Christy’s turns 45 this month. Owner Chris Klaic says the traditions won’t change.
When Charles Hauser purchased the building on the corner of Ponce de Leon and Malaga Drive 45 years ago, intending to start Christy’s Restaurant there, “everybody said he was crazy,” recalls Chris Klaic, who is today the majority owner and face of the venerated steakhouse. “Every restaurant that had opened here, for 10 or 15 years, had closed after a year or two. It was outside all the action, which was on Miracle Mile. But he [Hauser] said, ‘I like this corner, we are going to do it here, and we are going to do a steakhouse.’” At the time the city was full of French and Italian restaurants but bereft of steakhouses.
Four and a half decades later, Christy’s has weathered every culinary trend the Gables has seen, including competition from other steakhouses that have appeared. It carries on a tradition that has seen the likes of Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr. dining there, along with senators Bob Graham and Connie Mack, Gov. Jeb Bush, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Rod Stewart, Robin Williams, Rick Ross, and Gloria Estefan.
The illuminated facade of Christy’s Steakhouse (top left) invites you into the vintage interior of the restaurant.
Christy’s has undergone changes over the years, like a remodeling in 2009 that created a separate bar room, and a post-Covid replacement of its Cuban paintings with modern art. But it has retained its rich red walls, and even added an old tin ceiling to give it more of a vintage look. The seating, as well, has remained the same, keeping the old comfortable armchairs by reupholstering them with expensive leather. “Everyone over the age of 30 said these were the most comfortable chairs ever,” says Klaic, “And, you know, we didn’t want those kinds of smaller chairs that you find in some trendy place.”
Klaic himself has been a big part of the Christy’s tradition, joining the staff as the manager in 1995 at the age of 27. “I grew up in that business, and I knew how to deal with all the challenges,” says Klaic, who comes from a family background of hospitality management in his native Croatia.
Klaic became the managing partner and was rewarded with a small percentage of the business which slowly increased in the following years until, in December of 2020, he bought the restaurant from Hauser. It was in the middle of the pandemic, and Hauser had already sold the building for $4 million the previous June. Like all other restaurants in the city, Christy’s had closed. Klaic used the downtime to negotiate a long-term lease with the new building owners and to do some remodeling. By February 2021, he was ready to restart the restaurant post-COVID.
Since then, he’s seen a steady return of customers, keeping the restaurant true to its core appeal “We’re the oldest steakhouse in Miami and 85 percent of our menu hasn’t changed in all these years. We wanted to keep the oversized shrimp, the award-winning Caesar salad, the best prime rib in town, those kinds of things. The reason why we survived 45 years is consistency — we stick to our strengths.”
A family affair at Christy’s Steakhouse: Chris Klaic works alongside his son Max (left) and fiancé Jeimy Martinez (right).
Now Klaic is including his family at Christy’s, just as he was part of his family’s restaurant, hotel, and winery in Croatia. “My son Max has been attending hospitality school and he’s been working here for two years already, cooking. He started by washing the dishes, then doing all the hot appetizers and the sides. But now he cooks in all the positions. And my fiancé [Jeimy Martinez] does the bookkeeping and events… It’s kind of a family affair.”
Above all, says Klaic, it’s about keeping traditions alive. “I am grateful to the community and staff for supporting Christy’s for all these years. We are now serving the third generation of clients — literally, the grandchildren of the first customers.”
READ MORE: Fine Dining at Christy’s — Where Tradition Shines