Taking a successful menu and concept to 100 other locations to create a chain has lost some appeal to the most modern of Florida restaurateurs. They would rather create whole new restaurants, each with a distinctive menu, décor and vibe — from rustic Asian to upscale Caribbean and every corner of Europe and regional America in between.
Instead of hanging the same shingle in many places across the state or across a metro area, restaurateurs often find it easier to run several restaurants in the same neighborhood. By thinking small at first, small plates in small spaces, they remain nimble and keep growing.
50 Eggs (Miami)
Sophisticated Miamians know that Khong River House’s Burmese noodle wraps, duck curry and grilled whole fish comes from the crew behind Yardbird, with its crusty, lusty take on Southern food, and the porkier Swine Southern Table & Bar. Meanwhile, the 50 Eggs group — founder John Kunkel and his star chefs — also created Lime Fresh Mexican and are now working on Kungfuzi and Test Kitchen.
SubCulture (South Florida)
North of Miami, the non-stop multitaskers are Rodney Mayo and Scott Frielich, hip entrepreneurs who concoct nightclubs as well as restaurants. SubCulture already has Dada and Tryst in Delray Beach, Kapow! Noodle Bar in Boca Raton, a renovated Howley’s and LongBoards New England seafood in West Palm plus dance clubs and Irish pubs as far south as Miami. In their newest project, they transformed their Clematis Street bar, The Lounge, into Hullabaloo, an “Italian gastropub” with wood-fired pizzas and skewers, pastas and charcuterie and burrata made in house.
Genuine Hospitality Group (Miami)
The pace of new generation indy growth is fastest in Miami. No surprise. The leader was the wood-fired, pork-happy Michael’s Genuine in the Design District, which opened to raves in 2007. Six years later, Michael Schwartz’s Genuine Hospitality Group is a small empire with its own beer, occasional pop-ups, an offshore colony (Michael’s Genuine on Grand Cayman) and a small navy (150 Central Park on two cruise ships). On land, there’s Harry’s Pizzeria, Restaurant Michael Schwartz at the Raleigh Hotel, and the newest, the Cypress Room. The Cypress is still in the Genuine neighborhood with more sophisticated style and price.
PubBelly (South Florida)
The trio who opened PubBelly gastropub three years ago have already spawned PubBelly Sushi, Barceloneta for tapas, Macchialina for rustic Italian and PB Steak. Next cuisine on the map is French, with a PubBelly take on a brasserie, L’Echon, for the Hilton Cabana far up the beach. That’ll be six, after which Andreas Schreiner says “We’ll probably let our creative juices take a rest.” But not their energy: They’ll turn to building new locations of their existing brands, from other corners of Miami to Las Vegas.
Ben and Liza Groshell (Jacksonville)
In Jacksonville, Ben and Liza Groshell, proprietors of the high-end Marker 32, have diversified into only one concept, but operations have grown quickly since they opened Palm Valley Fish Camp a few years ago. Serving old-fashioned fried oysters and shrimp baskets with contemporary octopus and white beans in bait-shack chic was such a hit in upscale Ponte Vedra they took their New Fish Camp cooking to North Beach Fish Camp and soon a Creekside Fish Camp on Julington Creek in Mandarin.
D’Amico & Partners (Naples)
Richard and Larry D’Amico have given Naples a multicourse taste of the collection they serve in Minneapolis. In the Twin Cities, they have eight individual operations, from Italian to museum cafe, and reproduced one each of four of them in Florida. To Campiello’s rustic Italian, sleek New American at Café Lurcat and pizza, pasta and all-you-can drink wine at D’Amico & Sons in Naples, they have just added Masa. The menu is regional Mexican with contemporary flash, from fresh fruit, agua fresca and pork in banana leaves to cobia a la parrilla.
Gordon Davis (Tampa)
In Tampa, serial restaurateur Gordon Davis started with the very French Le Bordeaux in Hyde Park some 25 years ago. Since then he parlayed that space and two more from Vietnamese to Brazilian, Caribbean (St. Bart’s), new wave barbecue (Smoke) and tapas (Ceviche, which he built into a successful chain and sold). He now runs retro Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supper Club, rusticated Boca Kitchen Bar Market and new Copper Fish with littleneck clam skillets, softshell crab BLTs and 2-pound lobsters. Next is French again: A brasserie in the old Federal courthouse remade as Le Meridien Hotel.
In St. Petersburg, Steve Westphal and chef Tyson Grant are behind the New American at Parkshore Grill, seafood at 400 Beach Drive, biplane burgers at The Hangar and now the Spanish munchies at Cafe Gala at the new Dali Museum.
BayStar (Tampa Bay)
Around Tampa Bay, the hometown success of Outback makes many restaurateurs dream of their own monster chains. But not all. Frank Chivas and chef Tom Pritchard have a taste for sea breeze, fresh fish and beach casual, but rarely in the same proportions. Chivas’ BayStar Group started with surf ’n’ turf Salt Rock Grill, less beefy Island Way Grill, Marlin Darlin’ and reggae-accented Rumba Island Bar & Grill all along the Gulf side of Pinellas County. This year, they added a another Rumba and a modified Salt Rock Tavern in Oldsmar, but like any boat owner, Chivas keeps dreaming bigger: Marina Cantina in the middle of Clearwater’s docks.