Miami Grill rolling out new locations, menu, look — and name

Miami Grill in Cutler Bay is now open.
Miami Grill in Cutler Bay is now open.

The restaurant chain once known as Miami Subs is moving into its growth phase three years after hip-hop star Pitbull signed on as a partner.

Sites in Cutler Bay and Miami Springs have already opened, and several new or renovated locations are expected to open this year under the new Miami Grill name. Locations are open in New Zealand and Malaysia, and Richard Chwatt, CEO of The New Miami Subs Grill (which is actually based in Fort Lauderdale), said between 250 and 300 more restaurants are contracted.

“We’ve gone through the design stage and the streamlining stage; we’ve come up with the right product, with the right menu,” he said. “We know the look that we want, so it’s really just about now getting the execution completed.”

The goal over the next 10 years, he said, is to have a number in the “low thousands” operating around the world — a huge increase from the roughly 40 that are up and running now.

“We’re at the very beginning of what’s going to be a giant crescendo within the next five to 10 years,” said Chwatt, who became CEO in 2010.

That wave kicked off when Armando Christian Pérez — Pitbull or “Mr. 305” to fans — became an equity partner in 2012.

Evan Friedman, executive vice president of The New Miami Subs Grill, said the celebrity’s involvement has been key in promoting new locations, including internationally, and drawing attention to the brand.

“Everybody that used to go to Miami Subs is excited about this old iconic brand that is now rebranding itself,” Friedman said. “You throw Pitbull in there, and it causes a lot of excitement.”

Chwatt said the company plans to cross-promote restaurant happenings with appearances Pitbull already has scheduled, such as the recent opening of the Malaysia store that coincided with a concert. With involvement from Pérez, Chwatt said South America is a top priority for growth down the road.

In the near term, Miami Grill locations are set to open in South Beach next month, Margate in August, Palm Beach in September and Boca Raton in October. Renovated stores that are changing from Miami Subs to Miami Grill by the end of the year include sites in Pembroke Pines, Miami Gardens, Pompano Beach and Davie.

Dieuveny “DJ” Louis and Vito Reznik head up UMG Restaurant Group, which is opening the South Beach site at 1541 Washington Ave. with plans to open more eventually. Reznik said a soft opening in Miami Beach is planned for mid-June, but the exact date is still pending as construction continues.

“Miami Subs to me has been such an iconic and historic brand, such a big part of Miami for decades,” said Reznik, who used to eat at the former Lincoln Road location when he was a University of Miami student in the early 2000s. When Louis, an executive partner with parent company ownership group Miami Subs Capital Partners, told Reznik about the company’s rebranding efforts and updated menu, he was sold.

“I felt like these were the exact change the brand needed to thrive again,” Reznik said.

Chwatt said the biggest challenge so far has been getting longtime franchise owners to invest the capital — between $175,000-$350,000 — to bring their restaurants up to new standards. Nearly 20 locations have been closed, he said, but sales at renovated spots have increased between 20 to 50 percent once upgrades have been made.

Across the company’s restaurants, same-store sales are up almost 8 percent, Chwatt said.

Under the new Miami Grill model, menus still have old favorites such as burgers, cheese steak sandwiches and gyros, but they also offer healthier options including grilled fish or hormone-free chicken, salads and fresh-baked multigrain bread.

“We’re really not about subs anymore,” Chwatt said, explaining the name change. “Our menu has become so diversified; we’re not a sandwich shop any longer.”

Stores will also offer beer and wine in chilled glasses and, at some locations, Dom Pérignon like Miami Subs did in the old days.

Dean Haskell, founding partner of National Retail Concept Partners, said the updated menu and participation of Pitbull could help the brand attract the important millennial demographic.

“His involvement attracts a certain kind of consumer, and that consumer probably hadn’t thought of Miami Subs or Miami Grill as an option prior to his involvement,” Haskell said.

He said the years-long process of turning the brand around is complicated.

“It’s about the food, the experience, encapsulating the brand in the consumer's mind,” Haskell said. “That continually has to evolve in order to prolong a company's existence.”

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