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Eddie Acevedo of Yardbird

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This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.

Preaching the good ole Southern comfort, Yardbird Southern Table & Bar on South Beach has been turning out the best chicken and waffles this far south since they opened last year. The man in control of the whole front of house is Director of Operations Eddie Acevedo, who has worked in numerous New York restaurants as well as alongside Norman Van Aken when he opened his Orlando venture. Eater recently chatted with Eddie about what it's like walking in on a Saturday night and who you might see there.

[Photo Courtesy of Rolando Diaz]

It’s 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, What’s the wait for a table?
At least an hour and half, two hours. It’s definitely a very, very, busy and very, very, popular restaurant. We have long waits at that time and highly recommend reservations.

Is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter?
A good smile, a positive attitude. I think that is primary, that will get you a long way, not only at Yardbird but everywhere else.

Gifts or cash?
No, certainly not. That wouldn’t work here. But again, we really do appreciate good attitudes, good smiles. We have an excellent host staff that really cares about getting people down as quickly as possible and we really feel people’s pain. So when people are standing around, hovering, we try to bring them something to eat, get them something to drink, if their wait is less normal than expected. By and large, we try to abide by the whole Southern Hospitality.

What about earlier in the night?
What we have done here, purposely, because we want to be a neighborhood restaurant and I think we have strived for that since we have opened and we have accomplished it so far, is that we always keep room for walk-ins, we cap our reservations every single night. So a lot of people might call and say “Oh, you’re booked”, it’s just because we want to make sure people can walk in too. So earlier in the night, I think it’s a good rule of thumb, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. you should add about 15 additional minutes to your wait time for every 15 minutes, 15 minutes at 6 p.m., 30 minutes at 6:30 p.m. and so on. Then when we get between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., that’s when it starts expanding to the point we’re at a two hour wait at 9 o’clock on a Saturday.

Tell us about your favorite customers?
Well by far, our local customers, our neighborhood customers, because that’s who we work for, that’s who we live and die for. We want to make sure that we cater to the local market, we cater to our neighborhood. Our philosophy is that restaurants should be the anchor to the neighborhoods in which they belong in. Hence, our motivation to create distinct and unique restaurants and styles wherever we are going to set up a restaurant. So it’s definitely the local, the repeat guests, those are our favorite customers.

Do you have a lot of regulars?
We do, We do. It’s funny, in the short period of time that we have been open, we have a really strong regular following. Sort of like that Cheers mentality, where everyone kind of knows your name. It’s fun that way.

What’s the strangest request that you’ve been asked to accommodate?
Hmm, I don't know. It’s funny, I don't think we get really odd requests. I am not sure we are the type of place where people expect to do over the top things. I think people come here just because it’s comfortable, it’s down to earth. So I don't think we get sort of those particular requests.

Say a celebrity walks in and the place is packed. What do you do with said celebrity?
Well, there is two situations. One, he’s got a reservation. What we try to do with our celebrity guests is, for the comfort of our guests and for the comfort of the celebrity, we make sure we address them immediately, take them to their seat immediately and just have everything ready for them because it helps our guests waiting for tables as well as the celebrity.

Now if they came in and they didn’t have a reservation, they’re pretty much going to wait like everyone else. In fact, we have had celebrities that have come in and they know it, they know we’re very busy, they put their name on the list and their bodyguards go take them for a drive. They call us back, and ask if their table is ready. So that’s typically how we handle that.

But by and large, they usually call us. At this point, we have a big celebrity base so they already know to call ahead of time. They have all their people arrange that, so when they come here we can just seat them right away.

Who are the most exciting celebrities that have come in?
We have big fans. Right now, I’d say it because it comes to mind with the Heat being in the playoffs, Dwyane Wade comes often. He has actually made mention of us in Ebony Magazine. He has actually been in when we have had NBA games on. He’s one of the bigger fans. And then, we just have so many of them that come all the time - it’s hard to mention. But, yeah, he’s one of the biggest fans.

What would you say are the more difficult aspects of working in this restaurant?
In this particular restaurant, it’s the lack of seating. The other thing was that, when we opened the restaurant, people would stay for long periods of time. So initially, I would say early on it was really difficult to measure and figure out how long a guest was going to stay in order for us to maximize reservations. So that was, I think, our biggest challenge on every single day, just seating. Literally, you’ll see we have different chairs all over the place, it’s a hodgepodge. One of it is for effect. But the other is it’s just a lot easier to seat people.

What’s your favorite seat in the house?
It depends. It depends on what mood I am, it depends on what mood I want to be in. I like the seats at the bar and the banquettes. If I like to feel more in a bar, lounging type of mood that really works well. I tend to like the high tops that are right in front of the kitchen because I like to be in the mix of things. And I think people really like those tables because you can see right into the kitchen, so you feel like you’re right in the middle of the action. But maybe if you are on a date and you just want to be quiet and all alone to yourself, then probably one of the banquettes or more towards the window.

So tell us how the “Midnight Chef’s Table” has been going?
It’s gone exceptionally, exceptionally well. We had that idea early on, we thought ‘how neat would it be’. It conforms to our idea of going out to the local market. We want to be the type of place where people in the industry come out after work or where chefs hangout. It just started evolving naturally that way, where we got all of our friends from different restaurants would come here. From there, it evolved into the idea is that we could involve the general public in it as well. So we limit the amount of seating and it’s basically chef’s choice and we have different chefs that we invite. It’s been great, the chefs love it. And it is exactly what you might expect, chefs finish their long day of work and we all get together and grab a glass of wine, put out food family style. It’s people who are genuinely interested in food, wine or just good conversation. So it makes for a really interesting group of people here. We have a couple that has booked every single one of them, so talk about regulars. They have been to every single one and they have booked for the rest of the summer. It’s one of my favorite things, it’s my longest day of work. I get to the office at 8, at the restaurant most of the day. I might take a nap in the afternoon, but then we are back here until 3 in the morning. It’s a lot of fun.

When you’re not at Yardbird, where are you eating?
Well, a lot of that depends on my family and my kids. My kids, their hands-down favorite, is Lime. We go down the road and we have Lime. Chef Kenny, who is our corporate chef, also oversees production over there. He just came out with these great carnitas tacos, which are to die for, with some mole sauce. So we go out for that, that’s definitely one of the favorites.

Chef Daniel Serfer is one of my favorite local chefs from Blue Collar. He is just phenomenal, the nicest guy, probably the nicest chef on the planet. His food is really, really wonderful. It’s a small, sort of homey type of environment. He’s really knocking it out of the park.

Further up north - I love to eat, I love to go to restaurants obviously - I like for breakfast, I go to a place called Pastry Is Art. It’s right above 125th street. The pastry chef there, she is from Peru, and she does beautiful pastries and cakes and all that but she also does these great breakfast sandwiches, they bake the bread on premise. It’s right across the street from Johnson & Wales in a strip mall, so you kind of never would think to go to good food there. Just tucked away in there, this little pastry shop and bread shop. That’s one of my favorite places as well.

What’s your most important gatekeeper tool?
As our manager, it’s our Maitre D’ - Jamie - she is phenomenal. She just knows how to deal with people, knows what to say and when to say it. She just lives and dies to be at that door. She is probably the best tool. She knows who is coming and remembers their names. She just has that knack, really takes care of people. She is the best tool.

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