Raised in a family-run hotel restaurant, Eismann has had a passion for cooking since childhood. When he graduated from The Culinary Institute of America in 1984, his classmates voted him most likely to succeed. He spent eight years perfecting his craft in the kitchens of some of New Yorks top restaurants, including Batons, Fandango and China Grill.
Move to the Beach
In 1992, Eismann moved to Miami Beach to take advantage of the burgeoning redevelopment. When Pacific Time opened on Lincoln Road in 1993, the stretch was still a ghost town. But Eismann, along with partners Yves Picot and Alexander Duff, turned the Pacific-rim inspired restaurant into a destination that attracted everyone from foodies to celebrities such as Madonna, Calvin Klein and Cindy Crawford. Pacific Time was hailed as one of the best new restaurants in America by Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Esquire and others. Eismann himself was honored in 1994 with the Robert Mondavi Award for Culinary Excellence.
Pacific Time was a defining Miami restaurant, said Larry Carrino, a restaurant publicist whose firm, Brustman Carrino, has worked with Eismann over the years. Jonathan was the talent that helped put South Florida on the national culinary map.
Part of what made Pacific Time work was that the partners balanced out each other. Eismann, not known as warm and personable, spent his time in the kitchen crafting his signature dishes such as steamed halibut with fresh coriander and lemongrass or miso-rubbed chicken salad. The more outgoing Picot focused on interacting with customers.
Jonathan was a perfectionist and he knew what he wanted, Picot said. Sometimes he rubbed people the wrong way. He was very good at working the kitchen. He was definitely better in the back of the house than in the front. It worked well for the first few years.
After expanding to Coral Gables with a sister restaurant, Pacific Heights, Eismann and his partners had different opinions on the direction they wanted to take the business. They split in 1997, with Eismann buying out the partners. It cost him nearly $1 million, he told The Miami Herald in 2008, adding: That trailed me for a long time.
But Eismann kept Pacific Time going for another decade before increasing restaurant competition throughout South Florida and rising real estate prices on Lincoln Road got the better of him. When Pacific Time closed its doors in June 2007, it was Lincoln Roads longest running high-end eatery after a streak of 14 years. In a town where people are always looking for the hottest new place, Pacific Time had lost its panache.
We always had modest increases in our sales, but when the revenues dont keep pace with expenses, then the numbers dont work, Eismann told The Miami Herald in 2007.
Tired of Lincoln Road customers more interested in pizza, ice cream and liquor, Eismann took his pioneering spirit to the Miami Design District, the new up-and-coming foodie destination. He used profits from real estate investments to fund the reopening of a less pricey version of Pacific Time in 2008, just down Northeast 40th Street from the new hot spot, Michaels Genuine Food & Drink.
It was the beginning of a massive expansion that saw Eismann open four restaurants Pizza Volante, Q American Barbecue and Fin were the others in the span of two years. The idea was to use a variety of different cuisines to help grow the areas image as a dining destination. But the growth came at an unheard-of pace for a small, independent operator.