The Miami Herald Interviews Managing Partner Steven W. Zelkowitz for "Meet the Reubens, the Mysterious U.K. Family Taking the Wynwood Restaurant Kyu Global"

February 3, 2021

By Rene Rodriguez | February 3, 2020 | LINK TO ARTICLE

One of the wealthiest families in the world has gone on an investment spree around the globe, including South Florida. But you’ve probably never even heard of them.

The Reuben family, headed by self-made billionaire brothers David and Simon, spent more than $565 million in U.S. acquisitions in the calendar year 2020 alone, including a minority stake in the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa.

The family also provided $920 million in financing for hotels around the U.S., including the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort and the Ritz-Carlton South Beach in Miami-Dade and Manhattan’s Park Lane.

They also purchased Kyu, the award-winning Asian barbecue restaurant in Wynwood, for an undisclosed amount — and intend to take the brand global, with the first new location due to open in New York. (They did not buy the physical building, located at 251 NW 25th St.)

The family, whose company is worth an estimated $22.45 billion, is known for its intense privacy and declined to be interviewed for this article. Even on their home turf in the U.K., where they are sometimes referred to as the “first family of Mayfair” due to their extensive real estate holdings in London’s toniest neighborhood, the Reubens rarely grant interviews.

They navigate in such exclusive circles that many Miami restaurateurs and developers have never even heard of them. Those who do know them decline to talk about them.

According to Forbes, David Reuben, 82, and his brother Simon, 79, have a personal net worth of $7.9 billion and rank No. 216 on the magazine’s 2020 list of billionaires. The U.K. Sunday Times places them second on their 2021 “Rich List.”

But even though they are rich enough to be practically invisible to most people, they are no strangers to Miami.

“Miami is my second home; I feel inspired when I visit,” wrote Jamie Reuben, 33, one of David Reuben’s two sons, via email to the Herald.

“I have always admired and enjoyed KYU and am delighted we can support the brand’s global rollout in such a challenging time for hospitality, bringing this incredible dining experience to a wider audience.

“Next stop Manhattan, then a few other key U.S. cities and Europe also. We must all support hospitality as much as possible to get the industry back on its feet globally.”

(One New York City company, Major Food Group, is bringing five of its Manhattan restaurants to Miami, including the popular Carbone.)

GLOBAL BRANDING

Some experts think that Kyu, which opened in 2017 to great acclaim and near-instant success, may face an uphill climb to global recognition.

The restaurant’s founders, Chef Michael Lewis and Steven Haigh, were bought out during the Reubens’ transaction. The menu and cuisine — including its famed coconut cake — will remain the same. A Kyu affiliate restaurant in Mexico City that shares the same name and concept was not part of the deal.

“Kyu is not an international brand,” said John Kunkel, creator and founder of the 50 Eggs Hospitality Group. “It is one successful restaurant and that is far from a global brand. You can’t just take the existing menu and replicate that. There’s a long way to go from here to there.

“We talk to developers all over the world and everyone understands the power of activating a hotel through food and beverage,” Kunkel said. “If some very wealthy people want to plug it into some hotels, they could do that. It will be an interesting thing to see if the Reubens can expand a restaurant globally from just one store.”

But others believe the timing is perfect for the expansion of a local restaurant that already has a national reputation like Kyu.

“Kyu is the next-generation Asian restaurant that has the potential to reach a big audience, like Nobu or Sushi Samba did,” said Abe Ng, CEO of the Miami-based Sushi Maki and Canton Chinese Restaurants, with 15 locations around South Florida. “Finding great brands like Kyu is very rare, and the Reubens see something in the brand. Some expansions like this don’t go well, but some are roaring success stories. It takes capital and know-how, and the Reuben family is extraordinarily well-connected.”

Albert Garcia, chairman and co-founder of the Wynwood Business Improvement District, said Kyu isn’t the only restaurant from that neighborhood that is going worldwide.

“In the last year, Coyo Taco opened locations in Paris and Portugal,” he said. “They also have branched out to Panama and Dominican Republic, and a location in Houston is next. Panther Coffee is now wholesaling their coffee. The fact that a company like the Reubens’ is investing in a concept that was incubated here is not only a testament to the success of that restaurant but also to Wynwood as an incubator for food and beverage.”

