Steven Haas, talks food & South Beach.
Let's meet the "food guru" behind the Miami Beach Convention Center's new taste.
By: James Cubby
Steven Haas, a familiar name in the Miami/Miami Beach restaurant community, is the new Executive Director for Centerplate at the Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC). Steven has been a key player in Miami’s everchanging restaurant scene and some even say its major leader. His resume is impressive, but it’s his smile that wins the battle. Miami Beach Life Magazine was able to speak with Steven Haas about Miami’s restaurant scene and his new role as Executive Director for Centerplate at the MBCC.
MBL: You have quite an impressive history from Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Great Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau to acting as General Manager for China Grill, Tuscan Steak, Red Square, Delano and Social at the Sagamore Hotel. How did that prepare you for your new position as the Executive Director for Centerplate at the Miami Beach Convention Center?
SH: Not sure if anything can prepare you for such a large undertaking but I felt the time was right for a new challenge and I always say: go Big!
MBL: One could say you’ve been stationed on the epicenter of the restaurant industry in Miami for many years and have even held management positions at top notch eateries like The Forge, Joe’s Stone Crab and Monty’s Stone Crab. How has the Miami restaurant scene changed over the years?
SH: The Restaurant scene has dramatically changed from when I started to where it is today. When it all began for me it was what we used to say old school, today the industry is evolving daily, with Farm to Table, Sustainability and probably the most shocking to me is how to-go and deliveries are now a major source of income for the industry. With Chefs now competing and setting trends, there is no telling in what direction we are heading but I am looking forward to the future of the restaurant industry
MBL: You’ve been one of the major players in the development of Miami’s food tourism industry. How would you describe Miami’s culinary scene today?
SH: As the Creator of Miami Spice which is going into its 20th year, the Miami Culinary scene is evolving and coming into its own. We now have so many talented Chefs in Dade county who are striving to be the TOP Chef and everyone is looking not only to think of out the box, but today there is NO box or limits to climb. I am also very involved with the Farms of the Redland community in which I have brought down many of the Chefs for events that I host called the Taste of the Redland with my dear friends at Takodata Farms, Tilt Farms, Patch of Heaven and Fruit and Spice. We have an abundance of exotic fruit and vegetables that are now locally grown which gives our Chefs the creativity that they are looking for as they create new menus. The Taste of the Redland has been a complete joy for me.
MBL: Tell us a little about Centerplate. Is this only a catering venue for Miami Beach Convention Center events or will there be venues open to the public?
SH: Centerplate is the exclusive caterer but on occasion we bring in local outside restaurants to create an array of concessions throughout some of our shows on the exhibitor floor. We are no longer the burger and hotdog stand but an innovative and creative caterer here at the MBCC
MBL: What’s the most difficult aspect of running a giant operation like Centerplate?
SH: Just the sheer size of the building, other then that, having one of the most talented chefs by our side and an incredible team alongside, the rest is just what we do!
MBL: What are some of the events that you’ve overseen so far at the MBCC?
SH: I assist in all conventions; trade shows and public shows but my main role is Social Catering!!
MBL: Is Centerplate a star player in attracting events to MBCC and what is your role in that process?
SH: Attracting events to the Center is actually the role of two entities, Spectra which is our counterpart here at the Center and of course the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau in which I am still very involved in as the former Chairman. I also was just nominated back to the board of the Visitors and Convention Authority (VCA) in which I am also the former Chairman. These three groups are doing a great job throughout the world bringing in groups from all over and touching all continents and keeping Miami Beach in the spotlight
MBL: You were a co-owner/operating partner at Soyka and the founder of City Hall the Restaurant. Now you’re running a giant venue with a massive ballroom. Is it like jumping from a small boat to a larger ship? How do you describe how you run that giant ship called MDCC?
SH: Like any place, it has its challenges but with the support of all the teams and the City of Miami Beach the process is actually easier then it looks. The building can be overwhelming but once you overcome that obstacle the rest is easy
MBL: What most impressed you when you first viewed the ballroom at MBCC? Were you able to give any input in things that you needed or wanted added?
