John Tomberlin has been waiting for years for his hometown, Coral Gables, to open an Epicure Gourmet Market.
Friday morning, he was the first customer to place an order and sit at the counter at the indoor 240-seat café and restaurant portion of the 24,000-square-foot grocery and prepared foods market. South Florida’s third Epicure joins the original Miami Beach location, opened in 1945 by the Thal family, and a Sunny Isles Beach branch that took over the old Rascal House restaurant building five years ago. The newest Epicure opened Friday at the base of the mixed-use residential tower, Gables Ponce.
The first toasted bagel. The first schmear of cream cheese. The first cup of coffee.
In between bites, Tomberlin gave the brightly-lit, 24,000-square-foot Epicure its first review.
“I go to the one on Miami Beach and this is much closer to my house,” he said. “Everything is great so far.”
Ferne Toccin, another Gables resident and regular at the Beach store, was among the first through the doors at the 11 a.m. opening. She already had mapped out her destinations: the bakery counter, where Red Velvet cupcakes beckon through the glass, and the deli with its lavish spreads of smoked whitefish, low-fat tuna and lox and specialty cheeses. “I’ve been pushing them to open for a long time,” she will tell you.
Jason Starkman, CEO of Epicure, listened. He has been hearing such demands and hoping to open in the Gables for years — eight years, in fact, he said. That’s how long it took to find a suitable location in the City Beautiful, which is undergoing a wave of new developments.
“We’ve been looking for a long time,” he said. “Maybe 15 percent of our customers at the South Beach store are from the Gables or the Grove or South Miami. What attracts me here is the year-round business. It’s difficult on the Beach. It’s all seasonal and you never know what’s going to be and with the Alton Road construction it’s difficult. We do well and we are happy… but the South Beach demographic changes so often. Now it’s 20-year-old single guys and single women. Here, it’s families and big homes so this could be an interesting spot.”
The new Epicure, which employs a staff of about 120, is the anchor of Gables Ponce, a 248-unit luxury rental apartment complex with rentals ranging from $1,935 per month for a one-bedroom, one bath apartment to $3,685 for a three bedroom, three bath unit. Gables Ponce opened this summer. The developer, Gables Residential, led by CEO Sue Ansel, plans to open a second phase, 119-apartment and 24,000-square-foot office space tower, adjacent to the Epicure sometime in 2014.
Despite Epicure’s popularity, Friday’s opening was a low-key affair. The steady stream of customers found many shelves and pantry cases were not yet fully stocked. But the must-haves were here. The Epicure’s famed quart jars of Matzoh Ball Soup stood like sentries amid jars of gefilte fish, New England clam chowder soup and borscht. The rice puddings, with their dustings of cinnamon, nestled below in chilled cases. The store, with its white walls and brushed silver signs, feels modern, bright, open and has wide aisles.
“This is our first starting-from-scratch Epicure,” Starkman said as workmen scurried about making last-minute adjustments. I had the opportunity to design what I wanted to design and bring it to a level that surpassed everyone.”
The South Beach and Sunny Isles locations will still function as commissaries that prepare the baked goods for shipment to the chain, including the Gables branch. Hot foods and salads are made on the Gables premises by a team of three chefs.
While Epicure’s most famous foods will be stocked, the Gables store will have offer dishes unseen at the other locations. “Sometimes in Coral Gables customers may get to taste something you won’t in the Sunny Isles store because our chef may be trying something. I don’t like holding back my chef. They have creativity. I like them to try new things.”