Norman's 180 Closed ... Three Months Ago! (And Nobody Noticed)

normans180.jpg
180 is 86'd.
Maybe the news got past me because I was out of town...or just out of the loop. Or maybe Norman's 180 was such a nonentity in the local dining scene that nobody noticed that it was gone.

But not only is it no more, but according to Shane, a front desk worker at The Westin Colonnade that housed the restaurant, Norman's 180 closed "about three months ago." In its place is something called 1862. I asked what kind of restaurant 1862 was.

"You mean what kind of food does it serve?" Shane asked.

"Yes," I replied.

"It's more of a bar and lounge" he answered.

In fact, it is the 1862 Bacardi Lounge.

So there you have it: Norman's 180 goes down as one of the biggest busts in Miami restaurant history.

Firstly, it was pre-hyped for over a year by Norman and the food media. Then once it opened it was really hyped as Norman's triumphant return to the Gables -- and his son Justin's first co-starring role as chef.

Norman and Justin left the business almost as soon as it opened. The management team of Norman's 180 denied they left, and continued to deny it until -- well, until it went out of business. Evidently they tried to keep the restaurant closing a secret too (and did a pretty good job of it). Norman's 180 opened last June 29 and folded in early June of this year.

Norman never made a statement saying he left the business; he simply erased mention of it from his website. We still don't know what happened between Van Aken and the ownership, but it probably wasn't pretty.

Still, when people are paying top dollar to eat in a star-chef-driven-restaurant with chef's name in the moniker, it is incumbent upon both chef and ownership team to let the public know when he is no longer there. That never happened, much to the discredit of all involved.

We'll let that stand as the epitaph for this ill-fated and ultimately deceitful project.

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Location Info

Norman's 180 - CLOSED

180 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, FL

Category: Restaurant

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Adam Bradley Simon
Adam Bradley Simon

I worked here at Normans 180 From day one until just about the end (I left a couple months before closure). I have read the article and all the responses and I want to give my two cents. First to clarify I was a waiter and later a bartender (two things I have been and taken pride in for the last 5 years or so). I have never, nor do I ever intend on working in BOH so all my opinions from the FOH employee that I am.

First off the restaurant, the concept, the food. I enjoyed almost every original dish created by my once executive chef Norman Van Akin. I continued to enjoy almost every dish created by my later executive chef (Brandon). I did find that many of my guests however did not enjoy things like I did. I had complains about there being "too much fat in the ham on my sand which, why does your kitchen use such cheap products?" (the ham had a fantastic balance of inter-muscular fat which gave it great flavor) or complaints about things being too spicy (nothing was spicy, people have a tendency to eat bland food). This all leads in to the concept and restaurant. A casual dining restaurant with up scale prices fine dining quality food and upscale service standards in a restaurant built with a casual layout. Proper execution of this is almost impossible. I wont go into details but... There is a reason successful fine dining/casual restaurants have an almost cookie cuter mold to them.

Now the whole deception thing. First off no one should feel cheated or lied to. None of us got straight answers. We got things that we where told to say by the owners. We got news of things from inside sources. Then we had brains eyes and ears to know that something else was going on. Due to the pile of sources and information from every one we had no real clue as to what the hell was really going on. As an employee I was told to say that Norman is involved still (his desk was cleaned out and I never saw him any more), and that he was out helping to start what would be the chain of restaurants that this one pioneered (I would imagine some positive books showing the restaurants success would have been needed for this, I doubt they existed at said time). So the people who wrote my checks said say this, so I said this. In place of Norman was Brandon who ran the Orlando kitchen who used Normans recipes (by this logic all you need to do is read one of Normans cook books to sell his product at a restaurant with is name, but w/e we can work with this). Brandon was and probably still is very capable of producing quality products.

I can go on for pages about this restaurant but I just wanted to touch on these two. Unlike some other I will sign this with my name and not hide by internet veils.

Adam Simon

Burgundyblu79
Burgundyblu79

I was a cook at 180 from the beginning, and while I left for personal reasons I can attest that Norman Van Aken was most certainly deeply involved with this project. His involvement (from what I personally witnessed) included everything from recipe planning & testing, hands on training (and mentoring) of both BOH and FOH staff, planning, shopping for and preparing the Chef's table meals personally, and expediting. All of this done in conjunction with Chef Justin and Chef Phil working like 17 hour days. 

