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Photographer KT Merry of Render Loyalty captures a world of endangered species.

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By Charlie Crespo

KT Merry exists in two drastically different worlds.

In one, beaming brides and genial grooms smile back at her. They pose and laugh and soak in the celebration happening around them. The mood is ebullient.

In the other world, she blinks awake before the sun rises. She meanders through the Kenyan savanna in search of subjects that are much less obliged to have their portraits taken. A herd of elephants wanders past, a lion relaxes in the shade and a giraffe enjoys a late afternoon snack. Quietly moving among them, Merry inches closer with her camera, clicking as she captures stunning black-and-white images of our planet’s vanishing species.

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ANIMAL INSTINCTS: Merry has a special place in her heart for rhinoceros, as reading about the near-extinction of the male northern white rhinoceros inspired her to create Render Loyalty.

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“It’s always been animals first,” Merry says. “As a kid, I wrote plays about endangered species and saving the rainforest. It’s always been my passion before art.”

Growing up, Merry lived in Iwakuni, Japan, while her father was stationed in the military. There, she rode horses, and when her family returned to the United States, she also cared for dogs, cats, ducks and “pretty much anything my parents would let me keep,” the 33-year-old says.

Her other passion—photography—formed in high school. While in a photography class, Merry entered and won a Vocational Industrial Clubs of America state competition and finished as runner-up in the national competition. With the winner’s college plans already set, Merry was presented a full scholarship to the Hallmark Institute of Photography in western Massachusetts. Upon graduating, she worked in fashion photography before starting her own destination wedding photography company.

After nearly 10 years in the wedding business, though, she still hadn’t quite figured out how to merge her two passions. Then, in 2015 she stumbled upon an article about the last male northern white rhinoceros. Suddenly, it all clicked. In that moment, Render Loyalty was born.

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A TEAM EFFORT: Render Loyalty relies on much help both home and abroad, including from KT?Merry’s husband, Chad, middle, who is her partner in the nonprofit.

As a partnership with her husband, Chad, her new project would “combine photography and conservation, and marry them to support organizations that are doing the work on the ground,” Merry says. “I really wanted to do something that goes a step further, where the art directly supports the mission.”

Twice a year, the Aventura-based couple would partner with a conservation organization, photograph animals on its property, learn about its efforts in the community, and then sell Merry’s work to raise money for the organization.

With the concept established, Merry researched and vetted conservation groups before partnering with the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, both located in Kenya. In November, Merry and her husband visited each group, spending time with orphaned elephants at David Sheldrick and on safari in search of elephants, lions, giraffes, leopards, cheetahs, zebras and buffaloes at Lewa.

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“Hopefully, Render Loyalty can become a symbol for conservation.” —KT Merry

“For me, photographing animals is kind of like a spiritual experience,” Merry says. “I’ve always felt really calm with them. It’s probably why I seek them out so much.”

Upon returning home, Merry combed through the images and curated gallery shows in New York and Los Angeles. One hundred percent of retail sales from each show’s purchases and 20 percent from online sales went directly to Render Loyalty’s partners.

“Our whole point is just to take two seconds and try to make the world a better place,” she says. “If you are going to buy art for your wall and this is something that speaks to you, why not have art that has some meaning and does some good?”

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In her eyes, Render Loyalty is only getting started. It has earned $15,000 for conservation groups in only its first year. Going forward, she plans to partner with two new organizations each year. In addition, she wants Render Loyalty to become a hub for sharing stories and conservation information to inspire others to get involved.

“We want to take the guesswork out of who you support,” she says. “Hopefully, Render Loyalty can become a symbol for conservation.”

Originally appeared in the Spring 2017 Issue.

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By Jessica Organ
Portrait by Gary James

The B-Ginuine
You never know who you’re going to run into on Las Olas Boulevard, a fact that inspired B Square Burgers & Booze’s new drink, the B-Ginuine. Bar manager Wes Hamm blends Tanqueray gin with tropical fruits and house-made pomegranate simple syrup to reflect South Florida’s eclectic identity. The bright cocktail lends itself to the open concept of B Square Burgers, which launched in August 2016. “The name of the drink suits us perfectly,” Hamm says. “We’re genuine people.”

Ingredients:

2 1/2 ounces Tanqueray gin
1/2 ounce pomegranate simple syrup
1 ounce orange house-made reduction
1 ounce lime juice
Muddled cucumber
Muddled strawberries

B Square Burgers & Booze, 1021 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale

Originally appeared in the Spring 2017 Issue.

They are innovators who are bucking their industry’s traditions. These four leaders—two musicians, a poet and a farmer—are thinking outside the box to showcase their most valuable asset: raw talent.

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WIDE RANGES: Seeing his chance to collaborate with some of South Florida’s finest independent restaurants, Knaus Berry Farm’s Thomas Blocher has expanded the reach of the Homestead family business.

BETTING THE FARM
By Charlie Crespo
Photography by Scott McIntyre

You’ve heard about the long lines. Perhaps you’ve even stood in one, watching it drift into the gravel parking lot, only to slowly snake around the building like a lazy river full of neon pink inner tubes. During the holidays and on Saturdays, you may have even waited for three or four hours.

“The original owners saw lines, but they didn’t see lines like this,” Thomas Blocher says.

Along with his wife, Susan, and in-laws Herb and Rachel Grafe, Blocher co-owns Knaus Berry Farm, a Homestead institution famous for its beloved cinnamon rolls. And if you think the wait is excessive, then you’ve never had a Knaus Berry Farm cinnamon roll. Pillowy and ethereal with hints of honey and almond, at first bite this cinnamon roll makes you forget about every second spent waiting under the South Florida sun.

Of course, the bakery—which also turns out homemade breads, cookies and pies—is just one aspect of the business. Russell Knaus founded the farm in 1954, just a few houses east of its current location. Two years later his brother, Ray (Susan and Rachel’s father), joined the business. Today the farm produces and sells “U-pick” strawberries and tomatoes, as well as mint, basil, parsley, cilantro, spinach, cucumbers, red lettuce, bib lettuce, gourmet lettuce, yellow squash, beets, zucchini squash, green onions, radishes and arugula. While open from November through mid-April each year, the farm’s peak produce season is January and February.

“The farm started, and it wasn’t like there was this major business plan,” Blocher says. “It started with strawberries and just kind of grew. We feel we are more caretakers than innovators.”

