Casadonna is the debut collaboration between club experts Tao Hospitality Group and David Grutman, along with designer Ken Fulk.
(Bloomberg) — Tao Hospitality Group is renowned for its restaurant-as-club spots such as Tao, Cathédrale and Lavo, from Las Vegas to New York to Dubai. David Grutman has built the same reputation in South Florida; his Groot Hospitality empire includes Strawberry Moon and Gekko, the Japanese steakhouse co-owned by Bad Bunny.
This summer, the two powerhouses will open a joint venture, Casadonna, along with celebrated designer Ken Fulk. The 20,000-square-foot restaurant on Biscayne Bay will have indoor and outdoor seating for more than 360 diners and a coastal Italian menu with plenty of cocktails. A 10,000-square-foot deck on the water will feature bar areas and a private gazebo.
The restaurant seems geared toward the wealthy Northeasterners who have flocked to Miami in the past few years, in tandem with the migration of finance firms. Many popular New York dining spots followed them to South Florida. Major Food Group opened multiple restaurants, notably Carbone and Sadelle’s; Cote Korean Steakhouse opened in the Design District in early 2021.
Casadonna, however, is ideally suited to this high-growth moment in Miami and not in response to it. It’s been in the works since early 2017, when Grutman acquired the eye-catching property.
“It’s different than anything in our portfolios,” says Noah Tepperberg, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Tao Group Hospitality, who signed on to the project in 2018. He and Grutman, whose hospitality group was acquired by Live Nation in 2019, have been close friends for 20 years, he says, and had been planning a project together for a while.
Casadonna’s pastel yellow Mediterranean building, with archways at the entrance has a history. It was built in the 1920s for the Miami Women’s Club, and landed a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Most recently it’s been a tacky event space; now it will be transformed into the kind of place frequented by Tao and Groot devotees. Its location, Edgewater, between Downtown and the booming Arts & Design district, will evolve from a residential enclave to entertainment destination, Grutman and Tepperberg predict. “It’s not just happening in Miami Beach anymore,” Grutman says. “It’s dead center for all the new masters of the universe and where they are going to be.”
This won’t be the kind of club the duo are famous for. Instead, it’s a restaurant, with multiple dining areas. “It will have a vibe. There will always be someone fun to see. But it’s focused on culinary. It is the furthest thing from a club,” says Grutman.
The menu from chef Michael Gufca will offer dishes including dorade served “acqua pazza,” with rock shrimp, tomato and basil; black truffle ravioli; and bistecca alla Fiorentina. The cocktail list will be Italian-focused with spritzes in heavy rotation, along with the classics. Unlike many of the duo’s establishments, there won’t be the option of bottle service.
Fulk has designed a few Groot Hospitality properties including Strawberry Moon. He says his firm went big for Casadonna’s design. “It’s a grande dame of a building with elegant architecture and a wonderful layout,” Fulk said in an email. The theme is “old Hollywood glamour comes to modern day Miami.” He’s using dramatic, oversize lighting to accentuate the various spaces, from chandeliers galore to “floating” lanterns that will line the walls. Fulk describes the experience guests might have, of walking through the outdoor vaulted entranceway to the main loggia dining room, and through intimate lounges before arriving at the waterside Ocean Bar. “We leaned into that slow, seductive reveal as it’s one of the common hallmarks of the Tao and Groot experience,” Fulk says.
Tepperberg won’t disclose development costs but says the budget almost doubled from what he and Grutman had initially planned. “This was big from the beginning, from Day One our idea was to do something iconic,” he says.
Although Tao has almost 80 venues worldwide, this is its first real project in Miami. “It might be a launchpad for Tao,” says Tepperberg, who’s acutely aware of the stream of finance workers relocating to Florida. “We have seen a shift with our guest base, that’s based in New York and Los Angeles, coming to Miami.”
When Casadonna opens in June or July, the kitchen expects to keep working until 1 a.m. on weekends and 11 p.m. or midnight on weekdays, although the owners anticipate guests will hang out later. “We are not in the kicking-out business,” Grutman says.
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