If you’re longing for a slice of Miami history, get your tastebuds primed.
Miami’s Best Pizza, a fixture across from the University of Miami on South Dixie Highway for 45 years, is soon to reopen after a three-year absence.
Two restaurant and hospitality industry veterans have partnered with the old owners — Ray Papich and Charlie Butler — and former general manager Thad Winieckie to reopen in a new location at 5833 Ponce de Leon Blvd. in Coral Gables. The restaurant will be housed in the former Sunset Quickprint space near the Titanic brewery and restaurant.
How nearby? Try within view of the original, which was at 1514 S. Dixie Hwy.
Signage is now up on the window of the new location:
“Opening Winter 2018.”
The red logo is the same that graced the original location for more than 25 years: “Miami’s Best Pizza Since 1970.”
Winieckie, Butler’s brother-in-law, explains: “One of the reasons it has taken so long to bring Miami’s Best back is we wanted to find a great location to serve our loyal customer base. The location …we feel great about as we want to create a pizza culture of one with the university and its students. The old Miami’s Best location is within a few hundreds yards of our new spot and within our sights as we continue to use it as our inspiration.”
UM owns the property and will be the landlord. The university recently conducted a survey that found its students wanted a pizza place on campus. The Ponce location is just across San Amaro Drive from UM’s Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field baseball stadium.
But what you really want to know is one thing: Will it taste the same?
“We can not stress this enough. Everything is the same. From the pizza to the sauce, to the salads, to the oven, to the phone number and even down to the box. The Sportsman is back! We also added a few new items and will now serve beer and wine,” said Winieckie.
“We were absolutely super careful not to change any of the fundamentals,” he continued, throwing in some pizza talk.
The reason Miami’s Best tasted like, well, Miami’s best (let the arguments begin) were not just the ingredients but the manner in which the pizza pie was baked.
“If I took that exact recipe and put it on a conveyor belt or cooked it on a stone or in a brick oven, you’d get a different pizza. We’re using the same oven, cooking it on steel, so everything about the pizza, in addition to the ingredients, would be the same,” Winieckie said.
Added new co-owner Greg Goldhaber, a Class of ’97 UM MBA grad, “A lot of places are going away — like retail. We’re bringing a local favorite back. We couldn’t let it go. Nobody wanted to let this one go.”
Some of the former employees are coming back, too, including co-owner Herb Lyons who worked at Miami’s Best from 1993 to 1997.
One thing that is not coming back: the old NCR cash register that rang up sales for decades from the front counter. HistoryMiami Museum rang Miami’s Best up about a week before its closing in 2015 and asked for some pieces to display. Owners donated the cash register.
Longtime Miami’s Best Pizza customers, many students and alum of UM, called its closing in 2015, “total devastation,” in a Miami New Times story.
Now, these same customers are thrilled.
“Dear Sweet Baby Jesús: Thanks for this miracle of bread — topped with sauce and cheese. It’s BACK!!!! Opening next to AllCanes on Ponce!,” screamed Sarah Nesbitt Artecona’s post on Facebook last week.
The post from Artecona, UM’s assistant vice president of communications, led to many more like this one from Andrew Moss, who commented on her thread: “That’s how you make America great again!”
Miami’s Best Pizza was opened by “Big” Al Papich, a former UM football player, as a Little Caesars franchise in 1970 — but with a wholly different sauce and cheese and pizza presentation from the delivery chain.
When Papich stepped down in 1990 after the franchise contract expired, the Papich family opted not to renew. Son Ray Papich and his business partner Charles Butler took over the restaurant. The duo changed the name to Miami’s Best Pizza.
The new Ponce location will incorporate many of the original decor pieces, like the old chandeliers, but with an expanded kitchen and a seating layout that will give everyone a view of the pizza “show” — the chef hand-tossing the pies.
And for the old-timers who remember having to step outside and into the parking lot to use the funky bathrooms in the 1970s and ’80s, the restrooms will be brand new. “Everyone will appreciate that,” Winieckie said, chuckling.
“Our prayers have been answered,” Deborah Korge, executive director of The Women’s Fund Miami posted on Artecona’s Facebook thread.