AN INVESTING SPREE

Some of the Reubens’ other U.S. transactions over the past year — which totaled $2.5 billion when added to their acquisitions — include financing deals for high-profile hotels in New York (the Park Lane, the Chatwal, the Dream Midtown, the HSBC Tower Fifth Avenue and the Time), Los Angeles (The Edition Hotel and The Montage in Beverly Hills), Chicago (Parma House Hilton) and Las Vegas (The Drew Hotel and the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino).

The timing of the Reubens’ investing spree is no accident. Steven Zelkowitz, managing partner of the Coral Gables-based Spiritus Law, specializes in real estate and hotel development. He said that much like residential real estate is now a sellers’ market, the hospitality field is ripe for buyers with cash.

Albert Garcia, chairman and co-founder of the Wynwood Business Improvement District, said Kyu isn’t the only restaurant from that neighborhood that is going worldwide.

“In the last year, Coyo Taco opened locations in Paris and Portugal,” he said. “They also have branched out to Panama and Dominican Republic, and a location in Houston is next. Panther Coffee is now wholesaling their coffee. The fact that a company like the Reubens’ is investing in a concept that was incubated here is not only a testament to the success of that restaurant but also to Wynwood as an incubator for food and beverage.”

THE START OF A DYNASTY

How did the family do it? David and Simon were born in Mumbai to Jewish-Iraqi parents. When the couple separated, the brothers moved to the London suburb of Islington with their mother, Nancy.

David began working in scrap metal, while Simon turned to the carpet industry. Both proved fruitful: By 1995, their company Trans-World Metals controlled nearly a tenth of the world’s aluminum, with global sales nearing $10 billion.

The brothers began their investment portfolio buying strategic properties in the U.K., including hotels, office spaces, retail and residential. By 2000, they expanded their investments into other industries, including telecommunication services, horse racing media rights, home-building companies, data providers and even the Wellington Pub Company, the largest pub estate in the U.K.

In 2003, they established a website, reubenbrothers.com, that lifted part of the veil of secrecy surrounding the family by collecting news clippings of their various ventures and holdings. The family does not grant interviews, preferring to let their business speak for them.

Although the brothers remain active in their business, the young Jamie has increasingly become the face of the company, even sitting down for a rare interview with London’s The Sunday Times in February. One indication that the business is about to be infused by new blood is what Jamie said about the family’s plan to build a hotel on Grosvenor Square, the former site of the U.S. Embassy:

The hotel will be pitched at a “creative, vibrant and younger audience,” he told the paper. “We’re not going to have stiff boardrooms and stiff restaurants. It’s going to be fun. It’s gonna be quirky.”

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About Spiritus Law:

Spiritus Law is an entrepreneurial regulatory and business law firm focused on the representation of highly regulated industries by offering legal services in the areas of alcohol and tobacco law, federal, state and local regulatory and business licensing, hospitality law and licensing, commercial and residential real estate development, land use and zoning, real estate transactions, government relations, banking and lending, general commercial retail including the retail sale of regulated products and public/private partnership transactions. The Firm is founded on traditional principles of client counseling and teamwork with a cutting-edge twist on regulatory innovation and modern problem-solving. Spiritus Law combines a unique blend of professionals, including attorneys, government consultants, licensing assistants and paralegals to assist its diverse clients. Our modern approach to transparent client representation and employee engagement defines our collaborative spirit and progressive energy.

Core Services:

Primary service areas include: Alcohol Licensing & Regulatory Compliance, Retail & Hospitality Licensing & Permitting, Real Estate Transactions & Commercial Development, Firearms & Security Compliance, Public/Private Infrastructure &Development, Tobacco Product Regulatory Compliance, and Business Transactions & Financial Services. Our firm services an array of highly regulated industries, including alcohol producers, sports teams, hotels, restaurants, theme parks, movie theaters, grocery stores, liquor stores, bars, residential and commercial real estate developers, state agencies, municipal governments, investment firms and individual investors, lending institutions, security service providers, firearms suppliers and more.