Miami Hospitality Powerhouses David Grutman & Stephen Starr Speak On Dining Out In A Post-Lockdown World

Papi Steak Photo Credit: Groot Hospitality

After nearly two months of restaurant closures, Miami is alas opened up again, having moved back to a new normal with a slow phasing process. This calls for restaurants operating at limited capacity, social distancing guidelines for spreading out tables, new sanitary processes and more. While some may be eager to get back to dining out, others may be more wary. Miami’s hospitality powerhouses David Grutman, Founder of Groot Hospitality, and Stephen Starr, Founder of Starr Restaurant Group, have gone above and beyond implementing new measures to make sure diners are comfortable frequenting their restaurants, such as Grutman’s Komodo, Swan/Bar Bevy, Papi Steak, Planta South Beach, OTL—and Stephen Starr’s beloved Makoto and Le Zoo at Bal Harbour Shops.

Below, we chat with the two powerhouses to hear more about what they’re doing to ensure safe and sanitary dining at their Miami venues, as well as what permanent effects COVID-19 will have on the hospitality industry and its operations moving forward.

David Grutman, Founder of Groot Hospitality

David Grutman - Photo Credit Morelli BrothersPhoto Credit: Morelli Brothers

HL: Being one of the leading hospitality forces in Miami, how is Groot Hospitality looking to set an example for Miami restaurants to safely open?

DG: We are so excited to be reopened and welcome our guests back to a safe environment. We are following and exceeding all of the necessary safety precautions —our servers are in masks and gloves, all tables are 6 feet apart, we have hand sanitizer everywhere and digital menus are available via QR code scanners. Our number one concern is that our guests are comfortable and enjoying their experience.

Photo Credit: Groot Hospitality

HL: What are some of the protocols you are following in your venues?

DG: Currently, restaurants are only at 50-percent capacity inside and all tables are, of course, 6 feet apart.

HL: Why should diners feel safe coming to one of your popular establishments?

DG: At Swan, Komodo and Papi Steak, we are taking all health and safety precautions very seriously. Our team has gone through serious training to make sure that we are complying with all of the new standards. We not only want guests to feel safe dining with us—but we also want them to keep coming back time and time again.

KomodoPhoto Credit: Groot Hospitality

HL: What are some of the permanent effects of COVID-19 that you will be implementing into your restaurants?

DG: Personally I love the QR code for menu access. I’m all about having high-tech options at our venues, and I think that’s something that could stick around. Of course, extra cleanliness goes a long way no matter what, so we will definitely keep up our stringent cleaning procedures. I also think it’s really important to continue implementing a “don’t come to work sick policy” and providing paid sick leave to our team.

Papi SteakPhoto Credit: Seth Browarnik/

HL: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned throughout this time?

DG: Once again I have learned that Miami is so resilient. I am confident we will all come back from this better and stronger. I’ve seen this city go through a lot of ups and downs and I know the hospitality industry will bounce back.

Stephen Starr, Founder of Starr Restaurant Group

Stephen StarrPhoto Credit: Starr Hospitality

HL: How has COVID-19 changed the hospitality industry as a whole? 

SS: The hospitality industry has been turned on its head and we need to re-envision what dining and hospitality mean in a post-COVID-19 world. We are working tirelessly with our teams to create strategies to bring our product and service back to the community and get as many of our employees back to work as soon as possible.

Bal Harbour ShopsPhoto Credit: World Red Eye

HL: Do you envision these changes being permanent?

SS: No, although there will be measures that will be implemented that will be the new normal, I am hopeful we will return to dining as we knew it.

Bal Harbour ShopsPhoto Credit: World Red Eye

HL: What are your restaurants, Makoto and Le Zoo, in Bal Harbour doing to ensure that diners feel safe eating there? 

SS: Everything and more according to the mandates of the city and state guidelines—masks, gloves, social distancing, hands-free sanitizing, decreased kitchen stations to allow for safe distancing, etc. It has been a lot to maintain.

Bal Harbour ShopsPhoto Credit: World Red Eye

HL: What did the new training entail? 

SS: The new training was entirely about safety for the employees and the guests. The most important thing for me bringing back my employees was to make sure they were comfortable to return to the work environment in this new world.

Bal Harbour ShopsPhoto Credit: World Red Eye

HL: What are the must-try dishes from each of your restaurants that diners need to order when returning? 

SS: Well that’s easy—everyone at Makoto has missed the Spicy Crispy Tuna Rice and the Short Rib Yaki Noodles and at Le Zoo, guests have been craving their French Onion Soup and Steak Frites.