If you asked its many loyal customers, they’d probably agree with that sentiment. In fact, locals would be hard-pressed to name much that’s changed about Knaus Berry Farm at all, other than a new sign that was put up after a hurricane destroyed the previous one.

Behind the scenes and on social media, however, something is happening. Quietly and with little fanfare, 61-year-old Blocher and his team have been pushing the boundaries of the farm’s traditions bit by bit—and helping local, young restaurateurs in the process.

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FARM FRESH: Blocher’s farm has helped produce flavors for Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, The Salty Donut and Wynwood Brewing Company, among others.

A few years ago, a local forager came to Homestead, purchased produce and delivered it to several Miami restaurants. This put the ownership in contact with several local chefs and restaurant owners, including James Beard Award winner Michael Schwartz of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Harry’s Pizzeria and Cypress Tavern. Daniel Ramirez, chef de cuisine of arry’s Pizzeria, valued the produce so much that he collaborated with Blocher to highlight the farm’s vegetables—and cinnamon rolls—on the pizzeria’s menu for an entire weekend.

Slowly but surely, Knaus Berry Farm’s produce and baked goods started to appear on other menus across the city. HipPOPs, a local food truck, created a cinnamon gelato after getting the idea from food blog Burger Beast, and Wynwood Brewing Company developed “Dunkerbuns,” an American blonde ale infused with cinnamon rolls.

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ON A ROLL: One of the most popular items at Knaus Berry Farm is its cinnamon roll.

More recently, Blocher noticed newer restaurants on social media with whom Knaus Berry Farm had no prior relationship, like Miami Smokers, and decided to start reaching out.

“I was seeing Miami Smokers pop up a lot on Instagram, and I had seen an article on bacon cinnamon rolls,” he says. “One day I just messaged them and said, ‘I think your bacon would be good on our rolls.’”

The collaboration with Miami Smokers worked so well that Blocher reached out to The Salty Donut via Instagram. The owners and Executive Pastry Chef Max Santiago quickly jumped on board and created the sticky-bun doughnut. Knaus Berry Farm has also collaborated with Suzy Batlle of Azucar Ice Cream Co. to create a couple of flavors and Chef Phil Bryant of The Local Craft Food & Drink to host a “Sunday Supper” at Estancia Culinaria.

“We didn’t know the monster we had created,” says Andy Rodriguez, co-founder of The Salty Donut. “The first day, there were 500 people in line. The reception has been incredible. It’s been an honor to work with Knaus Berry Farm.”

For most companies, collaborations like these would be about increasing brand awareness or generating quality PR. However, it’s more simple than that for Knaus Berry Farm.

“It’s not important to me whether people know we are behind the collaborations,” Blocher says. “I’m doing it because it’s fun, and if I can use our brand to help somebody who is trying to build their business, then I am more than willing to do that.”

If South Florida is lucky, Blocher will continue to come across young restaurateurs on the rise. But for now the region is going to have to take a wait-and-see approach.

“I like playing with my food,” Blocher says. “And I like playing with other people’s food. If the opportunity comes up for another collaboration, by all means, I’m willing to listen.”

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BRING IN ’DA NOISE: Friends and fellow musicians Mani Hoffman, left, and Drew Tucker often vibe off each other, producing innovative sounds the jazz world has yet to hear.
BRING IN ’DA NOISE: Friends and fellow musicians Mani Hoffman, left, and Drew Tucker often vibe off each other, producing innovative sounds the jazz world has yet to hear.

JAM SESSIONS
By Bob Weinberg
Photography by Eduardo Schneider

To legions of jazz lovers, the vibraphone is a cherished instrument, one that launched legends Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson, as well as successive generations of mallet-wielding practitioners. Outside of the jazz world, mention of the instrument frequently draws blank stares, or worse, confusion with its less-sophisticated cousin, the xylophone. So, vibes player and educator Drew Tucker started a campaign to elucidate audiences, even incorporating his message into his web address: Itsnotaxylophone.com.Contemporary-Thinkers-Venice-Magazine-Fort-Lauderdale-Bob-Weinberg-Eduardo-Schneider-Jam-Sessions-Jazz-Mani-Hoffman-Drew-Tucker-vibraphone

“I don’t take my efforts in that too seriously,” Tucker says, speaking from his West Palm Beach home. “I have nothing against the xylophone; it’s just not what I’m playing.”

With humor, charisma and jaw-dropping technique, Tucker, 36, continues to develop audiences in South Florida and beyond. The Plantation native, who also lived in Boca Raton and Delray Beach, played shows in New Orleans and Nashville in December and January. He has also lined up a release concert—April 8 at the Bowery Palm Beach—for an upcoming album with his band, The New Standard. The group plays jazzy versions of tunes by Michael Jackson, Prince, Tears for Fears and The Police, representing perhaps a new generation of jazz standards.

“It’s the stuff I grew up with,” Tucker says. “Culturally, I didn’t grow up with Sinatra, or Rodgers and Hart or Cole Porter. Those are other people’s standards.”

As with his efforts to educate audiences about the vibraphone, the concept behind The New Standard stems from a desire to reach as many people as possible.

“There are two aspects of Drew,” says Tucker’s friend and collaborator Mani Hoffman, a French-born, South Florida-based soul singer and producer. “There’s the very skilled jazz musician who can really do it all in a jam session. But there’s also this pop aspect of his personality that really brings something out in the people he speaks to. Sometimes you see jazz musicians, and they’re very tormented and not good at speaking in public… But not this guy.”

Hoffman, who has written music for the “Transporter” movie franchise and scored top 10 hits in Europe, lent his expertise to Tucker’s The New Standards recording. “Mani just has an ear for pop music,” Tucker says. “I don’t let anything get out of mixing without running it through him. He knows what’s going to play on the radio. He knows what’s going to sound good.”

In 2015 the pair displayed their simpatico sensibilities for an episode of online music show “BalconyTV Miami.” Assembled on a seaside deck outside Benny’s on the Beach in Lake Worth, their Freedom in the Groove band performed “Change My World,” a sunny soul-jazz gem shot through with Tucker’s sparkling vibes. While it sounds as if they had been performing the tune for years, Tucker and Hoffman had written it in a couple of hours the day before the taping.

“I think it’s part of who he is and who I am and why we connected,” Hoffman says. “We love to create. We love the moment of creation because this is when you feel the freest.”

Tucker’s vibes “awakening” came when a teacher introduced him to Gary Burton and Chick Corea’s classic 1972 recording “Crystal Silence.” As a student at Olympic Heights High School in Boca Raton in the 1990s and a member of the school’s jazz band, Tucker took percussion lessons with recording artist Jed Davis.

