One year ago, executive chef William Hernandez a.k.a chef Willy (a chef who's been in the biz for thirty years) and his partner Gonzalo Morales, opened up Zielo in Coral Gables. The spot, reflective of Miami's mish-mash attitude, offers a little bit of everything. Think traditional French flavors, Mediterranean dishes, Asian influences and Italian favorites. Eater spoke with Hernandez about the past year at the restaurant, what made it successful and future plans. Here's what he had to say:
What made you want to open Zielo?
Well, first of all, I've been doing this for thirty years. The restaurant business is my passion. I love what I do, I've been doing this since I was a little kid and I enjoy it. I don't consider this coming to work (he laughs). Before this I owned Caramelo; I met the [co] owner several years ago and we decided to open Zielo.
How did you decide on the concept of the restaurant?
We wanted to make a restaurant where people would feel at home, we wanted customers to feel comfortable and at the same time have a great meal. And, being in Miami, where have a variety of cultures, we decided to make a menu with a little bit of Mediterranean and Latin fusion; we have pastas, fish, beans – that's what Miami's all about – a melting pot. We have cultures from around the world and that's why we decided to make a menu with a little bit of everything. Same goes with the décor – very modern, very chic, very sophisticated.
How did the opening go, what were some of the challenges that you faced?
Right now in the Gables we have a great combination of restaurants here, we have all types. The challenge was to make something unique. That's why we decided to hire a great interior designer [Javier Soto]. The challenge was also making a menu that would please the crowd here in Miami, like I said before a little mixture of everything. We have Asian places, steak houses, Peruvian in the Gables so I wanted to do a restaurant where people could come and have a little bit of everything – we have everything here. The idea was to make a menu that can accommodate clients.
How was the restaurant received when it was first opened?
Great! People were impressed. Wow, they thought it was unbelievable. The restaurant is gorgeous and it's high-end. We spent tons of money and made sure that no corner was cut in the décor and made sure the experience was: if you come here, you want to come back. When people first walked into the restaurant and saw the décor, the bar, the VIP, the lounge and then they tried the food, it was like a perfect marriage. They really loved it.
A year later, what, if anything, has changed at the restaurant?
Now I like to go to the table every time we have a customer here. I like to go tell them I'm the chef and make sure everything is good and ask the customer if they like the food, if there's anything special they would like ? I want to accommodate everybody and make them feel comfortable. You want to make the customer feel at home and happy. There's a lot of choices for restaurants in Miami, but very few make you feel like you are part of the family, so we're trying to do that. It's one of the things that makes Zielo unique, that the staff and myself make the guests feel at home. They don't feel rushed, if they want something that's not on the menu, I'll make it if I have the ingredients ? that's what makes the customer come back, when you make whatever they want.
Anything in store for the future?
We're working on a new menu right now. We'll keep all the customers' favorites and add a few other flavors. I think that will be great. I have to do what the customer wants, you know, I'll put whatever they want on the menu. We also want to start working with more charities in Miami, we want to help with the community. Often times we'll go to charities to promote the restaurant and for people to see that we are giving back to the community.
What has been your biggest success at Zielo?
The customers. The way Zielo presents itself to the customers, to me is one of the biggest successes that we have. They love the food, they love the atmosphere and they love the restaurant. A happy customer is a happy chef.
What's your focus at the restaurant right now?
To change the menu and to make sure that everything goes smoothly and make Zielo be one of the best restaurants in Coral Gables. Every little aspect of the restaurant, just making sure the customer is happy with it. Making sure people enjoy the experience.
When you're not at Zielo, where do you like to eat in Miami?
When I'm not at the restaurant, I like to cook at home. I like to go to the beach, too. I like Smith and Wollensky, sitting outside, they have a beautiful view. I'm from the Caribbean, so I like to be close to the water. Anytime that I have a chance, I like to go to a restaurant on the water. And that's a great spot to just relax and have a glass of wine and see the beautiful view.
· All Previous Coverage of Zielo [EMIA]
[Photo Courtesy of Zielo]