SH: Well we have more then one ballroom! We now actually have Five with the two newest that was added to the renovation
MBL: What’s the capacity of the ballroom and have you yet catered events of that size?
SH: I am in love with our two new ballrooms. The Sunset Vista is located on the roof of the MBCC with a spectacular view from its wrapped around balcony and glass walls. This space is 20,000 square ft with a pre-function space of almost 10,000 sq. ft so we can accommodate some of the BEST Galas, Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs here in MB Now the Grand Ballroom which is beyond spectacular is the largest south of Orlando. This 60,000 sq. ft state of the art room has everything that one can need to host a major event. I can accommodate a sit-down formal dinner of up to 3600 guests which would also include the largest dance floor, staging and runways. They are both major WOW’s! with their own entrances so the guests don’t actually go into the MBCC itself
MBL: Was Art Basel Miami Beach 2019 the first event that utilized the ballroom? What was your role in filling the space with art and food?
SH: This year was the first time that Art Basel did use the Grand Ballroom but not our first, we actually have hosted several events since its completion including several conventions, public and trade shows and their needs but the very first Gala I am very proud to say was for Baptist Health. This gala was the largest that I ever hosted and went above and beyond everyone’s expectations including the number of guests which was 2100 black tie attendees. And to make sure that everyone left impressed, the ticket time on valet was under 10 minutes for everyone!! But coming back to Art Basel I am proud to say that I brought our most famous restaurant into the Grand Ballroom, Joe’s Stone Crab! And of course, a huge hit. No one does it like Joe’s!
MBL: What are some of the events scheduled for the MDCC (private or public)?
SH: We are about to start with the NFL experience but right after we continue with one event after the other and looking very stronger throughout the year. I am also happy to include that we have several weddings and Bar Mitzvahs now on the books that are extremely large. I must mention that I am not competing against the hotels. I want what they can’t accommodate because of the space, but I can! smaller events I send to our hotels here on the beach.
MBL: Miami Beach has been waiting for a while for the completion of the MBCC and the ballroom. Can you impress the readers with some facts that we might not know about the venue?
SH: Well the Center has grown into a 1.4 million Sq. Ft venue with a Spectacular Grand Lobby which the center so desperately needed. We now have 84 state of the art meeting rooms on the second level wrapping completely around the building and the five ballrooms to accommodate the needs of the conventions. The Convention Center hotel is a critical element that will put the cherry on top of the building once its complete. The building now houses over 7 million dollars in art installations and now has two parks adjoining the center. The Collins Canal Park runs along the canal on the North end of the building with the most incredible Humanoids (statues) along the path and Pride Park is across the street which was previously the main parking lot for the center which now has been moved up to the roof! ( we lost no parking!)
MBL: Miami’s restaurant scene seems to be flourishing and ever changing. In your opinion what makes a restaurant hot?
SH: Well I guess everyone has their opinion but it’s usually the hype, the Buzz, celebrity driven, Social Media a must, and there is still nothing like the Word of Mouth! Customer Service and excellent food at a reasonable price will keep them coming back and of course the ambiance.
MBL: Restaurants seem to come and go in Miami and Miami Beach, often very quickly. What’s important to make a restaurant survive Miami’s fickle market.
SH: Keep up with the trends and hold true to your concept. Never forget the customer is the customer and that they must leave with the feeling that this was an excellent choice and had no issue spending the money
MBL: Is there anything else that you’d like the readers to know about MDCC and Centerplate? SH: Both Centerplate and the MBCC believe in the future which means always reinventing, be creative, think out of the box and be the Trend Setter not the follower!
MBL: And finally, the restaurant business is one of the most stressful industries in the world. How have you endured this long? What’s your secret?
SH: It’s a very easy question for me: I LOVE WHAT I DO! I am a people pleaser and truly enjoy making everyone feel special. Now as the Guru here for Social Catering although I have hosted thousands of events at this point of my life, I never forget that the most important day of someone’s life is in my hands and that drives me to exceed their expectations.