By: Ismael Rodriguez
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Epicure Gourmet Market & Café, a South Beach institution that dates back to the 1940’s, has closed its doors for good.
The market’s Twitter account posted news of the closure first, and owner Jason Starkman went on to tell the press that he would close it in light of a string of unfortunate events, from years of down sales to losing all perishables after the hurricane.
Starkman told the Miami Herald that sales have gradually slumped over the past five to seven years after his family bought the market in 1998. He spoke of the correlation between Epicure’s downturn and the yearlong closure of Alton Road and the economic crisis in 2008. Not to mention, the market now has to deal with increasing competition from nearby stores like Publix, a Fresh Market and a Whole Foods Market.
“It ran its course,” Starkman told the Herald.
The market’s history dates back to 1945, when the late Eddie Thal and brother Leonard turned a butcher shop the Army Air Corps had inhabited during World War II at 1656 Alton Road into a restaurant. And it instantly grew in popularity among the locals and the famous, simply by preparing family-friendly meals and flying in specialty items from every state.
In its prime years, the restaurant was cooking 10,000 gallons of chicken soup a week, preparing 100,000 pieces of gefilte fish, butchering 40,000 pounds of meat and making more than 60 kinds of prepared foods for those avoiding to cook for themselves.
Eddie Thal seemed to be a firm believer of the phrase ‘quality over quantity,’ telling the Herald in 1983— “I figured let the big guys corner the prices and I’ll corner the quality.”
And his attention to quality control is a prime reason why famous and infamous persons in history like Meyer Lansky, President Harry Truman, Jimmy Hoffa, Joe DiMaggio and Winston Churchill have sat in and enjoyed a meal.
But after the Thals sold the business to the Starkman family, which founded California’s Jerry’s Famous Deli, the new owner tried to expand the brand by adding locations in Sunny Isles and later in Coral Gables.
Unfortunately, the Coral Gables location lasted two years and the Sunny Isles location, which opened in 2008, closed in March. Now with the closure of the South Beach location, it marks the end of the longest-running epicurean markets in Miami.