4 Miami Restaurants That Shifted Business Models During COVID-19

By Eric Barton | Will Blunt, Caroline Hatchett, and Jaclyn Warren

By

Eric Barton
Will Blunt, Caroline Hatchett, and Jaclyn Warren
Illustration by Eric Barton
Illustration by Eric Barton

Chef Bobby Frank called together the kitchen staff of his seafood restaurant, Mignonette, last July. You know those lobster rolls we do that everyone loves? You know the charred octopus, the lobster deviled eggs, the clams casino? Yeah, we’re eighty-sixing all of that, he told them.

The idea, he explained to the staff: “Lobster tails really don’t travel well, but chicken parm does.”

So they set out to to deplete perishable supplies before switching over the entire menu. Ordering strategically and running lean, Mignonette then converted to a pop-up they called Red Sauce, full of Italian classics that would travel and reheat well in the days of the lockdown.

“What we realized is that during this time, people want to feel comfortable, and Italian is homey,” Frank says. “We realized they don’t want fancy for home delivery; they want a sense of being safe.”

It was like that at a lot of places around Miami last year. The county ordered some form of restaurant closures twice in 2020, and suddenly, many of the city’s favorite sit-down spots converted to groceries or revamped menus when chefs realized the well-composed dishes that usually kill it in the dining room just don’t look the same in Styrofoam.

At beloved Brickell pizza place Stanzione 87, a collab with Chef Aaron Brooks became a pop-up offering pide, a stuffed Turkish flatbread. South Beach taco spot Taquiza from Rising Stars alum Steve Santana hosted Naan as an Indian pop-up. At Boia De, Rising Star Chefs Luciana Giangrandi and Alex Meyer stopped doing takeout except for a Sandwich Sundays promo. Downtown favorite Fooq’s invited Lil’ Laos in, and Zak the Baker, another Rising Star alum, added evening falafel pop-ups.

At his Cuban diner Chug’s, Rising Star Chef Michael Beltran began selling grocery items that were in short supply at the beginning of quarantine, and Pastry Chef Devin Braddock baked loaves of bread when those disappeared from store shelves. Last summer, when Beltran began offering a midweek tasting menu at sister restaurant Ariete, trying out entirely new recipes and offering themes around exotic ingredients, the tickets would sell out within hours.

“Pivoting, albeit mentally exhausting, was really what let us survive,” Beltran says. “We really learned about the job and life in general.”

At the end of August, after a brutally hot summer of outdoor dining, the county allowed restaurants to reopen dining rooms. But the ownership and management of South Beach favorite Macchialina decided against it, instead negotiating with the landlord to take over an extra outdoor area out back. Chef de Cuisine John Kreidich says people wait an hour or more for a seat. While they were doing 150 to 200 covers before the lockdown, Kreidich says that the bigger outdoor area and a strong takeout business, featuring tons of specials like Baby Back Rib Friday and Risotto Wednesday, have allowed them to do even more. 

“It’s a hustle. Everything is a hustle,” Kreidich says. “We have to be constantly thinking of something new. We have the regulars, but still we have to keep bringing in people with fresh ideas.”

At Mignonette, the menu switched back to its seafood focus when the city allowed indoor dining to return. The pop-up was fun, but Frank says it felt good getting back to the core business. “We’re fortunate that we have a big local following and see a lot of the same faces,” Frank says. “When we opened again after Red Sauce, people were clapping when they came through the door because they were so excited to see us.”

Share on: