The eclectic loft behind his restaurant Soyka, the spot that brought new life to the stagnant Upper East Side, smells of gasoline and motor oil.
It’s here — overlooking his classic, steel blue 1958 Bentley, surrounded by black-and-white photos and a reclaimed metal desk beneath exposed wooden rafters — where the man who is equally in love with restaurants and design is planning his next big move.
Mark Soyka is ready to create again.
“All the property I own is because I want to open a restaurant,” Soyka said. “It’s like a theater. Every night is a different play in a restaurant.”
It’s why he opened Soyka 17 years ago, an impossible lifetime for a restaurant, and watched its effect spread like a wish paid forward in this neighborhood adjacent to Little River. He had seen in 1988 what News Cafe did for South Beach in 1988. The picturesque spot ahead of the city’s revival was a favorite haunt of the late Gianni Versace and has become a landmark. Ditto for Van Dyke Cafe, which helped revitalize Lincoln Road in the ’90s to the point at which rising property values made it impossible not to sell.
But it’s on this swath of property he owns between 54th and 58th streets on Biscayne Boulevard, the center of his creative universe across from his Morningside home of more than 20 years, where Soyka is planning his first restaurant in 15 years: Café Roval.
The restaurant, set to open Nov. 4, sits inside the historic pump house that used to bring water to Morningside and Lemon City, a building of coral rock that opens up to a pond and patio under a verdant hammock that feels like his personal secret garden. He has been pining for the property for 20 years.
Fittingly, Café Roval is Soyka’s blend of sustenance and style.
“It’s a strange and wonderful project,” he said. “You go in and you’re in another world.”
Soyka is not a foodie, a gourmand, an aristocratic eater. (“I’m not culinary. I don’t even cook,” he said.) But he understands that restaurants are the lifeblood of a community.
He grew up behind the counter at his parents’ deli in Tel Aviv at 5. When he left for Manhattan after his conscripted military service, he studied at the New York School of Interior Design before opening his first restaurant, a cabaret named Upstairs at Green Street in New York City.
When he came to Miami in 1985, it was to help the late real estate mogul Tony Goldman begin renovating South Beach. He never left.
He watched what News Cafe, Van Dyke Cafe and Soyka did for their respective neighborhoods. Now he wants to add to his neighborhood options with Roval, just three blocks from Soyka, with a November opening planned.
The restaurant is purely a passion project. Soyka wanted a high-end restaurant in a relaxed atmosphere that focused on the Mediterranean cuisine he loves to eat.
He put the menu in the hands of Nuno Grullon, whose cuisine he fell in love with at the former Ironside Cafe nearby (where Soyka preferred pizzas) before Grullon became chef de cuisine at R House in Wynwood for three years. The menu will be seasonal, keeping in mind Miami’s often warm weather. Expect oysters and crudo dishes, with local red snapper, organic beef skewers and sweetbreads, using many local ingredients — even Cerulean cherries, which grow wild in Miami.
The restaurant’s interior is warm and rustic thanks to the coral rock walls, with oil paintings, polished concrete floors and exposed rafters. Soyka hand-picked every piece inside the restaurant, from the paintings to the chandeliers. It’s as if he were creating a dining room for himself, bursting with creative flair.
“I’m eclectic. If I see a piece I like it and I put it in there,” he said. “It all comes together. ... I like to design them, to host them, to build them. They’re my babies.”
Beyond the pond will be a mixing area beneath the trees, where locals can come late at night, sit, have a drink and “just hang out,” Soyka said. A garden with fresh herbs and vegetables will help feed the kitchen.
Soyka talks about Café Roval with the certainty of a man who has an inside stock tip. He believes in it. And given his track record, it’s probably enough to make it a success.
“If you do it right and love it, it will love you back,” Soyka said.
Where: 5808 NE Fourth Court, Miami
Hours: Open nightly beginning Nov. 4, 4 p.m. until midnight
More information: Caferoval.com.