Restaurants and Nightlife in Delray Beach and Boca Raton

When it comes to restaurants and nightlife few cities can compare to Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

Delray Beach was recently named the “Most Fun Town” in America by the Travel Channel and Rand McNally as a result of its incredible restaurant scene and vibrant downtown night life.

Atlantic Avenue has to be experienced to be believed. Very few streets in America have block after block of amazing restaurants, shops, galleries and nightclubs that appeal to all ages. Safe, with ample parking, downtown Delray ends at the ocean and is considered one of the finest Main Streets in America.

Boca Raton is also home to scores of incredible restaurants and has its own vibrant nightlife along Palmetto Park Road and in its renowned Mizner Park.

Those Great Good Places

She’s a beauty, a great good, place.

I moved to Florida 30 years ago this summer.
Time flies when you’re having fun.
Back then, there weren’t too many places to dine in Delray.

Nope, we weren’t a foodie destination unless of course you thought Burger Chin or Jawoppy at the old Delray Mall were fine dining. (Confession: I did).
We did have the Arcade Tap Room, the Annex, Las Hadas and of course Boston’s on the Beach but we were far from a happening spot.

I spent a lot of time in those days at Tom Sawyer’s in Boca, Dirty Moe’s, Rosie’s Raw Bar and the wonderful Ken and Hazel’s.
We shot pool at the Phoenix on A1A (where Burger Fi now resides) and on rare occasions visited Marie Callender’s in Boynton Beach. Morrison’s cafeteria was a  treat and we all loved a place called Coasters in Atlantic Plaza.

There was a place below Linton Towers–the name escapes me–but I remember paying big bucks to watch Mike Tyson knock out Michael Spinks in mere seconds during a pay per view fight. The people in the buffet line weren’t pleased. We blinked and we missed the fight.
Delray was sure different in those days.

I thought about these old time places when I read that 32 East may be exiting the scene after a long and glorious run so that Louie Bossi can take its place.
If it comes to pass, I will miss 32 East; one of the first truly great restaurants on Atlantic Avenue.

Owner Butch Johnson has done a great job since opening in 1996  and I will miss seeing my fellow Oswego alumni John Fitzpatrick behind the bar where he is the consummate spiritual advisor, with the emphasis on the spirits.
32 East earned its place in the firmament of great local places alongside Dakotah, Damiano’s, Bennardo’s, Splendid Blendeds, Louie Louie Too, the Twilight Cafe, Gleason Street Cafe, Pineapple Grille, The Patio Delray, D & B Seafood, Busch’s, Atlantic Station, Luna’s and Vittorios. So many more I’m sure.
Thinking about them all gives me a warm and nostalgic feeling.

It’s not just the places we miss, but the people associated with them. I remember watching the All Star Game at Louie Louie’s with Diane and the late Lamar Shuler one year and taking my parents to the Gleason Street Café when they visited Delray to see the grandkids. I remember election night 1990 at the Arcade Tap Room and seeing the town’s fathers at their old table at the Green Owl.

Ray Oldenburg, a University of West Florida Professor wrote a great book some years ago called “The Great Good Place.”
The book talked about those “third” places beyond home and the office that become a part of the community fabric.
We miss them all. We cherish the memories. But inevitably we move on to discover new places too.
And so it goes.
I miss happy hours at Dirty Moe’s, I miss seeing Officer Vinny Mintus at The Annex for lunch and I wish I could have one more breakfast with Mr. and Mrs. Pompey at the old IHOP on North Federal.
Memories…

What’s Not Going to Change

I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.” — Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

 
I’m not quite sure I’m a fan of Jeff Bezos.
But I sure do respect him.
He knows how to scale a business and disrupt industries as well as or better than anyone.
Just ask Walmart or any legacy retailer, bookseller or even cloud storage companies. 
I’ve been thinking about Amazon lately and what it’s impact and the impact of ecommerce may mean for cities and real estate.  But that post is for another day. 
The quote above made me think about something else. I think Bezos is right.  And while entrepreneurs always seek to skate where the puck is heading, the quote is also relevant to cities. 
A loud and active group of people seem to lament change in cities and I get it, we don’t want to lose the soul of our communities but change is inevitable and so the discussion should focus on how to best manage and steer the inevitable.
But what about thinking about what won’t change? What will still be needed in 10 years and beyond?
There are –as Bezos instructs –opportunities in what won’t be going away.
 
