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How Burritos and Bourbon Are Saving One Historic MiMO Motel

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If you chowed down on a taco at one of South Florida's most popular fast-casual chains before 2012, pat yourself on the back for a minute for contributing to historic preservation.

Sure, the link is indirect, but it's there. The Lime Fresh Mexican Grill chain, one of the flagship concepts of local restaurant mini empire 50 Eggs, did such brisk business that CEO John Kunkel managed to sell it off to Ruby Tuesday's for $24 million last year.

At the same time, the other jewel in the 50 Eggs crown, Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, has scored national critical kudos, doing brisk business in fried chicken and signature bourbon cocktails. All of this means that 50 Eggs has proven one of the greatest homegrown hospitality industry successes -- and that, as the Biscayne Times reported this week, the company needed to expand its headquarters.

This means, the newspaper reports, a new lease on life for an unoccupied historic MiMO building, once known as the Sunshine Motel. Rather than head to Wynwood or a faceless corporate office park, Kunkel's moving his business north, from 4770 Biscayne Blvd., to this three-story building on Biscayne and NE 73rd Street. The plan is for several floors of offices, with a test kitchen on the bottom floor.

The Biscayne Times story outlines Kunkel's plans to preserve the exterior of the building while completely renovating the inside. It also details previous recent efforts to fix up the place, most recently by area businesswoman Jocelyne Hider and her husband:

[The] Hiders’ renovations did reveal its Art Deco character, which had been hidden by remodels during the 1950s. And although it’s still empty, Kunkel has 8000 square feet to play with, and he says the building is in good physical condition. “It’s got great bones.” he beams.

The story raises an interesting idea for the corridor of buildings known as the MiMO district, from approximately Northeast 54th to 77th Street along Biscayne Boulevard. The term is short for "Miami Modern," and it describes an architectural style that flourished here in the mid-20th century. Preservationists have struggled to get the same recognition for the style as, say, Art Deco, and with renewed interest in the neighborhood, the threat of destruction always looms.

At the same time, despite rising home and rental prices in this neighborhood, gentrification in the actual MiMO buildings themselves has proceeded in fits and starts. Many of the usual gentrifier-type businesses -- boutiques, salons, restaurants -- didn't survive the recession. Few developers have seemed willing to take up the large-scale renovation projects some of these buildings require.

So could the MiMO district get a boost as a potential center for corporate headquarters a la 50 Eggs? It's a distinct possibility -- the neighborhood offers motels and other buildings ready for re-use, still-low real estate prices relative to downtown Miami and South Beach, and easy access from highways. We're betting John Kunkel's 50 Eggs is prescient in more ways than one.

Click here to read the full Biscayne Times story.

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