held at Mana Wynwood. During the panel, moderated by TRD Chairman and Publisher Amir Korangy, the duo discussed how they navigated the uncertainty the pandemic created in South Florida’s nightlife and hotel industry, as well as dropping hints about their future projects.
Soffer revealed his company is soon launching a new two-tower condo project in Aventura and that Fontainebleau Las Vegas, a project that has been in the works for 15 years, is expected to be completed next year.
Meanwhile, Fontainebleau Miami Beach has bounced back more than a year after Covid-19 upended South Florida’s hospitality industry, Soffer said. During the months the hotel was closed and occupancy was limited, Soffer said he was worried about not knowing when business would get back to normal.
“We still had to pay our overhead, our insurance, real estate taxes and employees who were there,” Soffer said. “I just wrote checks and hoped for the best. That is all you can do.”
Soffer said the Fontainebleau Miami Beach is now faring much better. “The first quarter this year was weaker than previous years,” he said. “But now we are having record-setting months.”
Grutman, who partnered with Imperial Companies and celebrity Pharell to open the Goodtime Hotel in Miami Beach earlier this year, said the biggest obstacle facing the hospitality industry now is finding workers.
“As Miami skyrockets in rent, it is really expensive for an hourly [wage employee] to move down here,” Grutman said. “But we are also seeing an amazing influx [of talent] culinary wise that moved out of these big cities to come to Miami.”
Soffer concurred, noting it has been hard to hire new employees in lower-paying jobs such as maintenance and housekeeping. “When the government gave out big checks, people stayed home,” Soffer said. “[They] are starting to come back. The money is wearing off. The free ride is over.”