As much as we love Delivery Dudes we probably will still want to visit a great restaurant because it’s not just about the food it’s about the experience and the ambience. 
As much as we “stream” we may still want to see a great movie on a big screen with other people. We still may value “date night” or a matinee as I did the past two weekends when we went to see “The Big Sick” and “Baby Driver “at Cinemark. 
I love Netflix, but when I’m home I’m distracted. When I’m in a theater I focus and I end up enjoying the movie that much more–provided I don’t nap. 
Ipic is banking on that experience to endure as they build a new theater in Delray. 
I grew up the son of a retailer. My dad owned a retail pharmacy in Smithtown, N.Y., a business model that was disrupted by the likes of Walgreens and CVS. 
Now there are rumblings of Amazon going into the prescription delivery space. It will have an impact I’m sure. But as I watch an independent pharmacy being built on US 1 in Delray which will include an old-fashioned counter and other elements of retro drug stores I wonder if maybe we will leave room for authentic, old fashioned experiences like my dad’s old store. 
Yes AirBNB is all the rage but I think hotels will be around in 10 years. Maybe not the generic kind, but cool independents and boutique brands like Aloft that embrace local aesthetics will make it as will the incredible Crane’s Beach House which offers service, intimacy and strong ties to the local community. 
Big box retail and malls will be severely challenged but independent stores or highly curated chains with unique products and superior services and experiences should find room to survive and thrive. 
Food stores are changing too. 
A news story last week reported on a landmark study that showed consumers shopping for different items in different places. They may grab some items in a local farmers market, buy paper goods at a big box, shop for prepared meals at a local market and hit up a dollar store for staples. The 60,000 item supermarket may find itself struggling or having to reinvent.
So while we should cheer the CRA’s and WARC’s pursuit of a long coveted Publix for West Atlantic we should also recognize that our Green Market, local gardens, ethnic food stores and food halls have a place in our communities. Today’s consumer seems to crave options, authenticity, experience, ambience and value over generic mass. One wonders whether local retailers may mount a comeback: remember when Burdine’s was the Florida store? They didn’t stock sweaters in September because Burdine’s served the Sunshine State not a mass national market?
One of the bigger questions related to what will remain has to do with the future of the car.
Will it remain the same as today? My guess is no. 
There’s too much money being bet by major companies to think that the auto culture won’t be disrupted. 
When autonomous vehicles arrive, it will become the single greatest real estate opportunity of our lifetimes. With so much land and infrastructure given over to the car—i.e. seas of parking lots, garages, lanes and lanes of heat trapping asphalt–think of the opportunity to reinvent cities.
 No, transportation won’t be same. But my guess is the need for people to gather and experience together won’t change–providing great opportunities for cultural institutions, parks, recreation, restaurants and I hope old fashioned town hall democracy to thrive. 
The more technology engulfs our life the more we may crave human interaction and experience; which is the beauty of cities.
Cities are one “invention” that may change but I think they will endure and become more important than ever. 
I sure hope so. 

Things that Work Edition

It’s time for some positivity.
Social media and conventional media are full of bad news these days.
It’s time to take a look at what’s working.
Fortunately, this is by no means a complete list. And please send me some suggestions for future posts, we’d love to spotlight the good in our community.

Delray Beach Initiative –think of this group of committed citizens as a SWAT team for good. Essentially they go where they are needed helping local schools and non profits by raising funds and awareness. Over the weekend, they hosted “Delray’s Got Talent” at the Elks Club which in addition to being a lot of fun raised funds for the Miracle League, a non-profit that works too. To get involved or learn more visit http://delraybeachinitiative.com/

The Delray Beach Historical Society–under the leadership of Winnie Edwards, the Historical Society has new energy and life with lots of activities, exhibits and projects. They have a robust social media presence and have activated their home at the historic Cason Cottage. I like how the Historical Society is conducting interviews with residents who have insights into local history. I’ve longed felt we have neglected to capture the stories of our pioneers and key contributors so future generations may learn about their hometown. To learn more and get involved visit http://www.delraybeachhistory.org/

Boca Economic Development–Jessica Del Vecchio is a force of nature promoting job growth and corporate achievement in Boca Raton. Is there are a lot to talk about? Oh yes. But there’s also a whole lot to admire about how the City of Boca is messaging its successes. The Economic Development office fosters pride by spotlighting the contributions and achievements of local companies and touting the city as a great place to invest and run a business. Here’s a link to the office https://www.myboca.us/470/Economic-Development  

FAU Research Park–Park leader Andrew Duffel is an economic development rock star who was recently recognized for his stellar work. The Park has become a job engine for the region and the home of a lot of innovation. Bravo! The Research Park’s website is a cornucopia of great information that will get you informed and excited about the future of tech innovation in our backyard.

https://www.research-park.org/

The Arts Garage–since taking the helm, Marjorie Waldo has steadied the ship, engaged the community and continued the great programming. Yes! If you haven’t been to the Arts Garage, make sure to catch a show, you won’t regret it. The venue is intimate and easily accessible.  There’s a lot of ways to get involved visit http://artsgarage.org/ to learn how.

