He’s worked in the Northeast’s top kitchens, but nothing could have prepared Justin Urso for opening a hotel restaurant during COVID-19

Justin Urso, 32, has a stellar resume: Catalyst, Deuxave, and L’Espalier in Boston; Del Posto and Maze in New York City, where he worked under Gordon Ramsay. But nothing could have prepared him to open The Dial inside Central Square’s new 907 Main Hotel in September, when few people are visiting town and locals are reluctant to dine out. The restaurant has a global menu, though, and Urso is banking on people traveling to try his food.



a person posing for the camera: Chef Justin Urso opened The Dial restaurant at 907 Main in Cambridge's Central Square in September 2020.


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Chef Justin Urso opened The Dial restaurant at 907 Main in Cambridge’s Central Square in September 2020.

You’re the chef at a hotel restaurant that opened during a pandemic. How’s that been going?

Well, I mean, it’s been quite an ordeal. Just before COVID-19 hit, we were probably about three weeks to a month away from opening. And then COVID happened, and obviously our site got shut down. And then, once construction was allowed to resume, we went from being able to have five to 10 people working in a space together to only having one person in a room at a time, so then that delayed our construction.

So we’re open now, and we couldn’t be happier. I know times are tough, but as our owner has said, “Sometimes the best thing to do to get through a storm is to drive right through it.” So that’s what we’re doing; we’re full steam ahead and making the best of a bad situation. Opening has certainly been challenging with COVID, with all of the added safety measures — not that they’re a challenge, but it’s something new to get used to and train everyone on. . . . On top of all of the added stresses of opening a restaurant, it’s adding one more on top, but I think our team has done a fantastic job.

What sort of safety protocols did you have to learn? I think people would be really curious to know.

Aside from obviously wearing gloves and masks at all times, we stop service every hour to wipe down and sanitize all surfaces, which you can imagine during a restaurant service has its challenges, but safety is the number-one priority. So we literally stop every hour on the hour and sanitize every surface in the kitchen, and any high-touch points like the slicer, fry handles, underneath any refrigerator doors. All of our employees have to do wellness checks when they walk in the door. They get a temperature taken and fill out a questionnaire every single day.

Also, we recently installed some air-filtration systems. They’re from a company called Aura Air, and they’ve got four different types of filters: a HEPA filter, a copper filter, a UV filter, and an ion sterilization process. So our space is about as safe as you can make it during COVID, but it’s certainly all been things that we’ve had to learn.

What’s your your take on indoor dining? That’s a source of debate and concern for people. How you think

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Hospitality firm HES Group planned new hotel in Midtown Miami. Now, it’s selling the site.

When hospitality development firm HES Group purchased a Midtown Miami lot in 2014, it planned to build a hotel. Monday, the 4company is putting the 1.02-acre site up for bid in a direct sale or joint-venture opportunity, said Francisco Arocha, the firm’s CEO and founder.

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The mortgage on the lot at 3601 N. Miami Ave. is three weeks in arrears, and the mortgage holder has begun foreclosure proceedings, Arocha said, due to the pandemic’s severe impact on the hospitality industry.

“The hospitality industry has been hit,” Arocha said. “Once you’ve been hit, you have to digest that situation and prepare for the new cycle that is going to begin in the next few months. Miami is going to continue to position itself as one of the most attractive cities in the world and, as in the past, it will recover. [Already,3/8 we saw people travel by car in the summer and we are just starting to see air travel.”

Design-savvy HES also co-owns Aloft hotels in Brickell and Coral Gables, a Hotel Indigo in Brickell, and several Miami restaurants and hotels in Latin America.

HES purchased the property for $12.25 million in 2014 with plans to build a 500,000-square-foot, 20-story mixed-use Triptych, with retail, office and 297-room hotel. The Miami Urban Development Review Board approved of plans in 2015.

The site is approved for a 24-story tower with up to 300 hotel rooms.

Miguel Pinto, president and broker at the MiMo-based Apex Capital Realty, and Daniela Lainville, Realtor with Yaffe International, are representing the seller.

The site is ideal for a mixed-use project, including all of the components — retail, office, and hospitality — HES Group originally planned for, Pinto said. “Anyone that buys this site won’t get off the ground for 18 or 24 months. I don’t see ourselves wearing a mask in 24 months. People will be coming back.”

Pinto and Lainville will issue requests for offers in December. Although HES has not specified a minimum price, Pinto and Lainville are not asking for a specific amount, a comparable sale closed at $544.60 per square foot. In April 2020, the 1.11-acre site at 201 NW 21st St. sold for $26.4 million.

South Florida’s hospitality industry has been severely impacted by the pandemic. HES Group’s original predictions of an overall 50% drop in occupancy rates in its South Florida hotels have proven optimistic; in September, hotels experienced a 37% occupancy rate in Miami-Dade County, according to industry data firm STR. Across the market, employee furloughs have been widespread.

However, some developers are betting on recovery and moving forward with new projects, including Dezer Development’s Sunny Isles Monaco hotel; Fernandez Properties’ 64-room hotel in South Beach, and the new luxury Aman hotel and condos, planned for the historic Versailles hotel in Mid Beach.

“Hospitality is going through a tough time right now but the rainy days are going to go away,” Pinto said.

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