“He was a really big jazz head,” Tucker says. “He would let me hear all this stuff, including ‘Crystal Silence,’ and I fell in love with it. The moment I heard that sound of the piano and vibraphone together, I was hooked.”

Thus inspired, a 15-year-old Tucker teamed up with an accomplished classmate, pianist and vocalist Nicholas Cole. The duo played jazz standards and Sinatra tunes wherever they could get a foot in the door, usually neighborhood coffee shops and restaurants. Tucker’s dad drove him to gigs and jam sessions. He sat in with organist Dr. Lonnie Smith at O’Hara’s Jazz Cafe in Fort Lauderdale and befriended vocalist Julie Davis and guitarist Kelly Dow, a duo who later played at his wedding. He also counts the Grammy Award-winning Burton, who lives in Wilton Manors, as a friend and mentor.

“It’s surreal to me that I can call Gary and go have coffee with him,” Tucker says.

In fact, Tucker briefly attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, where Burton enjoyed a long tenure. Unfortunately, tuition proved prohibitive. Tucker returned to South Florida before departing for Europe, where he played classical music on the marimba throughout Belgium, France and Germany. Finally, after four years, he returned to the U.S. and followed another calling. For the past 12 years, Tucker has taught percussion at Boca Raton High School.

“We have a great time,” he says. “I’ve got 35 percussion kids all playing marimba and vibraphone and doing some pretty cool stuff.” He also has two daughters—a 12-year-old and a 3-year-old who loves to come to class with her dad.

Tucker also served as education director for the Arts Garage, a Delray Beach-based nonprofit performance space, gallery and arts center he helped found in 2011.

While jazz remains one of his passions, he doesn’t see himself as a new face of the music here in South Florida.

“Obviously we have jazz influence,” Tucker says of The New Standard band. “But at the end of the day, we’re playing pop music. We’re playing hip-hop, we’re playing funk, as references to tunes that are recognizable to people. ‘Oh, that’s THAT tune! How cool is that?’”

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All-time favorite soul singers: Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and Sam Cooke
How you know he loves Sam Cooke: A 2014 YouTube video exists of Hoffman singing “A Change is Gonna Come” while holding his baby daughter
Favorite current soul singer: Gregory Porter Grew up in: Paris, to a family of Jewish-Algerian refugees
Married to: Sarah Miller Benichou, director of Bailey Contemporary Arts in Pompano Beach Has hits with: The Supermen Lovers (2001’s “Starlight”) and Jealousy (2005’s “Lucy”)
Biggest hit: 2012’s “Bang Bang,” a Top 10 hit in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Japan On relocating to New Orleans this summer: “It should be interesting, because it’s my French culture mixed with the American culture I love so much.”

Drew Tucker:
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Favorite all-time vibraphonists: Milt Jackson and Gary Burton
Favorite current vibraphonist: Stefon Harris
First instrument: Piano, at age 4
Next instrument: Drums, in middle school Reason he switched to vibes: “I like playing notes. I like the sound [of vibes]. It’s this rare thing. You get the percussive aspect of it mixed with these really rich harmonies and melodies.”
First person he sat in with: Organist and NEA Jazz Master Dr. Lonnie Smith, at O’Hara’s in Fort Lauderdale. “It was a Sunday brunch, and I asked him if I could sit in. He said, ‘What do you play?’ And I was like, ‘Vibraphone.’ And he goes skeptically, ‘Yeah, all right, kid, if you have a vibraphone with you.’ And I said, ‘OK,’ and I just went out to the car and got it.”

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PERFUNCTORY PROSE: Contemporary poet Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello looks to prove how poetry can have a mainstream audience.

A POET AMONG US
By Elyssa Goodman
Photography by Scott McIntyre

By day, Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello is the program coordinator for the Miami Book Fair. That’s not to be confused with her other day job as an award-winning poet penning her second book.

Cancio-Bello’s first book, Hour of the Ox, is a loose narrative revolving around a Korean family and their experiences with immigration, cultural expectation and family responsibility alongside their feelings of wanderlust, distance and grief. When it debuted in 2016, Cancio-Bello juggled her work as program coordinator of the legendary South Florida literature event with her other role as a highlighted author reading her book at the fair.

“We’re a very small and tight-knit team,” Cancio-Bello says. “Half my team stopped what they were doing to show support by coming to my reading.”

Cancio-Bello, 27, also saw many teachers she had worked with in her role as program coordinator suddenly picking up her book, hoping to run into her at the fair. “They were surprised I had time to write,” she says of her dual role. “I think there’s an assumption that you’re only allowed to be one thing; that you’re only allowed to have one career. I think people forget every person is extraordinary.”

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Extraordinary, indeed. Cancio-Bello’s accolades as a young poet include the 2015 Donald Hall Prize for Poetry awarded by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, which resulted in the publication of Hour of the Ox by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Esteemed poet and Bates College professor Crystal Ann Williams, who served as the Hall prize judge, hailed the book as “a timeless collection written by a poet of exceptional talent and grace, a voice as tough as it is tender.”

Cancio-Bello has also been honored by a Kundiman Asian American Poetry Fellowship and a John S. and James L. Knight Fellowship, along with two prizes from the Academy of American Poets. In addition to these achievements, she is an adjunct lecturer at Florida International University, where she has taught introductory and senior-level undergraduate courses.

When people learn about her other life as a poet, oftentimes they’ll tell her they write poems as well and will recite them to her. “It shows how very alive literature is and how very alive language is,” she says. “You don’t have to sell your art for thousands of dollars to be an artist. If it makes you happy, do it.”

Cancio-Bello has perpetually made herself a student of poetry even after getting her MFA, hoping all the intricacies of the craft find usage beyond “weddings and funerals and Christmastime,” she says. One of her goals is to help change the perception of the art form. “Poetry’s kind of the underdog,” she says. “When people say they don’t like poetry, I say, ‘Try me! Let’s figure out what kind of poetry you might like.’ I think poetry is much more deeply embedded in people’s consciousness than they think.” Contemporary-Thinkers-Venice-Magazine-Elyssa-Goodman-Fort-Lauderdale-Miami-poet-Marci-Calabretta-Scott McIntyre

“From the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” 

We were told our bones were too heavy to lift
even when latticed together with feathers.

You stopped eating and learned to scowl
while I folded birds into paper and flung them
across yards already littered with light.

