How to Perfect a Food Concept
There comes a time in everyone’s life where the idea of opening a bar or food concept seems like a fun project. Who hasn’t daydreamed about owning their own restaurant, welcoming all their friends and family over for delicious food and a great atmosphere? But the reality is that opening any concept in the F&B industry is a marathon undertaking, and once it’s actually open, takes quite the navigating to ensure its success. We spoke to Javier Ramirez, a brain behind some of Miami’s brightest eateries like Cake Thai, Alter, and the upcoming Amelia concept in the Arts + Entertainment District, about what he thinks makes a good spot great.
After launching a popular food blog under the moniker Gourmandj in 2011, Ramirez was inspired to surpass his label of ‘food aficionado’ and enter the restaurant business for real when he began working on what is now known as Alter. The Wynwood restaurant was selected as one of the Eater’s best new restaurants in 2016 and has quickly become one of the city’s best spots for gourmet gastro. Cake Thai, soon to open its newest pop-up at The Citadel this fall, is another authentic concept that Javier stood behind from inception to local gem. What does he say takes making a perfect food concept? First step is identifying the talent behind the cooking. Then, curating a brand and spicing it up with cool vibes. Finally, finding passionate, hard working individuals to keep it running smoothly.
At Alter, Ramirez joined forces with the legendary Brad Kilgore, recently selected as one of the country’s best new chefs by Food & Wine magazine. With Kilgore at the helm, Alter has won the title of Eater Miami’s restaurant of the year and chef of the year and received two James Beard semi-finalist nominations–an accolade highly regarded in the food industry. Cake Thai is perhaps Ramirez’s most authentic concept, a platform he helped create to showcase Chef Cake’s flavorful homeland and family dishes. The restaurant is every bit as representative as the chef’s potential for food creation, even going so far as keeping his own name in the restaurant’s title. It’s all about finding the visionary and ensuring they’re set up comfortably for success.
Then it comes to the branding and food itself. A creative at heart, Ramirez understands how to set a vibe so that the entire experience is based on authenticity from how you hear about it digitally, to the moment you walk out pleased with your meal. Bare and clean, Alter is a perfect surface for Kilgore’s more complex creations, so the leading role stars the food and not the distracting atmosphere that can come with similar culinary concepts. At Cake, the chef is truly passionate about creating dishes the way they are in Thailand, with no compromise on flavor profile or components. You can see this at the original MiMo location which is solely about street food, built on the idea that a meal should be quick and mind-blowing, with no frills attached.
If Javier’s relationship with his chef counterparts is not obviously successful, you’re overlooking something. But more importantly, it’s the team they have built together at either of the multiple locations that makes the experience a successful one. This same team will be growing into our food hall when we open this fall with Cake Thai’s upcoming pop-up. The concept will feature a simpler menu with the most popular items from Wynwood and a focus on grilled items, each dish a true, genuine recreation of the way they exist back in Thailand. For Javier, food halls are enticing because they provide a wide range of options for diners at reasonable price points in a relaxed atmosphere. He was attracted to our project because of the vision behind building a food destination around the best food that can be found in Miami, rather than leveraging the popularity of concepts from other cities like Brooklyn or Los Angeles.
What was his tip for anyone looking to open a restaurant in Miami? “Make sure you factor in hyper seasonality into your business plan!”