Old School Square–President Rob Steele and Board Chair Bill Branning have gotten the tour of political dysfunction in Delray but through it all have managed to stay positive and focused on the big picture which is and has always been serving as a cultural catalyst and community gathering spot. Rob’s ability to reach out to key community partners is refreshing. Bill’s strength as a leader is inspiring. http://oldschoolsquare.org/

Anthony’s Cold Fire Pizza–you can always count on Pedro Andrade, Anthony’s manager in Delray to step up to help the community. Aside from serving amazing wings and ridiculously good pizza, Anthony’s is a great corporate citizen.
There’s more. A whole lot more.
So much to be thankful for in your Delray Boca.

A Return To Bay Street

Greetings from The Bahamas.
About a dozen years ago, I was part of a small group that got invited to The Bahamas to meet business and political leaders looking to improve downtown Nassau.
I was thinking about that trip and a follow up visit by Bahamian officials to Delray this week as I returned to Paradise Island and made a trip to Bay Street.
U.S. Ambassador Ned Siegel asked former Mayor Tom Lynch and I to visit and talk about what we learned from the revitalization of downtown Delray Beach. We were joined by Boca Chamber President Troy McLellan and Kelly Smallridge, the president of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.
It was a memorable trip. And thanks to Ned, we met a who’s who in the Bahamian business world and government.
What struck us was the lack of local government so that the “little things” that mean so much –stuff like potholes and traffic flow –were left to the national government to deal with.
One of the issues at the time for Bay Street business leaders was the magnetic pull of cruise passengers and tourists to Atlantis, the massive resort that kind of has it all from magnificent pools and restaurants, to stores, aquariums and of course a casino.
We were asked to make some recommendations and we did and we later hosted a delegation in Delray, Boca and Palm Beach County.
I’m still in touch with a few of the Bahamians from that trip, mostly on social media.
So it was interesting to go back and ask as many people as I could how downtown was doing.
Of course, when you ask you get the gamut of responses: Bay Street was “thriving”, “struggling”, doing “awesome” and “so-so.”
When we were there we saw four cruise ships and the streets and stores were busy.
Side streets looked the same as a dozen years ago–still in need of some TLC. And parts of Bay Street were doing well and parts were marked by empty stores and blight.
So it goes…but it’s a beautiful place, with nice people, vibrant color, tropical weather, good food and happy music. And the residents…they love it here. Lots and lots of pride.
One thing was notable. Everywhere we went, people seemed to still know and miss Ambassador Siegel. That’s pretty cool. He left a mark here.
I hope he knows that.

 

High Rent Blight

Bleecker Street in the historic Noho District of NYC may be resembling bleak street these days.

The New York Times touched on an interesting topic last week: high rent blight.
They used the phrase to describe Bleecker Street in New York City which saw rents soar to $800 a square foot before retailers cried uncle and shut their doors. Now the once red hot street suffers from vacancy; hence high end blight which is considered late stage gentrification.
Which begs the question: can this happen to Atlantic Avenue?
Palmetto Park Road? Pineapple Grove?
When I moved here in 1987, we had conventional low rent blight. Rents were $5-$8 per square foot and vacancy rates downtown were about 40 percent.
Today, some restaurants are paying in excess of $100 per square foot–far from Bleecker Street numbers but still very high for our market.
Rents in Pineapple Grove are $30-$35 per square foot for prime space–(solid rents no doubt) and hardly imaginable back when Norman Radin conceived the district; but still not ridiculous.
But ….
high rents are coming.
They have hit the avenue and the  Grove is next.
Why?
Because we’ve had some incredibly high purchase prices on and off the avenue.

If you talk to veteran commercial real estate brokers, they are wrestling with the challenge of making rents jibe with high land prices.
It’s a conundrum.
If you believe in a free market–and I do–rising prices are driven by the market and represent good news for long time landlords who have weathered good cycles and horrible cycles.
But if you want to see a diverse mix of businesses downtown and if you value independent operators–as I do–the high prices are a major challenge.
As the son of an independent pharmacist I have a little insight into the challenges of making a small business work in a competitive environment.

Today, the challenges are bigger than ever. The internet, Amazon, the very difficult retail environment etc etc., all make it very hard to build and sustain a business. Even well- heeled chains are finding it hard to survive. Throw in high rents, a seasonal economy, high insurance, a tough labor market, competition for people’s time and complicated marketing channels and you can appreciate how hard it is to make it today. You can also appreciate the need to support local businesses and to shop local.

The Downtown Development Authority is wrestling with these issues in a smart way.
They are working with Robert Gibbs, a noted retail and downtown expert who has some familiarity with Delray having worked here during the creation of the Downtown Master Plan.
But no doubt about it, this is a challenging environment. And we need to be cognizant of  that. We also need to be aware of our downtown mix and our demographics too.

When rents get high, restaurants tend to push alcohol–a high margin item. And if we morph from a food destination to a nightclub scene that has consequences ranging from our brand and who hangs out here to public safety concerns and whether we become more of a late night destination than an all hours downtown.

Big topics. Great stuff to chew on.
But what we don’t want to see is high rent blight.