Once the menu was set, and the restaurant became more of a "well-oiled" machine, Chef Norman, as almost every Executive chef does, stepped back from the kitchen. He was not a Head Chef, or a Chef de Cuisine, or a Sous Chef, or a Chef de Partie....he is a WORLD RENOWNED EXECUTIVE CHEF. Do you really think any of the chefs on Food Network are working in their own kitchens on a daily basis? And he had just spent the last 2 years opening a restaurant amongst other things, I think the guy deserved a break. When he and his son left the kitchen for good, the menu barely changed, Chef Norman stayed involved as a consultant and they even brought in an Executive Chef who has worked for both Chef Norman and Emeril as a replacement.

There was nothing deceitful about Norman's 180. It was always intended as a departure from what Chef Norman has done in that past, but done according to the same standards and flair. Just because Foie Gras is delicious, doesn't mean a hot dog can't be delicious too, and a Norman Van Aken hot dog wouldn't be no 7-Eleven dog, it would be a Kobe beef dog with grilled pineapple, roasted Pablanos, house-cured bacon and cumin mayo wrapped in Navajo Frybread.

Anyone who has ACTUALLY worked with him can attest to his knowledge and passion for the craft and any attempt to sully his name or blame him for the unfortunate end of 180 is downright shameful and a sad attempt at sensationalism. This man is a Culinary icon, he made his bones long ago and deserves more respect than to be publicly dissected by a bunch of laymen. 

"If you're not failing every now and then, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative."

Be Smart
Be Smart

Dear Lee and Food Bloggers,

The guy is now working for a public college educating young people. How ignorant are you to write this story, Lee. And to those commenting negatively about Norman, I assume you have never owned a business.

STOP USING YOUR VOICE NEGATIVELY!!

Guest
Guest

He's never OWNED a restaurant... Only worked at and left after things did not go his way... Sad. Very sad. Ruined a lot of peoples' careers as it seems everyone in the business shuns at you when you write any sort of affiliation of Norman's on your resumes. Heard he got called out by a previous employee during one of his first "classes" at the school saying "he never learned anything from Norman and that people shouldn't waste their time in his class."

SteveBM
SteveBM

I have to agree with Lee that there is a bit of "duping the public" that went on here.  (see Lee, I really don't dislike you.)  Between the hype and the name of the restaurant, I think it's fair to say that patrons familiar with the success of Norman's in the past were expecting Norman in the kitchen, or being involved in daily affairs.  That was a driving force in getting customers in the door.  To say that, "I didn't own that place.  I was hired and I left." is even more confusing.  The name of the restaurant is the name of the star chef.  So it's surprising that a chef's name, with all it's marketability, was lent to be the name of a business not owned by said chef.  Imagine a new luxury condo going up in Miami with the name TRUMP across the top.  Then imagine you go there and they charge you Trump prices for the room and it's decorated like a Red Roof Inn and the staff tells you that Donald Trump is not involved in the hotel.

You can ask for Lee to sharpen his pencil but it seems as if the efforts he put in to obtain the facts got him nothing but a "deny, deny, deny, smokescreen, smokescreen, avoid, move on" response from all involved. 

Pepper
Pepper

I walked by Norman's about two weeks ago and noticed the chairs outside were missing. I had dined there several times when they first opened, and really enjoyed their cocktails.  I asked around about what happened to the restaurant, but to no avail. I peeked inside last weekend, or perhaps the weekend before, and all I noticed was an empty bar with no alcohol - all that was left were some fruits in a jar that once adorned the bar. So, when did this "1862" open? For those who were short-changed by Norman's 180, you should contact ROC-Miami, if you haven't already. An outstanding group of people who really help to fight for restaurant workers' rights. 

Guillermo's Victim
Guillermo's Victim

I was a server at Norman's 180 (at the end, when there was no food), and have received a final paycheck that is mysteriously short by about 20 hours. A few others who worked there report the same mysterious occurrence. I am sure this is simply a matter of the record-keeping system malfunctioning for the first time ever. But can someone have their accountant call one of us back to resolve the matter? He is mysteriously difficult to get ahold of...

Guillermo's Victim
Guillermo's Victim

And, to clarify, Norman's 180 closed on Sunday, August 14th. Management's way of letting us know was to not say anything until Saturday, August 13th, but rather have us man an empty restaurant while menu items were run out of stock, ensuring no one who came through the door would stay to eat. Cheers to the dishwasher, who somehow knew and tipped us off three weeks before. 

boywills
boywills

The fact that Norman's 180 closed more than three months ago and man-about-town Lee Kline did not notice, makes him an even bigger nonentity. I can hardly wait until the day that New Times simply erases each and every mention of this "Tool" from its website. 