You read how hummingbirds tuck themselves
into the plumage of northern geese,
so I held you against my breast
as we fell from the darkest pines.

Each night you dreamed of crooked trees,
thin seams tearing apart in the sky.

You found a word in the dictionary
of obscure sorrows upon which to hang
our failures—

                                  mahpiohanzia:
the disappointment of being unable
to catch wind currents in your arms.

Together we chanted the syllables, as if
each vowel could bear the weight of the living.

Originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue.

 

Who rules the world? Girls. Just ask South Florida’s art community.

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OFF THE WALL: As part of the Downtown Hollywood Mural Project, the Hollywood Community Redevelopment Agency worked with 22 artists to create murals around downtown. Eleven of those artists are women, including Tati Suarez, whose mural is found off Harrison Street.

By Tom Austin
Photography by Jill Weisberg

The seminal Guerrilla Girls activist group once made the sad point that there are often more paintings of naked women hanging on the walls of any given museum than female artists with work displayed in museums. My, how things have changed.

In Fort Lauderdale, the fight for female artists begins and ends with the nationally recognized Girls’ Club,  a private collection and foundation founded in 2006 by the husband-and-wife team of David Horvitz and Francie Bishop Good. About 80 percent of the Girls’ Club collection, which also has a strong multicultural focus, consists of work by female artists.

Bishop Good, a Fort Lauderdale transplant who hails from Allentown, Pennsylvania, will exhibit her own work, “Comus,” at the David Castillo Gallery in Miami Beach and at the Allentown Art Museum. The exhibition, which shares a name with the ancient Greek god of mirth and Bishop Good’s high school yearbook, features portraits from that school’s yearbook. Using digital layering with a mix of painting, photography, collage and drawing, Bishop Good transformed the traditional yearbook photos into something that she says is very personal yet universal.

“Coming from Allentown, I’m used to living in places that are off the beaten track,” Bishop Good says. “I’m part of the Miami art scene, too, but Fort Lauderdale is more bohemian, a place where institutions and artists can take more chances.”

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TRAVELING SISTERHOOD: Monica Lopez De Victoria, left, and her sister, Tasha, are professionally known as the TM Sisters. A year ago, they completed a sunset-inspired mural on a garage in downtown Hollywood.

Just after Art Basel Miami Beach 2016, the Girls’ Club was integrally involved in Now Be Here #3, a group photo of more than 300 female-identifying artists in South Florida taken in December at Pérez Art Museum Miami. Organized by Los Angeles artist Kim Schoenstadt—who has mounted similar efforts in L.A. and New York—and guided by local artist and curator Jane Hart, Now Be Here #3 was a kind of “I am woman, hear me roar” convocation for female artists.

Now Be Here was an amazing experience, and we were so thrilled to be part of it,” says Girls’ Club gallery director Sarah Michelle Rupert. “The energy in the room that day was palpable. It’s important for female artists to have a network of support.”

In June, Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA) in Pompano Beach will exhibit “Gritty in Pink,” a continuation of the Girls’ Club’s “Pink Noise: Flexing the Frequency,” an exhibition that ended in February. “Pink Noise” examined how the color pink is loaded with multiple meanings in contemporary culture. Co-curated by Lisa Rockford and Megan Castellon, BaCA’s “Gritty in Pink” is a juried group show highlighting female artists.

Broward County is a “surprisingly nurturing environment for emerging artists,” says Sarah M. Benichou, director of BaCA. “The art that has been brought to me with a focus on social critique has been presented almost exclusively by women.”

Graffiti and street murals are often considered a boys’ club of sorts, but the Downtown Hollywood Mural Project—a Hollywood Community Redevelopment Agency initiative—features 11 female muralists whose work makes up half of the 22 murals in the project. The TM Sisters painted a mural of a sunset, while Tati Suarez created a mural with her trademark images of dreamy, ethereal female figures. Some of the other female muralists involved include Molly Rose Freeman, Diana Contreras and Nicole Salcedo.

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THE POWER OF PINK: Miami-based artist Diana Contreras contributed to the Downtown Hollywood Mural Project with a piece off Hollywood Boulevard.

To celebrate the Hollywood street murals, the Art and Culture Center/Hollywood is hosting “Outside In: The Downtown Hollywood Mural Artists Exhibition.” On view from April 22 to June 4 and featuring original work by the artists from the Downtown Hollywood Mural Project, “Outside In” is co-curated by Laura Marsh of the Art and Culture Center/Hollywood and Jill Weisberg, curator and project manager for the city’s mural project. (Weisberg’s own street mural, which uses pink sequins to spell the words “She Comes First,” is on view at FATVillage.)

Apart from donating millions of dollars in challenge grants to the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, Horvitz and Bishop Good have made a promised gift of some 100 paintings from their collection to the NSU Art Museum. Featuring such artists as Mickalene Thomas and Laurie Simmons, the donation adds to the museum’s already sizable collection of work by female artists.

Earlier this year, the NSU Art Museum wrapped up the exhibition “Belief + Doubt: Selections from the Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz Collection.” The 70 pieces in the show were drawn from the promised gift of 100 paintings to the NSU Art Museum and included such artists as Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger.

For Bonnie Clearwater, director and chief curator of the NSU Art Museum, the gift from Bishop Good and Horvitz is an important educational tool, particularly in the current political climate. “These are artists who help us question propaganda and belief systems, sharpen critical thinking and make us all more sociologically aware,” she says. “A sixth-grader can come here on a field trip and enter an artist’s dialogue about where evil comes from.”

The title of the “Belief + Doubt” show is drawn from a Kruger piece, Untitled (Belief + Doubt = Sanity), which was part of a politically charged 2012 installation at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. In the age of assorted assaults on women’s rights, Kruger’s thoughts on the process of belief ring all too true: “Belief is tricky because left to its own devices, it can court a kind of surety—an unquestioning allegiance that fears doubt and destroys difference.”

Originally appeared in the Spring 2017 Issue.

For Zak Stern of Zak the Baker fame, baking is more than just a business. It’s about serving Jewish soul food.

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A BAKER'S DOZEN: At 31 years old, Zak Stern has created a small baking empire based off the Ashkenazi foods he grew up eating.

By Jan Norris
Photography by Felipe Cuevas

“I’m just another bearded dude baking bread, ” Zak Stern says.

