John Kunkel sold Lime Fresh Mexican Grill for a bundle, which he used to buy the Sunshine Motel.
Local restaurant entrepreneur John Kunkel has been very busy. Within the past 14 months, the founder and CEO of 50 Eggs opened the highly regarded Yardbird restaurant in South Beach and sold his Lime Fresh Mexican Grill chain for $24 million to a much bigger chain, Ruby Tuesday.
He then used the proceeds to create three new restaurants: Khong River House and the future Khong Fuzi in South Beach, and the soon-to-open Swine Southern Table & Bar in Coral Gables.
Kunkel also acquired an advertising agency called the Southern Brand Collective, so in addition to running restaurants, 50 Eggs also offers brand conception, marketing, interior design, even construction services for other companies.
Now Kunkel is embarking on a new project: transforming the 74-year-old, three-story Sunshine Motel at 7350 Biscayne Blvd. into 50 Eggs’ new home. “The building itself was really just the perfect space for what we wanted to do,” Kunkel says. “It completes the vision of a new headquarters and our Test Kitchen concept.”
When the building is ready, 50 Eggs will move its offices from 4770 Biscayne Blvd. to the Sunshine Motel’s two top floors. Kunkel says the ground floor will become the Test Kitchen, a space where working chefs and the owners of small restaurants will benefit from the cooking and business knowledge he and his partners can provide — for free.
“We want to keep Miami’s small restaurants around,” says Kunkel, who has worked in restaurants since he was 16 years old. “The reality is, when you’re strung out and don’t have money, it pays to talk to someone with expertise, and we have an amazing team.”
Kunkel tells us about his dreams of holding charity dinners at the Test Kitchen to benefit culinary nonprofits like the James Beard Foundation and Common Threads. But then he pauses. “We’re still very early on,” he cautions. “Plans might change.”
This past December, Kunkel bought the Sunshine Motel from Alex and Rena Karakhanian and Lyle Chariff for $3.5 million. The Karakhanians had purchased the property just 11 months earlier for $1.5 million.
“Two million dollars in less than 12 months isn’t bad,” says Chariff, owner of Chariff Realty Group and a minority partner with the Karakhanians, who recently have been buying properties in the Upper Eastside and the Design District.
Chariff credits the resurgence of the Upper Eastside for the quick and profitable deal. “The Biscayne Corridor between Soyka’s and 79th Street is the next big bet,” he says. “It is just an interesting area. You have so much traffic, good restaurants; it’s an appealing place for people.”
In fact Chariff and the Karakhanians used part of the proceeds from their deal with Kunkel to buy a 15,000-square-foot vacant parcel at 6405 Biscayne Blvd. for $1.2 million from Javier Rabinovich and Mariano Karner, a pair of Argentine developers who had hoped to construct a small retail building on the site. Chariff’s company acted as the broker when Rabinovich and Karner acquired the land in May 2011 for $300,000. (See the BT’s “There’s a Reason They Call It Boulevard of Dreams,” April 2012.)
The Sunshine Motel: 50 Eggs will take the top two floors while a test kitchen occupies the ground floor. BT photo by Erik Bojnansky.
Ironically, the Karakhanians and Chariff were initially not interested in selling the Sunshine Motel. “We were looking for tenants to lease it,” says Sharon Dresser, a broker for High Street Retail USA, who handled the transaction. “When we didn’t find anyone to lease it, [Kunkel] stepped up to buy it.”
Chariff says they were still reluctant: “We were pushing for the lease, but he ended up, toward the end of last year, agreeing to our selling price. It was an interesting deal and he was a pleasure to work with.”
Kunkel says he insisted on buying because he wanted 50 Eggs to own its next base of operations. And the Sunshine Motel just gave him a “certain feeling.”
“We had outgrown our office a while back and we searched high and low for a new home,” Kunkel recounts. “I kept looking back to it, back to it, back to it. I started looking at the architecture and I just knew that it was the space for us.”
Jocelyne Hider knows the feeling. In September 2005, she and her husband bought the 22-room Sunshine Motel, originally known as Alda Rochester Motel, for $1.2 million. A few months later they bought the neighboring former Penn Hall Hotel, built in 1929, for $895,000. “I fell in love with those two Art Deco buildings,” says the Haitian-American businesswoman.
The Sunshine had seen better days, though. “There were drug dealers and prostitution…. It was bad,” she sighs. After operating it for a month, they shut it down and proceeded to renovate it. “We wanted to have a little hotel and then have a restaurant downstairs,” Hider recalls.
Yet even after investing some $400,000, the work was never completed. They finally sold it to the Karakhanians. “It was just so expensive,” Hider says. “We couldn’t keep it up.”
Dresser points out that Kunkel will have a lot of work ahead. “It’s actually, basically a shell,” she says of the Sunshine. “There’s no electricity, no air-conditioning, nothing.”
But 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.
While Kunkel is working to preserve the building’s historic character, including hiring noted architect Allan Shulman, he’s not interested in preserving its cheerful moniker. “The name has long been since removed,” he says. “If we do name it anything, it will be after the company.” (The company name, 50 Eggs, is drawn from the film Cool Hand Luke, in which Paul Newman, starring as an irrepressible convict in a Florida prison camp, wins a bet to eat 50 hard-boiled eggs in one hour.)
Jocelyne Hider is thrilled that Kunkel has taken over her former property and that New York developer Avra Jain is rehabilitating the shuttered Vagabond Motel across the street.
Hider believes that her business, Memoires, which operates in the former Penn Hall Hotel, will prosper once the street is “alive again,” but there’s another reason she looks forward to seeing the Vagabond and Sunshine motels thriving.
“I am very happy that people with money are doing something with those two beautiful buildings. They are two beautiful old ladies,” says Hider, confessing to some regret at the way things turned out. “I kind of feel bad that I didn’t pursue the dream of finishing the Sunshine Motel, but you know, in life sometimes you have to go on to other dreams.”