Karen
Karen

Lee, you should start writing about really restaurants in Gables they stood test of time like Ortinique on the mile and Christy`s. Stop hyping all this newcomers they close in less than a year Saki blue, Normans 180 and more!!!!!!

Anon
Anon

If you saw the kitchen in Ortanique you would never eat there...

anon_e_m00se
anon_e_m00se

Thanks Norman for turning your back on the community that made you. He just loves to sell that Mr. Miami-fusion schtick to the tourists in Orlando. BTW: I ate at 180 twice and both times the servers told me that they had never seen him in the place...

Frodnesor
Frodnesor

It wasn't three months ago and it was already noticed:http://twitter.com/#!/Victoria...(though I'll admit that a tweet is hardly the same level of mourning as when the original Norman's closed).

When you talk about the "food media," it probably would be appropriate to note that New Times did its fair share of "pre-hype":http://www.miaminewtimes.com/s...

Including some guy named Lee Klein:http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com...

NVanaken
NVanaken

Lee, Lee, Lee... Someday before you retire be a "journalist"...get a pencil, pick up the phone and ask direct questions. You never know what you might learn if you ask. It can really flesh out a story. Maybe less zippy than all this huffiness lately. As for me I've moved on...looking ahead again. It's fun again.

Lee
Lee

Lots of people dined at Norman's 180 expecting you to either be there or at least be involved in a day-to-day hands-on manner. There was really no other reason that visitors would seek out a meal at this Westin Colonnade restaurant. Your loyal fans spent a considerable amount of money in your "namesake" restaurant, yet were getting a product different and lesser than what they had been led to expect they were going to get. Selling people a Norman's restaurant, at Norman's prices, without Norman, is not a whole lot different than selling folks fake Rolex watches at real Rolex prices. It's not really a nice thing to do.As for picking up a phone...many journalists, including myself, did just that over the past year. We called Norman's 180 and were told over and over that you and Justin were still involved and that nothing had happened. After it was announced that Justin had left, we were still told by management at Norman's 180 that you were still very much a part of the operation. At one point the manager at Norman's  noted you hadn't been in for a month or two, but that you'd be on premises starting the next week. That next week you blogged from Texas, and after that from the Keys, with no mention of being at Norman's 180. You never went back.In the months before opening Norman's 180, you hyped your involvement and the media hyped your involvement (and as the eagle-eyed Frodnesor notes, New Times and I are part of the media) - which was only natural, as you did more for bringing South Florida cuisine to national attention than any other chef in this city. And this was your Coral Gables comeback. Why is it that no journalist had to pick up the phone to find out about your opening, but we had to do so about your leaving? You blog every single thing about your life on your website -- did you simply forget to mention that you left Norman's 180? That doesn't seem credible. You had no trouble answering my blog post -- but what do you say to those who bought the Rolex? 

Norman Van Aken
Norman Van Aken

Lee. Let me leave you with this. I don't 'blog about every single thing in my life'. I blog about the things that I find positive, funny, poetic, educational, instructive. Too much of life is caught up in all that is not that and after this many years on the planet I just don't have time for it. It isn't illuminating, instructive or tasty. And it is clear from reading some of the posts here we have more than enough proponents of the rant genre.

You have expected me to be a journalist. I'm not nor wish to be. good reporter is a valuable thing to society. So are dreamers and chefs I hope. I try to do the job I love. Not someone else's. I didn't own that place. I was hired and then I left. If my method of demonstrating my absence was too subtle I will say once again... you are the journalist... you could have asked me directly instead of waiting for 'news' from me via Twitter or Facebook. Of course I chatted up my 'coming back'. I believed it was going to work out. It was a positive for a while. When it didn't work out I moved on to look for a means toward doing what I love. Fortunately I found it.I remember you visiting our kitchen and restaurant at 21 Almeria for a full 'backstage' day back in the late '90s, notebook in your hand. It was a good day. Come to our school some day. We'll walk the organic garden, talk with students, see what I'm dreaming of these days.As far as the Rolex analogy... Next time someone, (hostess, manager, bus boy, phone answerer, self-appointed 'person of knowledge') portrays me of being someplace cooking....ask to see me. I'm not a Rolex. There is only one Norman. If I don't come out of the kitchen...or you can't taste the real Norman's flavors... grab your hat. I would. 

HAHAHA
HAHAHA

Love this, Frodnesor.

Lee Klein has been busy eating too many rocky mountain oysters, if you know what I mean.  He totally forgot he wrote the article. So funny.

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