So how do cities address this issue without infringing on property rights or the free market?

My theory is a good offense is a good defense.
So here are a few thoughts.

Successful cities need multiple districts/neighborhoods to perform. If they do, businesses have options on where to locate.
So efforts must be made to transform The Set (and those efforts are being made), but also Congress Avenue, South Federal Highway, North Federal Highway and eventually the “four corners:” of Atlantic Avenue and Military Trail which was rezoned and reimagined a dozen years ago.
You can and should be working on multiple fronts both for practical reasons and market based ones.

The notion that cities can only do one thing at a time is plain wrong.

For example, the players for Congress and The Set are different. The areas don’t compete, they complement. Some investors will want West Atlantic. Some will prefer Congress or South Federal. Some will be interested in all of the above. Your “open for business” sign has to be open for all commercial districts while the economy is good.

One thing we know for sure, the cycle will end, so it’s important to get traction while you can. Development standards can and should be high. But you have to make hay when the sun shines as they say. And you don’t have to offer incentives–just attractive zoning and a smooth and predictable approval process. Be tough, but fair.

In previous down cycles– including the great recession– Delray Beach was the last to city to experience issues and the first to emerge from the doldrums. That was a result of a good planning,  a business friendly environment, a solid brand and a City Hall that knew how to execute.
Those are “hidden” but very real assets. So it’s just as critical that we rebuild capacity at City Hall.
How does this all address high rent blight?
Well..it doesn’t lower rents, or increase availability of affordable housing or commercial spaces overnight but it does spark competition so that if the market skews there are now options in our city. If we don’t create multiple options, people, business and investment will go elsewhere.
Hopefully over time the power of the market will modulate prices to better reflect what’s possible and desirable. That’s the bet, it’s not easy. But it’s doable. One thing for sure, doing nothing guarantees trouble.

In Praise of Volunteers

Have you driven by Delray’s municipal beach lately?
It’s going to be a bit of a mess for awhile but when the dust clears the A1A “promenade” should look great.
Which is a good excuse to say thanks to the Beach Property Owners Association better known as the BPOA.
If my recollection is correct, the BPOA worked on the Beach Master Plan for the better part of 8 years. That’s a long time. Lots and lots of volunteer hours.
Architect Bob Currie donated his time and talents to the effort and so did the board led by President Bob Victorin–one of the truly great people who live in Delray.
It’s the volunteers who make our city so immensely special.
Their love of Delray is palpable and can be seen in every corner of our community.
Dedicated citizens bring energy and resources that can’t  be measured to the effort of building a great community.
It really does take a village.
Recently, I had the occasion to have dinner with three all time Delray greats at 50 Ocean.
While two of the three–former Police Chief Rick Overman and retired Officer Skip Brown–were city employees, their success was driven in part by their ability to attract and effectively deploy a slew of volunteers. The third gentleman was the one and only Perry Don Francisco, former owner of Bostons on the Beach, who became legendary for his community service over the years. In fact, Perry is still working for the community through Delray Citizens for Delray Police. In addition to a sensational banquet honoring longtime police employees (held last weekend) he’s still deeply involved in the holiday toy drive and when the chips are down –as they have been recently –you can always count on Perry to be there.
It’s here that I will note that while his wife grew up in Delray, Perry has always lived just down the street in another city. So for those city commissioners who cavalierly suggest that only residents should be able to serve/volunteer on city boards I respectfully disagree. Take a measure of where someone’s heart resides. If it lives here, it doesn’t matter where the head hits the pillow.
But I digress.

Let’s just say that Perry’s been invaluable to countless lives in our community. Mine included.
Chief Overman and Skip have also been invaluable.
Rick was a force of nature who came to Delray and created a department that became a farm system for future chiefs and legendary officers who made it possible for Delray to succeed.
Without a great PD there would be no Delray as we know it. It’s just that simple.
To quote someone in this story who shall remain nameless: Delray was circling the bowl before it made the turn.
My contention is it doesn’t make that turn without a great Police Department and some terrific city staff and yes volunteers and business leadership.
So as we enjoyed the ocean view from a restaurant once owned by Perry and swapped old stories I sat there in awe of three local legends.
And realized that all three employed volunteers to help them succeed. Rick and Skip and a few others launched and managed a remarkable volunteer effort at the department. An effort that earned national and international accolades.
But it wasn’t just PR. No, the accomplishments were real and lasting.
MAD DADS led by Chuck Ridley and Ben Bryant helped a great set of cops decimate the drug trade in Delray.
Skip’s volunteers–1,300 at its height–were something to behold. They still are.
And Perry set a standard for involvement for all other business leaders that may never be matched. Right up there with him are people like Frank Wheat, Bill Branning and Cathy Balestriere—contributors who give and give. P.S. those three don’t live here either. But we don’t have the Delray we know without them.
What a legacy.
Which brings me to The BPOA.
The association has a long history of engagement and advocacy.
While they are chartered to look after the barrier island, in my experience they have always pushed for the the betterment of the entirety of Delray Beach.
I’m glad to see dirt finally being moved on the Beach Master Plan. It’s been a long slog. It didn’t have to be, but that’s the subject of another column or my next book. Maybe both. Let’s just say the improvements don’t happen without them.
The volunteers work hard. They care.
And that makes all the difference.

