Become a Fan on Facebook          
South Florida's Best and Brightest
Originally published: Friday, April 1, 2011 (12:00:03 a.m. ET)

Shareef Malnik
The Forge owner Shareef Malnik. (Photo courtesy of the forge restaurant | wine bar).
Shareef Malnik
Occupying a mere fraction of this space with the name of any one Hollywood starlet who has nibbled on the lobster-this or the foie-that at Shareef Malnik's iconic Forge restaurant would entirely miss the point of his inclusion in our "Best and Brightest" feature. For, despite the massive local, and occasionally national publicity generated by the presence of so many of those seductive young actresses, their visits are of little significance to this piece. Aside from being both uncommonly daring and decidedly principled as a businessman, (he did have the chops to shut down for eight months last year in order to pour in $10 million for upgrades to the four-decades-old establishment), Malnik is a devoted philanthropist. By now, his work to enrich the lives of needy children has become legendary. As a small bit of proof, consider that the upcoming Make-A-Wish Intercontinental Ball, on November 5, will mark his seventh as Chairman, and through the previous half-dozen, upwards of $8 million has been raised.

Q: What advice would you give youngsters who want to embark on a career in your industry?
A: Don't do it unless you have an enormous passion for it. And a love for this industry. Besides the sort of attention you get, and the fun you think you're going to have, you really need, in terms of the restaurant business, to love food and service, and to love making people happy. That's what it's ultimately about. If you don't, and if you're going to do it to try making yourself happy, you're going to fall short. If you're happy making others happy, then you'll succeed. I don't think you can succeed at anything without a ton of work. The foundation of everything, whether it's an art form, or a business form, is hard work. A lot of it is mundane. But if you love the final outcome of what you're doing, it won't feel like work.

Q: Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?
A: The outcome of my re-invention of The Forge. Changing an iconic landmark has risks. The risk is that you could go down in history as ruining the landmark. And that could be a real career-killer. I had a lot of people telling me a lot of things, because so many people have an opinion about The Forge. That's because so many people have been here over the last four decades. If I had listened to everybody, I wouldn't have changed anything, and it would have failed. So I realized I really couldn't listen very much to anyone, except my core team that was working on the project with me. Fortunately, the response has been very nice. You can spend a lot of money and ruin something. Or you could spend a little money and make something great. I think we spent wisely because a lot went into infrastructure. Plumbing, electricity, and roofs. So you won't see that. I didn't want people to think I was trying to buy their love, attention, and accolades, so I didn't really intend on saying how much we spent. It kind of slipped out.

Q: What's the most challenging part about your work?
A: Keeping the expenses in line. The final product is your entire experience here. For me, nothing is easy. I can communicate what I like in terms of design, style of service, food, look, feel, and music. But it's doing all of that in a cost-efficient manner. I think that's the most difficult part of my job.

Q: What did you envision doing for a living when you were growing up?
A: I probably envisioned doing just about everything that I was introduced to that I found fascinating. I saw myself as an astronaut, a fighter pilot, a professional martial arts fighter, a lawyer, an explorer, a mountain climber, a racecar driver. A lot of those things I ended up doing as hobbies. I envisioned myself as a professional athlete. All these very Ernest Hemingway-kind of idyllic, romantic images. I didn't really think I would be a restaurateur. I was brought up in the restaurant business, working in the restaurant as a kid. And I was brought up with great food and wine, and an appreciation for both. But I didn't quite think I would actually do it. It was an opportunity that knocked once, and I grabbed it.

Q: In ten years' time, I will be _________________.
A: I very much live in the moment. So in ten years' time, I will be a lot wiser. I have no idea where I will be. But I intend to be wiser, and growing in terms of my business and in terms of my personal life.

Q: Who are/were your professional role models and why?
A: One role model who has been a constant in my life has been my father. For various reasons. Mostly because of his brilliance. I think, in this business, the hospitality business, a role model of mine has been Ian Schrager, who I think is so brilliant in this field of creating the venues for hospitality.

Q: If you could do anything else in the world for a living, what would it be?
A: All of those things I mentioned that I thought about as a kid. Plus, acting and being a bullfighter. There's a quote attributed to Hemingway; I don't know if it's his. But it goes something like, "There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games."

Q: What's the best part about your job?
A: Pleasing people. I, and those with whom I work, get a kick out of making people happy.

Q: What's the worst part about your job?
A: The unlimited days and hours. It never ends.

Q: What's the one most important thing that experience has taught you?
A: Respond, don't react. And get rid of your ego. Those are not things I always knew, but they are things I work on every day. Responding to something as opposed to [generating] a knee-jerk reaction. And if you get your ego out of the way, you'll almost always make the right decisions.

Q: What's the best career advice anyone has imparted on you?
A: I really don't know. But what I would recommend is that you shouldn't be so consumed with where you want to get in the future that you're not giving it your absolute 100-percent best in the present.

Q: What one thing would you do different/better if you could start it all over again?
A: I believe every mistake I make is responsible for where I'm at. If I didn't make those mistakes, I wouldn't know what I know. That's a very tough one for me to answer.

Q: What's your favorite South Florida charity?
A: There are many. But the one I'm involved in primarily is the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida. I'm the Chairman of the Intercontinental Ball. I'm very passionate about the idea of having the opportunity to put a smile on the faces of children who have a life-threatening illness. That's my main focus. I spend approximately eleven-and-a-half months working on the Ball. The great thing about it is that I'm working with people who are so incredible that they inspire me to be more like them.
Archive: 20 Good Questions
Best & Brightest: June 2011