Brett David, Prestige Imports Owner
It’s the smell that always gets him. Whenever Brett David sits in the 1971 Mercedes 280SL his father—the late Irv David, founder of North Miami Beach’s Prestige Imports—once owned, he feels his presence close by. “I have the car parked in the garage, and it looks exactly like it did on the day he brought it home. The veneers, the red leather interior,” said Brett, his voice reflecting the loss he still feels, seven years after his father’s death. “To me it still smells like him. Maybe that’s why I drive it on Sundays.”
It’s fitting that he does, because Sundays were what Irv referred to as “son-days.” It was the day “he was with me,” Brett recalled. “And later with my little sister too. The point was: it was family day. He worked Monday through Saturday, and Sunday was the only day he took off.” Founder of the highly successful family of luxury car dealerships, Irv was addicted to his work, Brett recalled recently, sitting in what was once his father’s office, which is now his. Slowly turning the pages of a family album filled with photos of his dad, Brett ran his finger over the pictures and reminisced.
A Philadelphia transplant who moved to Miami in the 1970s, Irv started out by selling premium car tires, Brett said. Ever the ambitious entrepreneur, he then bought a gas station from which he could also sell used cars. Business was brisk, so in just a few years he ditched the gas station to focus on car sales, moving the operation to Biscayne Boulevard, to the very spot where the Prestige dealership stands today. By the 1980s and 1990s, when fast cars and flash had become Miami’s social currency, Irv was on top of his game, selling an impressive array of pre-owned luxury cars, from Lamborghinis to Maseratis and everything in between. “He loved everything about his business,” said Brett, who as a teenager would run home after school, put on a suit and go to work at the dealership. “He loved the city, he loved Prestige. He just couldn’t get enough of it all.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
But with the action came a good measure of stress, Brett recalled, especially by the early 2000s as Irv—like many in South Florida at the time—planned even more aggressive growth for his company. Such tension was bad news for a man with a family history of heart disease. Both Irv’s father and grandfather had died of heart attacks before they were 40. By the time Irv was 55, he had suffered three heart attacks, close calls he miraculously survived. In 2007, a fourth heart attack finally claimed his life. Brett, 19 at the time, remembers it well. He was there.
It was the eve of Irv’s 56th birthday, and father and son—by then, Irv had split from Brett’s mother, Valerie, who was living in New Jersey—went for a celebratory dinner. After the meal, they returned to the North Miami Beach home they shared, where they watched an episode of MTV Cribs, on which a brief interview with Brett happened to be airing. Then they went to bed, planning to rise early the next morning to go boating in the Keys. “That night,” said Brett, “I tied birthday balloons to his bedroom door."
The next day, by 9:30 a.m., Irv wasn’t up yet. “I thought ‘Ah, let him sleep in. It’s his birthday,’” Brett said. “But by 10 a.m. our boat crew was calling and saying we needed to go. So I went into my dad’s room, shook the bed, and said ‘Come on, old man, it’s time to get up. Don’t let 56 get you down.' I went to the window to open the blinds, and something just made me turn around.” Brett walked toward his father and realized he wasn’t moving. He reached out to touch his hand. It was icy cold. “I just broke down completely,” Brett said, his words reduced to all but a whisper. Just then, the phone rang. His 15-year-old little sister was calling from New Jersey to wish her dad a happy birthday. “I couldn’t even speak."
It’s been a long time since Brett has talked about the day that forever changed his life. He’s still visibly shaken by it. “My father and I didn’t have the typical father-son bond. It was more. He was my best friend, my employer, my mentor—he was my superman,” he said. “And even though I was 19, not a kid anymore, I feel like there were some big things I missed out on with him. I still have so many questions for him, about life, business, our family— about everything."
What happened next to both Brett and Prestige Imports has been well chronicled in South Florida car circles. Less than two weeks after Irv’s death, Brett stepped up to take over the dealership, a move many people around him questioned given his youth. “But what they didn’t realize was that I had worked right beside my father for a long time,” Brett said. “I knew the business inside and out.” He discovered that even his father wanted him to leave the dealership behind. “I found a letter he’d written to me saying that if he was gone, he wanted me to sell the business,” Brett said. “He knew the stress that came along with it—and he didn’t want that for me.” He paused. “But I just couldn’t. In my mind, it couldn’t be that my dad had died for this business and that I was just going to walk away from it. So I stood up in front of our team and said, "Look, I know I’m going to make mistakes, but with your help, together, we can do this."
Did they ever. Thanks in no small part to Brett’s infusion of innovative, millennial thinking—he’s famous for marketing stunts like having a South Florida graffiti artist paint a white Lamborghini with a black Sharpie—the Prestige group (which includes franchises for Audi, Lamborghini, Pagani and Lotus) has grown exponentially. Within a year of Brett having taken over, the Audi franchise became the automaker’s top selling new car dealership in America, distinctions it maintained in 2010 and 2011. More recently, in an effort to market to Miami’s ever more global customers, Prestige created a car called the AU79, a gold-plated Lamborghini with its own Facebook page, Twitter feed and Instagram following that’s also the star of its own movie.
Today, at just 27, Brett is one of the car industry’s brightest stars—but he still lives in the North Miami Beach home he once shared with his dad, the same home in which he grew up. “I think about him every day. When I walk through the house, I can still see and hear him,” he said. “I think about how without him I wouldn’t be the man I am today.” It’s been a lesson hard learned, but Brett is also keenly aware of his genetics and makes a point of staying healthy by running, hitting the gym and carving out time to relax. And then there are those Sundays. Come this Father’s Day, he’ll be where he always is on a “son-day.” Driving his father’s car, feeling his presence.
MANLY MEALS FOR DAD'S DAY
If you’re taking Dad out to eat for Father’s Day (June 15!) make sure you pick a place he would like. And by that we mean, bring on the beef!
BLT Prime: How about a little golf with your meat? The recently opened BLT Prime, at Trump National Doral, will not only offer a sizzling 16-ounce T-bone steak blackboard special on Father’s Day, they’ll have a special gift for every dad who has dinner at the restaurant that evening: a container of the super secret spice blend used to flavor their scrumptious steaks. (4400 NW 87th Avenue, Miami; 305-582-2000.)
Florida Cookery: Cooking over an open flame—has there ever been a more male activity? To honor dad’s favorite culinary method, Florida Cookery, located in Miami Beach’s James Royal Palm hotel, will host its annual Father’s Day BBQ, with a few extra goodies tossed in. In addition to a full BBQ grill featuring everything from steak to bratwursts to Kobe burgers, the restaurant’s special smokehouse chili, a bloody Mary bar and a cigar menu have been added to the festivities. (1545 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach; 786-276-0333.)
The Forge: And in the nothing-is-too-good-for-the-old-man department: the Forge, once credited with having the best steak in America, will introduce “Prime Rib Sundays,” starting on Father’s Day. As if Miami’s most legendary beef haunt wasn’t decadent enough. (432 41st Street, Miami Beach; 305-538-8533.)