Barton G. Weiss Talks Versace Mansion and Raw Foods
|Versace ate here.|
New Times: Any news at your other restaurants? What's up at Prelude?
Barton G. Weiss: Prelude is opening with a brand new chef and new menu. That will happen in October. New chef and new price. The price is going back to $39 [for an app, entree and dessert].
Prelude was an instant success. The interesting part of the phenomena of it was that online dining. I was the first to pioneer that: going on line, buying your show tickets, and buying your dinner, all inclusive. When we first launched the program, everyone said it's not going to happen--nobody pays for food in advance. But I said, but you buy tickets in advance! When we did it the first year, we had 90 percent call [the restaurant]. They would not use the Internet. Year two, it flipped: all ninety percent were using the Internet. It's like an automated system. We engineered that program.
And let's talk about The Villa. How did you end up with it? I recall hearing you got kicked out when it was Casa Casaurina, though you were the exclusive caterer.
I got thrown out. The contract was up, and we had built a multi-million dollar business, but Casa Casaurina looked at what we did and said, "We can do it better. We can make more money. Get rid of him."
It was such a poor interpretation. He opened it as a private club.
I loved the property. It got caught in that whole financial mess--and is still in it. I have a 20-year lease. It's 1.5 years old, and we're in our second season. We were just voted top 10 in the world by Robb Report and U.S. News.
So what makes it so special, aside from Versace's spirit milling about?
I want luxury. My clients want to go to a hotel but not feel like it's a hotel. Personal service is huge. All the little nuances. The gentlemen who work for me are 25, 30 years in the business. A butler is an art form. It's a culture. Butlering is one of those lost elements of service that I'm not letting die.
Speaking of service, tell me about your charity.
When my daughter was born she failed the state hearing test. Two times. I wasn't even told that. When I took her home I had no clue she was deaf. I never dealt with deafness. I went nuts. It broke my heart. You just think of all the bad things.
I bet it's a crazy thing for someone who is so into delivering the sensory experience.
Big time. We went to UM and they explained, if she's profoundly deaf, cochlear implant--she may be a candidate. She was the youngest child the University of Miami had implanted. They had an ear institute but it wasn't what it is today.
So I set up the Barton G. Kids Hear Now Foundation Cochlear Implant Family Resource Center at the University of Miami Ear Institute. I went to the top and said, you've gotta make this happen now. I had it operational within 10 months.
How much did you donate?
It was $5 million. We did fundraisers. But we keep wanting to do more. (Editor's note: The Foundation is hosting a 5K fundraising run November 5. Here's more information about Run Over Hear.)
I can't tell if you are a runner or not, but you sure look thin for someone surrounded by all this amazing food...
I had a mid-life crisis. I was never fat, but I was heavy. I woke up one day and said I'm so sick of being in the routine. I decided to go on a [vegetarian] diet. I removed red meat, gluten, fats, white flour, sugar completely (only natural sugar). I lost 50 pounds.
But you're still tasting everything coming out of the kitchen?
We're launching a new division: It's vegan and raw.
Do you have more plans in the works?
It may not be the end of the renovations.
And I know you've got a few other developments in store. Can we talk about those?
Not on the record.
That guy always has some trick up his sleeve, huh? But check back in tomorrow because we've unlocked the secret recipe for one of Barton G. The Restaurant's most popular dishes: B.G. Lobster Mac & Cheese.
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