Branson partnered with Brightline, South Florida’s privately owned express rail service, to open Central Fare, the massive new food hall to Virgin Group’s repertoire. 
Credit: Virgin MiamiCentral

Richard Branson’s favorite meal is a lot simpler than you might expect. Though the billionaire business magnate is the 478th richest person alive, Branson would much rather indulge in a steaming roast than caviar or white truffles.

“Well, I’m British, so it has to be a roast,” Branson says, with a smile, “with roast potatoes, lots of gravy, and Brussels sprouts. I won’t do roast beef anymore though. I’ve decided that eating beef is going to destroy the rainforest.”

Ask Branson what he would eat inside Central Fare, the new food hall inside the recently unveiled Virgin MiamiCentral Station in downtown Miami, and his answer isn’t as clear-cut.

“You have start with some of the wine at the main bar,” Branson says, sitting inside the soon-to-open food hall. “That’s where everyone must go first. But, otherwise, it’s a bit like having 18 children; you can’t recommend one over the other.”

In late 2018, Branson partnered with Brightline, South Florida’s privately owned express rail service, giving Virgin Group an undisclosed stake in the Florida rail and jumpstarting the lengthy rebranding process from Brightline to Virgin Trains USA. The children Branson is referring to are Central Fare’s food tenants, which include a charming French bakery, a 10,000-square-foot bistro, and an outpost of Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem’s 800 Degrees Woodfired Kitchen. Debuting in mid-April, Branson says Central Fare is poised to become a destination for greater Miami.

“We’ve been in the train business in the U.K. for over 20 years,” Branson says. “We took over a dilapidated rail network and transformed it into something really special. We sent some of our team to America to see if there was an opportunity to do something similar, and a few years ago, we came in touch with Brightline and kept the discussions going.”

“There are more than 40 million people who will have access to this food hall,” Brightline’s president Patrick Goddard says. “Having access to a food hall at the end of a transportation network makes everyone’s backyard bigger. It’s transformative.”

Inside, Central Fare’s anchor is La Estación American Brasserie by Juvia Group, a full-service bistro, complete with seating for more than 200, four private event spaces, and a massive open kitchen. Then there’s 800 Degrees Woodfired Kitchen, an expanded pizza and rotisserie concept attached to the fast-casual 800 Degrees Pizzeria in Los Angeles. Miami’s own House of Mac will serve fried chicken and pumpkin spice waffles alongside lobster mac and cheese, while Bio Bio Gelato, related to the 60-year-old Italian family-owned company called Moca, scoops frozen organic treats similar to the ones served at the brand’s flagship shop in a small town in northern Italy's Emilia-Romagna region.

Similar to Central Fare, nearly a dozen other food halls have opened in South Florida within the past 15 months, from the Italian-only La Centrale in Brickell to 1-800-Lucky, which specializes in regional Asian cuisine. What makes this one different? Branson has an easy answer for that.

“They don’t have a train,” Branson says, quickly. “Especially not a train going to Fort Lauderdale or soon to Orlando.”

“This is a mobility hub,” Goddard adds. “There’s four systems carrying more than 40 million people a year that all converge on this piece of real estate. It’s a one and a half million square-foot development. Whether you’re looking for a sit-down meal, lunch on the go, or a pastry and a coffee before work, we cover all the bases.”

Central Fare isn’t the only food-related project Branson has in the works. He’s associated with two alternative meat companies, which he believes will help transform the way people eat.

“We’ve developed meat that taste exactly like meat,” he says. “I think what’s controversial is the millions and millions of cows killed every year. Right now, there are two companies I’m involved with: One produces a completely vegetarian hamburger that tastes exactly like a hamburger. It even bleeds like one. Nobody knows the difference. The other one is where we are actually growing real meat. You grow real cows, so why shouldn’t you grow real meat?”

“I believe in 20 to 30 years from now we won’t be eating any animals.” But, until then, Branson will be sipping wine and eating a warm roast.

Central Fare. 550 NW 1st Ave. Suite 240, Miami.