“All the property I own is because I want to open a restaurant,” Soyka said. “It’s like a theater. Every night is a different play in a restaurant.” It’s why he opened Soyka 17 years ago, an impossible lifetime for a restaurant, and watched its effect spread like a wish paid forward in this neighborhood adjacent to Little River. He had seen what News Cafe did for South Beach in 1988. The picturesque spot ahead of the city’s revival was a favorite haunt of the late Gianni Versace and has become a landmark. Ditto for Van Dyke Cafe, which helped revitalize Lincoln Road in the ’90s to the point at which rising property values made it impossible not to sell.
But it’s on this swath of property he owns between 54th and 58th streets on Biscayne Boulevard, the center of his creative universe across from his Morningside home of more than 20 years, where Soyka planned his first restaurant in 15 years: Café Roval. Soyka is not a foodie, a gourmand, an aristocratic eater. (“I’m not culinary. I don’t even cook,” he said.) But he understands that restaurants are the lifeblood of a community. He grew up behind the counter at his parents’ deli in Tel Aviv at 5. When he left for Manhattan after his conscripted military service, he studied at the New York School of Interior Design before opening his first restaurant, a cabaret named Upstairs at Green Street in New York City.
When he came to Miami in 1985, it was to help the late real estate mogul Tony Goldman begin renovating South Beach. He never left. Café Roval is purely a passion project. Soyka wanted a high-end restaurant in a relaxed atmosphere that focused on the Mediterranean cuisine he loves to eat.
The restaurant’s interior is warm and rustic thanks to the coral rock walls, with oil paintings, polished concrete floors and exposed rafters. Soyka hand-picked every piece inside the restaurant, from the paintings to the chandeliers. It’s as if he were creating a dining room for himself, bursting with creative flair.
“I’m eclectic. If I see a piece I like it and I put it in there,” he said. “It all comes together. ... I like to design them, to host them, to build them. They’re my babies. Soyka talks about Café Roval with the certainty of a man who has an inside stock tip. He believes in it. And given his track record, it’s probably enough to make it a success. “If you do it right and love it, it will love you back,” Soyka said.
The mind behind Café Roval’s new contemporary Mediterranean menu is executive chef Curtis Rhodes. He is someone who has been in the kitchen professionally for over 19 years, 11 of which were spent in the Miami culinary circuit at local favorites like The River Oyster Bar and Oak Tavern. It is precisely this breadth and depth of experience that explains his subtle mastery of both flavor and technique. The early part of his career was spent on the West coast, completing culinary school in Portland, OR and proceeding to cook his way all along the California coast. It was during this time of epicurean exploration that he came across his most powerful culinary mentor- chef Jean Marie Josselin, who is widely known as Hawaii’s master chef. Under his wing chef Curtis would learn the optimal methods of working with fresh seafood, celebrating local ingredients, and acquiring a palate for the distinct and delicate flavors that characterize the cuisine of the diverse island nation- even going on to create Local Boy Poke company many years down the line.
With his diversified background, coastal influence, and commitment to mindful practices in the kitchen- chef Curtis became a natural fit for Café Roval. The menu is always chef driven, with rotating fish, meat, and vegan options based upon what he is able to source locally and seasonally. Chef Curtis is well-seasoned chef with a deliciously diversified professional track record. He is accustomed to working in a fast, upscale environment with a grassroots philosophy, and thusly rounds out Café Roval’s powerhouse kitchen team.
Born and raised in Miami, Tibor Vecsesi was introduced to the industry working a summer job as a barback at the Eden Roc Hotel. Upon moving to New York City for University, he had the great fortune to earn a position on the opening staff at Clementine, whose bar program Dale DeGroff created. In a few weeks of learning side by side from a legend of his stature, a life-long passion for the craft of mixing drinks was born.
After stints at some iconic New York City hotspots (Balthazar, Odeon, Lot 61, Strip House), he moved up to beverage and restaurant management (Café Deville, HALO, Aleutia) before segueing into wine and spirits importing and distribution and pursuing his sommelier certification. After opening the Standard Hotel, West Village as the Head Sommelier, he consulted on the opening of Orient Express and worked as the head Bartender at Fatty ‘Cue. Returning to Miami, he worked the bars at Khong River House and Machialina and ran the bar programs at Oak Tavern and Cena by Michy. He’s also consulted on a number of local beverage programs including: NaiYaRa, River Oyster Bar, M House, Mina’s Mediterranean and most recently, Café Roval.
A magnetic mainstay in the Miami restaurant scene, Gary Sanon-Jules is a veteran of hospitality. Having worked with legendary Mark Soyka at News Café early in his career, Gary has come full circle as the General Manager at Café Roval.
During his time in Miami, Sanon-Jules moonlighted as a model for Michelle Pommier and Ford, appearing in an international Swatch ad campaign and Le Coq Sportif catalog. But, as someone who would rather windsurf than stand still, Gary moved away from that pretty quickly, As he pursued his nightlife niche, Gary worked at The Strand, Alvin Malnicks Club 41, and The Forge - all in their heyday. He continued down his culinary path in 1996 as general manager of Tap Tap, where he won multiple “Best of Miami” accolades and coordinated national art, film and music productions. Under Gary’s supervision, Tap Tap became a famous local mainstay with an International appeal. In 2001, he moved on to become managing partner of Jake’s Bar and Grill, where he won Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence and made Top 500 in Florida Trend’s restaurant list. With exceptional personnel skills, it was here that Gary would develop a trend of maintaining a long-term staff contingent as well as a loyal base of clientele. He still runs into people who miss the old “Cheers” camaraderie of Jakes, which ignited the culinary scene in South Miami.
Utilizing a solid foundation and unveiled talent, Gary applied his expertise to consult restaurants, including Harbour Grill and Tap Tap, spearheading successful turnarounds and restoring profitability. His name was becoming well-recognized as a leader in the hospitality industry. When Oak Tavern was conceptualized, owner/chef David Bracha approached Gary to launch the project and become General Manager. He took on the role, leading an exceptional launch, cultivating an unconventionally dedicated and accomplished staff, and maintaining a consistent contingency of loyal customers. Oak Tavern earned Zagat “Excellent” ratings in all categories ad gained rave reviews on other reputable platforms. In 2015, Sanon-Jules went on to launch another high-profile, chef driven establishment, GK Bistronomie, and again took it to an inflated level of success and notoriety. With a breadth of industry knowledge and documented record of success, Gary Sanon-Jules was the obvious appointment for established restaurateur, Mark Soyka, when he conceptualized his esteemed swan song, Café Roval.
“At Cafe Roval, I'm so happy to be working for a man I admire and a team of colleagues that I hold in high esteem. This project will be my favorite and I'm committed to bringing all of my years of experience to making this a prestigious Miami institution we all can be proud of.” – Gary Sanon Jules