Rituals & Happy Hours

City Oyster on Atlantic Avenue is one of many good spots to start a lunch group.

I’m noticing a new trend.
At least I think it’s a trend.
I can’t speak for my female friends (and unlike Harry Met Sally, I do think men and women can be friends) but the guys I know are forming tribes around breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour.
Aside from the caloric risks, I think this is a healthy activity.
There’s a group of guys who meet for Friday breakfast, a Thursday lunch group, a Friday happy hour bunch and a semi-regular group that heads for the Sail Inn whenever their “captain” sends out an email enlisting his fellow ‘sailors’.
It’s a great tradition.
Not only do you get camaraderie and fellowship, but you get to experience the insults, humor and gentle reminders leading up to the event.
These rituals that I know about happen at Ellie’s Diner, The House of Pancakes, Donnie’s, J Alexander’s, Caffe Luna Rosa, Christina’s, Tom Sawyer, Farmer’s Table, City Oyster,  the Cuban Café, Tap 42, Rocco’s Taco’s, Latitudes and the aforementioned Sail Inn.

It’s a nice array of Delray and Boca restaurants–so these activities benefit local businesses while also building friendship and community.

My schedule doesn’t allow me to  attend every group activity every week but it’s comforting to know you can tap into these regularly scheduled get togethers and get plugged in.
I’ve seen how a few of these rituals develop and it’s quite simple really.
It often happens when someone calls a few friends to gather for a a meal or a drink. The key is to add a new element. Someone new or a different combination of people than the usual lunch bunch. If the outing goes well it becomes a “thing.”
On Friday, I went to a lunch at City Oyster with Tom Block, a former JP Morgan executive who retired to Juno Beach a few years back after a long and fascinating career in Washington. He’s a childhood friend of Jon Levinson, a former City Commissioner and I’ve tagged along at several of their get togethers over the years to talk national politics. Tommy knows everyone and for a political buff like me it’s just fascinating to get the inside scoop about Congress.
For this outing in Delray, Tommy arranged to bring his winter neighbor John DeStefano, a long time mayor of New Haven, CT and a former president of the National League of Cities who now teaches political science at Yale.
At the last minute, I got an email from former Delray Mayor Tom Lynch asking if I had lunch plans so I called Tom and asked him to join us. What followed was 90 minutes of great conversation about cities, local politics and the difference between Florida and Connecticut and Delray and New Haven (roughly the same size geographically but with twice the population).
It was great.

And I hope it becomes a semi-regular thing.

Why? Because I want to learn more and these guys have done a whole lot in politics, business, education and the non-profit world.
They also happen to be nice, smart, opinionated and funny.
Mayor DeStefano seemed to enjoy Delray.
And a day later he emailed us all–thanking everyone for a nice lunch, good conversation and asking if we could do it again someday soon.
And so a tradition begins.
I highly recommend you join or start a group–it’s the spice of life as they say.

A Fitting Tribute, a Bronze Star & The Arts

Random Thoughts on a Monday…

A Moving Tribute to a memorable officer

It was gratifying to see an overflow crowd at Officer Christine Braswell’s Memorial Service Sunday at Atlantic High School.

Officers from all over the area, Delray police retirees, residents and our own bravest and finest were there for a moving tribute to an Officer who touched many lives.

From Explorers who respected her as a drill instructor to SWAT team members who were in awe of her skills, Officer Braswell’s influence was palpable and lasting.

She connected with everyone. From homeless people who considered her a friend to business leaders who put out all the stops to honor her after her tragic passing April 9 at the too young age of 40.

Chief Jeff Goldman did a great job of leading the memorial and capturing Christine’s spirit and dedication to her job. It was also touching to hear from Christine’s father– a former officer– who recounted his daughter’s toughness and resolve to be a police officer despite his concerns over the physical and mental toll of the job.

Delray Citizens for Delray Police once again rose to the occasion coordinating volunteers and donations to make this difficult time just a little easier.

I thought I’d share a portion of a prayer from a memorial card handed out at the service.

“Lord I ask for courage

Courage to face and

Conquer my own fears…

Courage to take me

Where others will not go…

I ask for strength

Strength of body

To protect others…

I ask for dedication

Dedication to my job

to do it well.

Dedication to my community

To Keep it safe.”

Christine did all of those things for us and others. She will not be forgotten. May she rest in peace.

