Shareef Malnik, Kim Kardashian,
and former general manager of the
InterContinental Miami Jack Miller
attend the 2008 Make-A-Wish Ball.
Shareef and Al Malnik at The Forge
Even success stories need a little tweaking now and then; the trick is how much. Case in point: The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida’s annual charity ball has been a hit since 1994, but a decade later had begun to feel just a little bit stale. So the foundation—which has been granting wishes to children with life-threatening ailments from its formation in 1983—turned to a man known for planning some of the wildest high-end soirées South Beach has ever seen: Shareef Malnik. Owner of The Forge since he took over for his father, Al, in the early ’90s, Malnik has doubled as chairman of the charity ball for the past seven years. This year, actress Gabrielle Anwar of USA Network’s Miami-based and locally shot show, Burn Notice (also, not coincidentally, Malnik’s significant other), will host the auction. Malnik, along with InterContinental Miami general manager Robert Hill and Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida president and CEO Norm Wedderburn, will help host the November 5 event. This year’s gala may be the party of the century—its theme, after all, is the Black and White Ball, a nod to Truman Capote’s 1966 event of the same name, which was itself hailed as the party of the century in a book of that title just a few years ago. We caught up with Malnik in his office above The Forge’s dining room, as planning for the ball reached its final stages..
How did your involvement with the ball, and with Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida, begin? SHAREEF MALNIK: My dad and his wife are lifetime benefactors of the event, and we’ve all attended since its inception, so this will be number 17. Although it was always successful, it needed a reinvention, like everything needs to be reinvented eventually: Once you realize you’re sliding, it’s too late. I saw the handwriting on the wall, and agreed to do it under the condition that they would really listen to my ideas, because it was going to be different than the way it had been done for 10 years.
To what do you attribute the revamp’s success? SM: I think it went so well because it was in collaboration with Norm and [Robert Hill] over at the InterContinental Miami, and we were all on the same page. We knew that once the demographic of the old ball was too old to go, we would need to target another, to give it a wider appeal. And we needed to invest in it. If you’re shortsighted and you want to get as much money as you can, you may be shortening the life of the very thing you’re trying to maintain. So it’s not about how much money we can make, but rather how long we can keep it going.
Did your experience redesigning The Forge have an effect on how you viewed it? SM: No question about it. The Forge is 43 years old, and we just recently underwent a total reinvention. We kind of redid it in the early ’90s. But two years ago, we closed the restaurant and gutted it, positioning it to hopefully be relevant for another 20 years. So I think I recognized that there was a problem with the ball at a time when other people may not have, because I was sensitive to it.
How did your father first become involved in the charity? SM: Lee Brian Schrager was the chairman of the ball 17 years ago, when it began. And he called me up (this was the first one) and said, “You have to come to the ball, we’d love to honor your dad.” So he and my stepmother, Nancy Malnik, were honored, and from that he fell in love with the charity, and he’s been a lifetime benefactor to it since. I became involved because I was asked to, firstly. My dad and Nancy both asked, and I believed in the charity, so I thought I would try my best and see if I could do a good job.
How much planning is involved in each year’s gala? SM: We start discussing it two weeks after the previous one, going over what worked and what didn’t, and how we can change things to make it better for the next year.
How much does the event generate for Make-A-Wish? SM: We’re calling this year’s [event] our “$10 million ball.” Over 17 years, we’ve made $9.6 million.
How important is that money to the South Florida Make-A-Wish chapter’s financial health? SM: Last year, we granted more wishes than any other in the US. This ball generates approximately 35 percent of all the money that goes to granting those wishes in a year, and it does it in a single night. I am personally putting out what I call “the chairman’s challenge”—I’m reaching out to some of our most important community leaders in our city to donate, so that I know the ball is completely covered. With 20 people donating $25,000 a year for five years, everything else the ball makes during the evening will be gravy.