We beg to differ. Rock-star success has hit Stern, who owns one of South Florida’s most popular bakeries along with a newly opened kosher deli, though you wouldn’t know it from Stern’s humble nature. Wynwood’s Zak the Baker has garnered national attention and an almost cult-like following. Long before closing on any given day, it sells out of breads, including 200 to 300 loaves of rich egg challah baked for weekly Shabbat.

At his new 405 Deli, a glatt kosher eatery a block away, lines wrap around the block before the doors open each day. The crowds are after his fresh breads, corned beef made in-house, soups and salads, plate-sized cookies and the chocolate babka.

The owner, a lanky, smiling man with a long, black beard, wears jeans and work boots, a baker’s apron powdery with flour, and a woven baker’s hat as he works behind the counter. During our interview, he breaks into a few bars of “Angeline the Baker,” an old bluegrass tune he played on streets in Europe while learning his baker’s craft. It stuck with him and almost became the name of the bakery, but in the end, Zak the Baker “sounded good,” he says.

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Some of the bakery’s most popular items include the cinnamon rolls, and guava and cheese pastries.

Stern’s rise to popularity seems almost overnight, but his roundabout journey to get there is the stuff of movies: an idealist wanders the world, loses a lover and gains a wife—all while learning an ancient art that would bring him capital success.

Born in Miami, Stern began as a physiology major at Florida State University in 2003. But four years later, after switching to Mercer University for pharmacy school, he realized the sciences weren’t for him.

He left academia and joined an international organic farm apprenticeship program, taking jobs on farms in a number of countries that offer lessons with master craftsmen in exchange for work. Admittedly, he didn’t have a master plan when he left, only to bake bread and grow food. As Stern puts it, “I was young. I wanted to live.”

Eventually, baking breads and making cheeses became his focus. He returned to South Florida after spending five years abroad and getting over a broken heart. He brought with him an Israeli girlfriend whom he met while farming on a commune (she would later become his wife). In his Little Haiti backyard, he kept several Alpine goats to make cheese and used his garage as a bakery. The art of baking proved tedious and demanding, and Stern eventually sold the goats and focused solely on breads.

Unable to afford employees, Stern became a one-man bakery operating from his garage. He’d get up early, make the doughs and proof them, bake them, wrap them, deliver the loaves to clients—“a 20-hour process,” he says. Then he would clean late at night to prepare for the next day. “Rinse and repeat,” he says.

His roommates had issues with flour everywhere, however, so he found a commissary space for baking within a year. Soon, he had a small staff—including apprentices learning from him—and the dream of his own bakery percolating.

The original Zak the Baker location, which opened in 2014 where the deli now stands, wasn’t open to the public at first, but word-of-mouth made his product a food lover’s mystical grail. He would sell every loaf he baked at a green market within an hour of arriving, which left latecomers empty-handed.

It’s the flavor, they say. Stern, however, says the tangy sourdough starter is the secret. Wild yeast from the air ferments the leaven, the wet mixture that ultimately becomes the dough. A piece of each starter is saved, and the process repeats itself in each loaf that’s baked on stones—another nod to centuries-old traditions.

“I got the recipe for the mother starter from when I was on a goat cheese farm in Israel,” he says. “It’s gone from a Gerber jar with me around the world to here; it’s cool to know it now pays 70 employees from one piece of dough.”

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BAKED GOODS: Lines form in the early hours of the day for Zak the Baker’s kosher sourdough bread.

The small bakery he first opened in Wynwood gained traction quickly as businesses such as Panther Coffee and craft brewers helped foster the neighborhood’s indie spirit that the self-described socialist was seeking.

“I wanted the bakery to be in a place with a counterculture of craftsmanship,” Stern says. “Wynwood had that three years ago. It was an industrial area, and there was a craftsmanship crusade taking place.”

Success also brought new challenges. “I had to learn to run a business. I thought, ‘How do we grow the business the right way?’ I used to be the one saying, ‘Damn the Man!’ Now, it’s ‘Oh, shit! I’m the Man!’”

Along with his teachers, he gives complete credit to his parents, who now help run the 405 Deli. His mom, Leslie, works the cash register while his dad, Harvey, works with meats.

Stern has put a decidedly Florida spin on Ashkenazi foods he grew up with (his great-grandparents immigrated from Latvia, Poland and Russia), bucking a trend toward Sephardic foods of lamb, yogurt and chickpeas. “This is my people’s soul food,” he says.

The kosher menu attracts all diners, from bearded hipsters to strict Orthodox Jews. Locals find themselves bumping into tourists who’ve read about Zak the Baker in The New York Times, showing up to try a babka or baguette before they’re gone for the day.

A broader audience is finding his bread through a partnership with Whole Foods Market that began two years ago. Stern’s kosher sourdough is now sold in the tri-county area through the chain, and as shoppers discover it, some make the trek to Miami for more.

This relationship with the grocer is ideal, Stern says. “I think it’s been a great example of Whole Foods giving support to local partners,” he says. “They care about you. They’ve made a commitment to one-day-fresh breads. It’s a big deal. We’re the little guys; they’re big Whole Foods.”

Robert Whittaker, the regional bakery coordinator for Whole Foods Market, is keen on the relationship as well. The bread complements what Whole Foods is able to offer from its own large bakery commissary, he says.

“Zak’s breads are kosher, and our bakehouse is not, so we are unable to duplicate these breads,” Whittaker says. “Local suppliers are the incubator for artisan products.”

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Zak the Baker now distributes at local Whole Foods Markets.

Stern’s team delivers 50 to 60 fresh loaves to 13 store locations daily from the 7,000-square-foot bakery. The best-selling chocolate babka is sold here as well. It also goes to The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale; the Loews Miami Beach Hotel; the Mandarin Oriental Miami and a few other local restaurants.

If there’s a downside to all of this, it’s Stern’s passion for his craft that’s a curse as well as a blessing. “You become a maniac; the love for the job can turn into a mania for the job when you’re so passionate about it,” Stern says. “You can get tunnel vision. It’s important to me to have space for eating, for my family, for balance—and for taking care of myself.”

That includes his health. He suffered a stroke last year but quickly bounced back, to his fans’ relief. They flooded social media with well wishes after he posted photos of his hospital meal on Instagram.

Expansion plans are something he’d consider in the future, but at the moment, he’s more interested in taking care of his people. “We’re a company now, and I want to make sure that if we’re creating jobs, they’re jobs worth creating,” he says.

He’s still a dreamer and an idealist, though, and he doesn’t want that to get lost amid what looks like an overnight success to those who have just discovered him. At this, he laughs. “It may be overnight for them, but it ain’t overnight for us.”