Bronze Star Ceremony You’re Invited
Tomorrow is a special day in Delray.
Retired Delray Beach Police Officer Skip Brown and his lovely wife Cheryl, a former PD volunteer, will be at the Crest Theatre at Old School Square at 4 pm to receive a Bronze Star for heroism. The medal ceremony, open and free to the public, comes 45 years after Skip’s heroic service in Vietnam.
It’s a fascinating story. I won’t ruin it for you right now because I’m hoping your can come and see a rare ceremony.
Skip is a special guy. This is a special occasion. Hope to see you at the Crest.

Sons & Daughters Farm and Winery
We visited Sons & Daughters on Saturday west of Lake Worth and it was terrific.
Sons & Daughters is a 17 acre organic farm where you can drink homegrown wine and kombucha, tour the farm and interact with an array of animals from donkeys and pigs to chickens and roosters.
It’s worth a visit. Friday night’s feature music, food trucks and a fire pit. It’s a cool place.
And…I couldn’t help but think this is what the ag reserve could have been.
Working farms with retail attached, Agri-tourism amenities, healthy and unique places to hang out.
Alas, it wasn’t to be.
I’m a believer in Eastward Ho..let your downtowns be downtowns tight, compact and walkable but out west..well let’s say it could have been done differently.

Wood and Fire
We gave this cool new place a whirl over the weekend and it was really good.
Delray’s own Castle Construction did the build out and it’s wonderful.
A nice interior, large bar, a wood fired oven, outdoor dining options and a nice menu with reasonable prices.
We had the veggie panini (guess who had that one) and a Margherita pizza with charred zucchini and meatballs.
There’s a good craft beer menu too.
It’s nice to see west Delray add some great gathering spots. The restaurant is on West Atlantic just west of Military Trail.
Check it out.

Speaking of craft beer
We visited Saltwater Brewery recently and chatted briefly with Chris Gove one of the young entrepreneurs behind the growing brand.
I’ve known Chris’ dad Leigh for years. And so it’s really great to see his son have his father’s creative energy and vision.
Saltwater is now distributed all the way to Jacksonville. It just feels like a breakout brand in a crowded space.
Not only is the beer terrific (try the Passion Pit) but the branding is spot on. The brewery is also oozing cool and very popular.
We ran into former Planning Director Paul Dorling and it was nice to catch up with him as well.
Delray needs more than one district that performs so it’s nice to see the nooks and crannies filling up with activity and cool uses.

Kudos to Old School Square
The new summer booklet of classes at Old School Square is out and once again it’s really well done.
The School of Creative Arts is a great asset to Delray and if you have any interest in art, writing or photography you should check it out.
I’m a big admirer of the arts and artists but have zero talent.
I might, however check out the Thursday night readings where writers share their work.

See, I have this idea for a novel about a dashing middle aged blogger who strikes it rich…it’s clearly fiction.

 

The Human Touch Is Essential

Theo Epstein’s leadership created world champions in Chicago and Boston.

Fortune Magazine released its list of the world’s 50 best leaders recently,.

It’s a diverse list—from a variety of professions—and includes 25 women among the top leaders, which is very cool.

Topping the list is Theo Epstein– the architect of the Chicago Cubs’ World Series win–which broke a 108 year “curse”/ drought for Cubs fans. Epstein was also at the helm when the Red Sox ended their decades long curse in 2004 with a World Series win.

The profile of Epstein was fascinating to read.

Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Tom Verducci describes the evolution of a man whose understanding of important human qualities among his players—the character, discipline and chemistry that turn skilled athletes into leaders—enabled him to engineer one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports history.

It’s an important message in an era where it seems like we are being overwhelmed by technological change all of which seems to be displacing humans. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, data analytics, augmented reality, automated driving, robotics—all have some wonderful attributes but you can’t help but feel that people may be rendered obsolete by all these “advancements.” As Bruce Springsteen sings:  “I just want something to hold on to…and a little of that Human Touch.”

A tech blogger recently surveyed Silicon Valley “disruptors” to determine where they see all this going. The prevailing sentiment is that we will become a society in which a few amazing minds will render everyone else unemployable through technology that replaces jobs. Nice.

These tech geniuses—said to be benevolent—will make enormous sums of money and governments will be forced to tax them heavily to pay for the rest of us to sit around and consume. Next time you have a moment; search Google for “universal basic income” and you’ll learn more. You may not sleep again, but at least you’ll be informed.

This is why it’s great to see that leaders like Theo Epstein succeed by valuing what makes us human.

Sure, he has numbers crunchers looking at how players perform with two strikes, a man on base, in humid conditions on the road against southpaws who throw wicked curveballs. But Epstein also values character, chemistry and discipline.

From the Fortune piece:

“A few weeks before spring training of 2012, in the ballroom of a budget hotel in Mesa, Ariz., Theo Epstein stood before nearly every person connected with the baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs and told them how the Cubs were going to win the World Series.

