Food & Drink

Chef Bernstein closes signature Miami restaurant

Michelle Bernstein (with chef de cuisine Michael Mayta) could not agree on a new lease for her landmark restaurant, CENA by Michy, and it closed permanently May 29.
Michelle Bernstein (with chef de cuisine Michael Mayta) could not agree on a new lease for her landmark restaurant, CENA by Michy, and it closed permanently May 29. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein may be a household name for lovers of fine dining, but she’s no longer a name at her hometown restaurants.

The same month she celebrated her landmark restaurant’s 10-year anniversary, Bernstein unexpectedly closed CENA by Michy on Biscayne Boulevard on May 29 after the building was sold Friday and they chose not to sign a new lease at nearly three times the rent, said business partner Steven Perricone.

“It’s devastating,” said Bernstein, who grew up in the Miami Modern area and led the neighborhood’s revival by buying a house and starting her retaurant, originally called Michy’s, there, as well. “We totally vested ourselves in that neighborhood.”

This comes a month after Bernstein parted ways with Seagrape inside the former Thompson Hotel in Miami Beach. She and husband/partner David Martinez were out after Hyatt Hotels & Resorts bought the property.

Perricone, who ran the business side of a restaurant that led the Upper East Side/Miami Modern District’s revival, said they were told six weeks ago the building would be sold to a group led by real estate investors Michael Comras and Michael Cahane. (Comras led an investment group that sold an entire block of Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road for $317 million in September.)

But Bernstein’s team could not negotiate a deal with the new owners, who demanded more than $60 a square foot in rent, nearly three times what the restaurant had been paying, Perricone said.

“It’s part of what’s going on in Miami,” said Perricone, who owns Perricone’s Marketplace and Cafe in Brickell. “They chose to have us move out instead of keeping a tenent that has been part of the community for 10 years.”

Comras said Bernstein’s team was offered a lease at “market rents” and balked.

“Their lease was up and they decided to close the store,” Comras said. “We would have loved to have them stay.”

She and her husband will continue to operate Crumb on Parchment in the Design District. And Perricone said the three will look at other possible ventures together.

“We’ve had an amazing run and are very proud of the legacy we’ve created,” Martinez wrote in an official statement. “With a heavy heart we have made the decision to close the restaurant, but it is time to move on. We’re exploring and developing other concepts.”

Last year was supposed to be a triumphant return to Miami for Bernstein, who has made a name for herself internationally and beloved locally by fans of fine dining. Besides the Miami Beach venture at the Seagrape, which earned a 3-star Miami Herald review in January 2015, she renovated her popular Michy’s, which had been closed for a year, and reopened it as CENA. It received a 3  1/2-star Miami Herald review last summer.

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