Originally appeared in the Spring 2017 Issue.

How Polynesia’s Tiki culture found a home in Fort Lauderdale.

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BACK TO THE FUTURE: The Mai-Kai restaurant, with its quintessential Polynesian-inspired décor, recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.

By Tom Austin

Time and the workings of nostalgia are a slippery notion, and at certain landmark moments—such as the recent 60th anniversary celebration for the Mai-Kai Restaurant—decades somehow slip away and everything suddenly becomes new again. That happened on December 28, which the Broward County Board of County Commissioners proclaimed as “Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show Day.” For one fantastic evening, the restaurant transported guests back 60 years to when brothers Bob and Jack Thornton launched the restaurant, igniting Fort Lauderdale’s never-ending Tiki obsession and attracting a crowd that included Johnny Carson, Joe DiMaggio and Johnny Weissmuller.

Apart from the Mai-Kai—which USA Today considers one of the top 10 Tiki bars in the United States—Tiki-mania lives on in Fort Lauderdale at the Kreepy Tiki Bar and Lounge (billed by Conde Nast Traveler as “one of the 22 best Tiki bars in the United States”) and the underwater mermaid swim show at the Wreck Bar at the former Yankee Clipper hotel, now the B Ocean Resort. Tiki culture embraces all that is exotic and South Seas-related—including mermaids, considered the ultimate Tiki sirens.

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NEW AGE: Modern takes on the Polynesian-inspired venues come in the form of the Kreepy Tiki Bar and Lounge, which is known for its hula girl?neon sign.

Years ago, when America was a big, brassy and confident nation, the Mai-Kai and other Fort Lauderdale Tiki venues—such as the now-gone The Polynesian Room and The Kon-Tiki—were akin to stepping into an episode of “Mad Men.” Now Tiki bars have an irony-infused layer of pure cool, and the Tiki cult—fueled by surfers, former punk rockers, the neo-burlesque rage, lounge music devotees, the craft cocktail movement, Disney nerds and the generally whimsical—is bigger than ever.

The Wreck Bar, Kreepy Tiki, the Mai-Kai and the international Tiki cult come together during the annual Hukilau festival, a four-day Tiki culture celebration held in June at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six, the ideal Hukilau backdrop. Pier Sixty-Six’s tower, opened by Phillips Petroleum Co. (now called Phillips 66) in 1966, is a true Richard Humble gem. Originally a revolving lounge at the top of the hotel circulated every 66 minutes (the space has since been converted for special events), and there are 66 pointed Statue of Liberty-style spikes around the tower’s crown. This is perfect Space Age midcentury architecture, and as it happens, the American a-go-go sensibility of the Space Age intersects with 1960s Tiki culture.

Now in its 16th year, the Hukilau—part of an international Tiki festival circuit that encompasses San Diego’s Tiki Oasis—attracts groups of tatted-up, post-ironic Brooklyn hipsters who romp around Pier Sixty-Six and take in neo-burlesque entertainers named Lila Starlet and Kitten de Ville, and Tiki bands such as California’s The Tikiyaki Orchestra. Over the years, the Hukilau has featured such stars as Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island.” During one Hukilau, Wells even led the inevitable “Three-Hour Tour” boat cruise around Fort Lauderdale. Every Hukilau also features intelligent, profoundly scholarly symposiums on Tiki culture, with such panelists as author and bar owner Jeff “Beachbum” Berry of Latitude 29 in New Orleans.

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TIKI TIMES: The annual Hukilau event features live bands, such as the Intoxicators, playing nostalgic songs.

Naturally, the Tiki sensibility gathered force in the late 1940s, after American GIs returned from the war in the Pacific. It grew with Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki expedition, James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific,” Hawaiian statehood and exotic rum drinks such as the Zombie and the Missionary’s Downfall. Some of the great original Tiki bars, including the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, established in 1945 at the Fairmont San Francisco, are still going strong.

The Mai-Kai’s 60th anniversary celebrations also brought together the worlds of Tiki-culture kitsch and scholarship. On hand to celebrate was Gaspar Gonzalez, co-creator of a public television documentary on American Tiki culture and bars called “Plastic Paradise: A Swingin’ Trip Through America’s Polynesian Obsession.” Sven Kirsten, author of the seminal Tiki Pop: America Imagines its own Polynesian Paradise, also did a presentation on “Tahitian Cannibal Carvings: The Logo Tikis of the Mai-Kai,” examining the history of the Mai-Kai’s logo, a triumvirate of cannibalistic Tiki-shaped creatures. Tim “Swanky” Glazner, author of Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, screened a 1963 segment from “The Tonight Show,” which had Mai-Kai “mystery girl” Sally Sewell fly to New York to serve Carson a ritualistic “mystery drink.”

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Mai-Kai “mystery girl”?Sally Sewell appears on “The Tonight Show”?with Johnny Carson.

The Mai-Kai anniversary celebrations also featured the debut of a new Polynesian Islander Revue, a blur of sarongs, twirling Samoan fire knives (or lethal-looking torches) and authentic Polynesian dances. The shows are choreographed by Mireille Thornton, a Tahitian who married the Mai-Kai’s late co-owner Bob Thornton in 1971. For Dave Levy, Mireille Thornton’s Tahitian-born son and general manager of the restaurant, the resurgence of interest in Tiki culture has been a positive movement that is respectful of Polynesian culture. “Some of these Tiki scholars have really done their homework,” he says. “When they talk about the histories of the artists who’ve done our Tikis, they mention things I don’t even know.”

Tiki culture has always been an antidote to white bread, post-World War II American culture and open to all manner of ironies and curiosities on the international front. Tiki bands from Italy and Japan have played the Hukilau, along with the Swedish band Ixtahuele, who perform in black-tie attire and are a dazzling blend of respect and irony. For Pia Dahlquist, the Mai-Kai’s Swedish-born director of sales and marketing, Tiki is invincible. “To Swedes,” Dahlquist says, “simply being in Fort Lauderdale is exotic, even without the Mai-Kai. And of course we’ve always loved Polynesia. After all, Pippi Longstocking’s father was a South Seas ship captain.”

The upcoming Hukilau, which takes place June 7-11 at the Pier Sixty-Six, will once again feature Tiki band Jason Lee and the R.I.P Tides, and attendees will descend on the Mai-Kai, the mother-lode of Tiki culture. For Glazner, it all makes perfect sense. “Fort Lauderdale is subtropical, and like most of Florida, built on fantasy,” he says. “Tiki restaurants are over-the-top Hollywood film sets with great cocktails from the past. How can you beat that combination?”