Epstein devoted the first three days of the session to on-field strategy: hitting philosophy, pitching philosophy, defense, and baserunning. But the entire last day was devoted to character. The Cubs, Epstein insisted, would acquire only players with outstanding makeup. Even Epstein realized himself how far he had evolved since he put so much faith in numbers when he began as general manager of the Red Sox. Now character did not just matter. It was essential to Epstein’s blueprint to win the World Series.

There was a reason character loomed so large in Epstein’s thinking, a reason that helped explain why Epstein was spending spring training in Arizona with the Cubs and not in Florida with the Red Sox. Epstein’s devotion to a Moneyball ­approach—data-driven analysis that helped teams identify and accumulate players with little-noticed but crucial strengths—had succeeded inestimably in Boston, where he steered the team to six playoff appearances and two World Series titles in nine seasons as general manager, helping the team break its own 86-year-old championship drought along the way.

But character and chemistry were strengths that a “quant” approach couldn’t capture, and in 2011, in what turned out to be Epstein’s final season in Boston, their absence was painfully clear as the team underwent a late-season collapse. The more the team lost, the more it broke apart from within. Players ­feuded with one another. The egos that had created cracks in the clubhouse while they were winning caused deep fissures as they lost.”

This story resonated with me on a deep level.

We’ve all been part of winning organizations that soured under the weight of ego and hubris (fatal arrogance).

As Delray Beach was making its ascent, former City Manager David Harden would warn that the biggest challenge would be “surviving success.”

I have to admit, I didn’t understand that sentiment, until I saw it play out.

When businesses, organizations, agencies and cities reach a certain level of “success” there’s a tendency for one or more of the following afflictions to crop up: complacency, arrogance, egomania, fear.

The worst thing to assume is to think you’re bullet proof or that the cash register will always ring because it happens to be ringing now.

Despite our sometimes heated discussions—that always end amicably and usually with laughter—I have learned a lot from Fran Marincola, who owns Caffe Luna Rosa. Fran is part owner– with me and three others –of Four Story Media Group which publishes the Delray and Boca Newspaper. As he might put it, he owns enough to have a voice, but not enough to insist that something he suggests actually gets done. But despite his lack of voting power, he has influence. Why?

Because he makes sense and because he has succeeded in a very tough business over a long period of time.

Fran sweats the details and he’s constantly trying to get better. Paper or cloth for the tables, how much do the forks weigh (seriously), menu tweaks, where photos are hung in the place and on and on and on. No detail is too small, because Fran believes it all counts and it does. He’s the opposite of complacent and that’s why he’s successful.

I’m sure there are analytics and data out there that you can purchase to try and build a successful restaurant. But there’s just no substitute for judgment and experience. The human touch…

It has worked for the Cubs…it works for cities, schools, non-profits and for just about any sustainable business or organization you can find.

Even Google is going to learn that lesson.

Thanks to “programmatic” ad buying by automation, major companies saw their web ads placed on websites next to hate speech including sites promoting the Islamic State—embarrassing the companies and creating revenue for the hate and terrorist groups. It’s shocking and terrible.

So AT&T, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson and others said enough. Take our ads off You Tube and off these sites—we’re done with you Google, until you find humans who can fix  the problem.  Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., will lose tens of millions of dollars as a result and will be forced to address the issue by hiring people—what a concept.

Let’s hope humanity spreads because it’s truly irreplaceable and needed now more than ever.

Said Epstein, “ If we can’t find the next technological breakthrough, well, maybe we can be better than anyone else with how we treat our players and how we connect with players and the relationships we develop and how we put them in positions to succeed. Maybe our environment will be the best in the game, maybe our vibe will be the best in the game, maybe our players will be the loosest, and maybe they’ll have the most fun, and maybe they’ll care the most.”

So where would you rather, play, work, live? A place that values and honors humanity or a cold, purely analytical environment?

 

 

More from the Fortune piece.

What Business Can Learn From the Cubs’ History-Making Win

 

  1. Hire for character

How employees treat one another or cope with adversity can be more important to your success than their sales numbers or skill sets.

  1. See data’s limits

A statistics-driven strategy won’t help you if all your competitors are using similar techniques with similar data. Do you truly have an analytical edge?

  1. Foster connections

Epstein credits the Cubs’ success in part to the years-long relationships among their core players. “People don’t like working in isolation,” he says.

 

 

 

 

Lynn’s MBA in Delray: Only The Beginning

A most welcome addition

Last night was an important one for Delray Beach.

Quietly, before a few guests, the trajectory of our downtown might have changed forever.

That’s a big statement. I may be wrong, but let me try and back it up.

After months of negotiations, Lynn University will launch an MBA in Delray program focusing on entrepreneurship and marketing at the Delray Chamber. The one-year program will be offered at night and tailored to working professionals and entrepreneurs.