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Mai-Kai girls.

Originally appeared in the Spring 2017 Issue.

Point Taken: Celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian and master mixologist Brian Van Flandern discuss the finer details about their new concepts, Point Royal and Counter Point.

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Brian Van Flanders with Geoffrey Zakarian

By Nila Do Simon
Photography by Patrick Chin

What about the Hollywood Beach’s Diplomat Beach Resort attracted you to open two dining concepts there?
Zakarian: It is a classic grand dame ready for its new time in the sun. It’s such a stunner of a property, and I am honored to be part of the renovation. It is also nice to be out of South Beach. It’s wonderfully outside of the pack.

What inspired the cocktail/beverage menu at Point Royal?
Zakarian: We are a coastal American restaurant with a giant raw bar. We also have a phenomenal burger and steak. It’s a fun, light-hearted restaurant that is perfectly suited to being at a seaside resort. The beverage program matches this approach. We have a phenomenal wine list, but I expect the bucket of beers with our custom bottle opener to be a big hit as well.
Van Flandern: The cocktail program was created to showcase 1950s- and 1960s-style Tiki-, Polynesian- and Caribbean-themed cocktails with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and various styles of quality rum.

How would you define your role as master mixologist of Point Royal?
Van Flandern: I am charged with presenting a story or historical context for each recipe. I regard it as my responsibility to present the chef with as many options as possible so that he can choose from—and tweak—those options to determine which ones work best for the venue.

What cocktails are you excited to present to the Point Royal diner?
Van Flandern: While there are many wonderful esoteric recipes, I am excited by our reinvention of the frozen cocktail. Using quality spirits and fresh ingredients, we have created the freshest, best-tasting pina colada available in South Florida.
Zakarian: I guarantee these will be the best blended drinks you have ever had. Our fresh, house-made pina colada is incredible! Van Flandern: While the craft cocktail movement has been well established for years, it has only recently taken hold in Broward County, and the cocktail offerings at Point Royal are quite unlike anything locals are used to drinking.

What’s your perfect cocktail experience?
Van Flandern: Ideally, our guest starts the evening with a light citrus-based cocktail, such as our fresh mai tai or fog cutter, followed by appetizers and either a glass of Champagne or an appropriate wine selection from our curated wine list. Then finish the meal with a real-chocolate chocolate martini… nothing too sweet.

How does Counter Point, your quick-serve coffee and juice bar, complement Point Royal?
Zakarian: It acts as a bustling hub in the lobby that people can use all day, every day. Do you know how many espressos I drink every day? I plan to be a customer at that counter at least once an hour!

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Tiki-inspired drinks at Point Royal

Originally appeared in the Spring 2017 Issue. 

Elena Corsano brings her eco-conscious sandal business to South Florida.

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Elena Corsano brings her eco-conscious sandal business to South Florida.

By Christie Galeano

Businesses are flocking to South Florida, and it’s not only because of the weather. The area’s strong infrastructure and skilled workforce have lured companies from around the globe to our backyard. Florida is home to more than 15 Fortune 500 corporate headquarters and nearly 3,000 company headquarters. Miami also has 125 companies on the 2016 Inc. 5000 list, which ranks the country’s fastest-growing private companies.

SOAK, a women’s shoe company, is among those drawn to the area. Founded in 2016, SOAK manufactures its slide sandals in Maine and, while the company is headquartered in New York, it recently moved its social media and marketing office to South Florida. Heading the move is Elena Corsano, co-founder of SOAK and former fashion editor of Elle and Town & Country.

With help from business advisers Elaine Sugimura, former president and CEO of Havaianas, and Kevin Frain, former chief financial officer and vice president of operations for BarnesandNoble.com, Corsano and business partner Michelle Vale created a shoe that is recyclable, eco-friendly and stylish enough to wear from a casual meeting to the pool.

“We designed the slides to be chic and elegant for women who are always on the go,” says 43-year-old Corsano. “As women, our lives are complicated and stressful, so we created a versatile shoe that is stylish but also comfortable with the necessary arch support.”

After more than 20 years in the fashion industry, Corsano has seen it all. So in 2014, when Vale approached the magazine editor with a vision for a new shoe, Corsano was ready to create something unique: a bridge between the all-too-casual flip-flop and the always-uncomfortable heel.

The company aims to expand into a lifestyle brand à la Tory Burch in the future. For now, the slides are sold at luxury hotels, including Canyon Ranch and the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, as well as several South Florida stores.

South Florida offers the infrastructure, diverse labor market, culture and proximity to the Latin American market the company needs. (Plus, a warm climate perfect for wearing SOAK slides year-round is a notable perk.)

To complement its slides, SOAK next plans to dive into swimwear. After all, there are more than 150 apparel manufacturing companies in Miami-Dade and Broward County combined—another stellar incentive for SOAK’s expansion into South Florida. The brand will eventually encompass everything that can get wet—from sandals and swimsuits to umbrellas and rain boots—and it will all be manufactured in the U.S.

“It’s a global world now. Women don’t have to go to New York or Paris to be fashionable,” Corsano says. “Fort Lauderdale is becoming a microcosm of fashion with its own take on it.”

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Elena Corsano, co-founder of SOAK

Originally appeared in the Spring 2017 Issue.

On the heels of a $2.5 million spa renovation, Turnberry Isle Miami unveils âme Spa & Wellness Collective, a vanguard in restorative health.

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REST & RELAXATION: Inspired by the French word for “soul,” âme Spa & Wellness Collective’s lineup of services includes expert-led retreats at Turnberry Isle Miami.

By Nila Do Simon

How do you improve on a world-renowned facility that’s already garnered global attention for its amenities? For Turnberry Isle Miami, http://challengemetennis.com/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/json-endpoints/class.wpcom-json-api-site-settings-v1-2-endpoint.php it’s easy: Revamp the 20, http://cheesejaguar.com/wp-includes/ms-blogs.php 000-square-foot spa, recruit the world’s leading experts in wellness and health, and overhaul the entire spa menu.

If the task of ameliorating what many consider to be perfection sounds daunting, don’t tell that to the executives at Turnberry Associates, the development and property management group that oversees Turnberry Isle Miami and Aventura Mall. The group has already transformed the latter into one of the nation’s top-grossing shopping centers—and it isn’t done making improvements. The mall, which sees nearly 28 million visitors a year, is undergoing a $200 million expansion, making way for a slew of luxury brands and a glass-enclosed space designed by architect Carlos Zapata and JPRA Architects.