The move was announced a few weeks ago, but it felt real last night when a contingent of Lynn staff led by President Kevin Ross and Business School Dean Dr. RT Good told a small gathering of local leaders and entrepreneurs why they chose Delray and what the program will entail.

Folks, we have to make this work. Why?  Because if it does it changes the game and enhances the brand that has been fostered by a slew of Delray Beach visionaries and stakeholders since the mid-80s.

Dr. Ross and Chamber President Karen Granger see the MBA in Delray as an innovative model that chambers and universities can replicate across the country. It enables chambers to get needed revenue, enhance value for their members and grow local economies, while enabling universities to reach into communities and tailor programs to meet local needs and trends.

Dr. Good and the Lynn team have been hard at work designing a “different” kind of curriculum that promises deeper relationships with faculty, classmates and local businesses while focusing on leadership, hands-on projects and case studies.

For the chamber it enables a deeper dive into the world of entrepreneurship, a focus and passion for President Granger who has quietly but persistently nurtured relationships with a growing number of promising local entrepreneurs. Many were there for the Lynn celebration including Brian Niles of Rooster, Eric Bucher of Call Sprout and Project Runway’s Amanda Perna, who runs “House of Perna,” an emerging fashion design brand.

Delray and Boca’s emerging foodie economy was represented as well with catering by fabulous Farmer’s Table restaurant, which I think has enormous potential. (Here’s where I should plug my two food/beverage related brands Tabanero and Celsius, but that would be indulgent no? Wink)

All of this is to say, that this partnership may signal that Delray’s downtown and indeed its economy is expanding beyond food and beverage—and that’s a good thing. A diversified economy is a more resilient and sustainable model.

Many years ago, Delray made a conscious choice to lead with food, beverage, culture and festivals to jumpstart its moribund, dull and dangerous downtown corridor.

It was a smart move, brilliantly executed by many, many important contributors and risk taking entrepreneurs.

And it worked, remarkably well.

We have a vibrant, valuable, cool, and attractive and revenue generating downtown that looks and feels good.

Our restaurant “row” generates crowds, creates jobs and helped to change how people see Delray Beach.

Our cultural and intellectual amenities: Old School Square, the Delray Beach Library, Spady Museum, Sandoway House, Delray Historical Society, Arts Garage and historic districts make us a distinct destination which drives property values, tax base, quality of life and tourism which is another critically important industry.

Festivals have also played and continue to play a major role. Which is why it was incredibly disappointing to see the debate about their value so mishandled. It’s an opportunity missed because so many cities are building their economies and brands around festivals. It’s something that should be revisited and expanded beyond the myopic debate around cost and inconvenience. I’m not saying that cost and resident convenience isn’t critically important because it is, but most of those issues can be solved with creative planning and by examining the revenue side of the equation and the intrinsic value created by events.

The Delray Marriott, Residence Inn, Seagate Hotel, Hyatt, Fairfield, Crane’s Beach House, Wright by the Sea, Parliament Inn, the historic Colony Hotel, Sundy House and other properties are extremely valuable assets that drive our economy and brand. They don’t stay viable and valuable—if we don’t have a vibrant local economy with many parts working.

The Delray ATP and the many junior events as well as our golf courses and sports facilities are also important assets that can be grown, nurtured, promoted and leveraged to keep our economy sustainable and the Delray value proposition higher than most other cities—especially small cities. We compete for investment and jobs. And we’ve built a powerhouse of a charming little city.

Cities that work have many moving parts that have to work together in concert to create lasting value.

Delray—imperfect as it is, challenged as it is—has done that. Value has been created. Quality of life and place has been created. It is our job and our responsibility to keep it going and to create a city of opportunity for all.

Through my 30 years here, my community involvement and my professional life—I get to meet and work with many talented people who aspire.

Kids from Atlantic High School and Village Academy who want to come back to Delray and make a life here, City staff who went into public service to make a difference, startup founders whom I encourage, informally advise and ask for help myself on my business challenges, educators who care, non-profit leaders who perform miracles, established business owners who volunteer and invest here, retirees who mentor, artists who amaze and parents who want to see their children achieve the American Dream in a world that is increasingly complicated and fraught.

They want a Better Delray—they’ve wanted that for a long time and they’ve made and are making a difference.

So yes the Lynn MBA in Delray is very big news.

I know President Ross. He’s a friend. He’s a visionary. He and his talented team make things happen. So this is just a start.

But it’s an important beginning. A unique and innovative university is working with our Chamber of Commerce in our downtown—and the potential is enormous.

In his remarks last night Dr. Ross noted that he recently began talking to his teenage daughter about life after college (she’s still in high school). Does she want to come back to Florida? Of course, she does.

Where does she want to live?

Delray.

She’s not alone. So take pride. Something very special was built here and the best is yet to come.

Welcome to Delray, Lynn University.

We’re thrilled beyond words.

We’ve wanted you here for a very long time.

Many people have worked very hard to catch your attention and create a place you and your students will want to be.