The spa looks to become a centerpiece in Turnberry resort’s portfolio of amenities, which already includes a Michael Mina restaurant and two championship golf courses. Unveiled at the start of this year, âme Spa & Wellness Collective is an amalgamation of luxury tools, experts and strategies working harmoniously to better a person’s overall health. From more than 70 treatments (such as aroma- and color-therapy) and a Himalayan salt room to fitness classes galore, the result is a jam-packed wellness menu loaded with options that even Dr. Oz couldn’t top.

Perhaps âme’s most impressive characteristic is its cadre of experts who oversee ongoing programming and lead on-property retreats; this includes board-certified functional and integrative clinicians who can create customized health plans for everything from improving cognitive performance to losing weight. Throughout this year, âme will also host weekend retreats with globally recognized professionals, including yoga instructor Nikki Costello, plant-based chef Matthew Kenney and nutrition expert Amy Shapiro.

It’s in the spa’s DNA to present its guests with exceptional wellness options. Or, as Turnberry Associates CEO Jackie Soffer says, it’s in its lifestyle. “I think that in today’s world, people want a different type of spa or wellness center,” she says. “The idea was to bring in people who are the best of the best to help you with all the things you want to do. Ultimately we’re bringing the experts to our clients.”

Now that’s improving upon perfection.

Âme at a glance
• Three-floor facility
• 70-plus treatments
• 95-plus fitness weekly classes
• Cryotherapy facility
• Himalayan salt room
• Rezilir Heath clinicians

Originally appeared in the Spring 2017 Issue.

Don’t let the term “taxidermy” alarm you— Gray Taxidermy employs wildlife artists.

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A sample of a finished mahi piece at Gray Taxidermy in Fort Lauderdale.

By Lola Thélin
Photography by Scott McIntyre

For anyone not familiar with fishing, this may come as a surprise: There’s an art to the sport, even after the catch. This is evident at Gray Taxidermy, a South Florida-based marine taxidermy company that has made custom fish mounts for more than half a century.

“The guys in the back of the shop are artists,” says Bill Dobbelaer, the company’s general manager. “They are painting and sculpting.”

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MASTER CRAFTSMEN: Each of the custom fish at Gray Taxidermy is produced by hand by skilled artisans, including Leo Lampone, who is also seen working on the pieces at age 7 (inset).

Although it’s labeled as a taxidermy business, the company no longer stuffs fish. Traditional taxidermy—the practice of treating dead animals—was Gray Taxidermy’s business model 50 years ago. Now there’s no need to use formaldehyde and other overwhelming chemicals. Instead, fiberglass custom fish are crafted from molds that were created from real fish and then painted to look like the real thing.

“The production is typically 100 percent replica,” Dobbelaer says. “We don’t usually use real parts or skin. The teeth are made from acrylic, and the eyes are made of glass.”

Technically the fish are reproductions, but there’s plenty of history floating around, mainly related to the most famous fish of them all. In the 1970s, shark fisherman Frank Mundus, who is said to have inspired the character Quint in the hit film “Jaws,” caught a giant shark off the coast of Montauk, New York. At the time it was a world record, Dobbelaer says. Gray Taxidermy was hired to make a mold of the jaw, and founder Bill Gray and a 16-year-old employee flew north to create it.

“This is Disney World for people who fish.” —Bill Dobbelaer

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GO FISH: With 50 years in the business, Pompano Beach’s Gray Taxidermy has become the world’s largest marine taxidermy company.

Gray Taxidermy found itself in shark-Mundus territory again in 1986, when a 3,450-pound great white shark was caught in Montauk from a fishing boat where Mundus served as skipper. The organs were donated to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, and a full-body replica was ordered from Gray Taxidermy to be displayed at Ripley’s Believe It or Not in San Francisco.

The majority of the Gray Taxidermy team is based in the Pompano Beach manufacturing facility, with marketing offices scattered from Cabo to Costa Rica to Cancun. In addition, the company maintains close relationships with charter captains around the world. Part of Gray Taxidermy’s success is its portfolio of fish: Near the main facility, the company has several warehouses filled with original molds—big fish, little fish, bait fish, fish from the Atlantic, Pacific and Caribbean. A single mold can be used to create hundreds of further reproductions with the same proportions. Clients can send their orders with a photograph of their catch and its measurements, along with a note about any specific marks to help the artists create a custom fish. Then the fish is mounted to the client’s preference.

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A finished blue marlin piece is prepared for shipping at Gray Taxidermy.

The modern-day practice of marine taxidermy is fitting for most anglers, as it has a direct correlation with catch-and-release fishing. Both practices protect the species and are an integral part of the enduring vitality of fisheries.

To help further protect fish species and build awareness, two years ago Gray Taxidermy launched Gray FishTag Research, a nonprofit program that provides tags to track migration patterns, fish stocks and growth rates for scientific purposes. The nonprofit distributes thousands of free tags, applicators and data cards to more than 10,000 charter boat captains and mates and provides hands-on training. Every fish caught is tagged, and the data, from the species to the location, is recorded and submitted online at grayfishtagresearch.org. The person who catches the fish gets to name it; if the fish is recaptured, then that person renames the fish.

One of the program’s main objectives is transparency of data. It works with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University for research purposes and also shares the data with any interested parties at no cost. Gray FishTag Research also hired a full-time scientist to conduct studies. About 78 species of fish have been tagged so far, and their migration patterns are being documented.

Ultimately, Gray Taxidermy does real work with real people and prides itself on being a U.S.-based manufacturing company that produces its products one at a time by hand. Their products hang in museums, restaurants and homes. Recently, a group of Russian friends went deep-sea fishing and spent thousands of dollars in the freight shipping of fish mounts alone—but it’s not about the records, whether that means trophy catches or shipping costs.

“It’s about the people,” Dobbelaer says. “If you bought a million dollars’ worth of fish mounts from us, it’s still not the same as $100 from a kid who caught his first fish with his dad. That’s who we are. This is Disney World for people who fish.”

Catch-and-Release-Lola-Thélin-Scott-McIntyre-Gray-Taxidermy-Fort-Lauderdale-Master-craftsmen-Elie-Etienne-Leo-Lampone
Elie Etienne prepares fish molds for painting at Gray Taxidermy.

Originally appeared in the Spring 2017 Issue.

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