Toro Toro opened its doors at the revamped InterContinental Hotel one year ago in the hands of Richard Sandoval, a James-Beard nominated chef with a host of other restos in his repertoire. On board the restaurant's team is also Director of Food & Beverage Danny Estevez, a guy with years of experience in the biz, including stints with Touch in Miami Beach, the Delano's Blue Door, and, most recently, several other InterContinental Hotels. Estevez spoke with Eater about the Pan-Latin steakhouse's first year open, the biggest challenge and the future.
How did you first get involved with Toro Toro?
When I was hired here, at the InterContinental in Miami, I was aware that we were going to be launching a new restaurant with the renovation of the property. So, it was basically part of my agreement when I started here that I'd be working with the new restaurant and it would be launched at the InterContinental.
How did the opening go?
You know, it went well ? but, like any restaurant opening, there's always things that you encounter that you weren't exactly ready for. Certain things worked very well and certain things needed some correcting. Like the manner in which we would do the rodizio, in the beginning, changed. We used the style where it was carved on the table and we changed that to a cart that goes around the restaurant – that is more appealing and more practical. That was one thing. Then you're always going to add tweaks to the menu. Some things just weren't the right way, so we made minor adjustments.
Once the doors opened, what was the initial customer reaction like?
The reaction of anyone that I've run into or come across that has not been in the building is "wow". For the clients that have never been here, they're impressed. For the clients that have been here and saw the new restaurant and the renovation it was still, "wow", the first thing that comes out of their mouths.
What's changed at the restaurant in the past year?
We went from having a ordinary restaurant to having a signature Richard Sandoval restaurant, so the transformation was night and day. We now have a modern, sleek, sexy restaurant within a hotel that before just had a hotel restaurant. So, a lot changed.
What are some challenges you faced during the opening?
The biggest challenge that we have? there's one main challenge and that is: the perception that people have about the hotel's restaurant is not one of a restaurant that is modern, that has great food, that has very reasonable prices. That's the majority's perception so, the biggest challenge we have is dealing with the perception that this is a "hotel restaurant" and it's not. It's a restaurant within a hotel that has everything – the right ambience, music, lights, good food – and I think that it's priced just like the local restaurants. You have a different idea of what a restaurant in a hotel is going to offer and here it is completely the opposite of what many people seem to think it will be. Once people come in the experience is like "wow", but it's that struggle? for example people have the misconception from the minute they drive up that they'll be paying for valet parking and we actually do the same as any other free standing restaurant does, we don't charge for valet. It's complimentary because we at the restaurant are competing with other restaurants and we do everything that restaurants do. These preconceptions are the biggest struggle that we've run across.
What was the biggest success at Toro Toro this year?
It has been incredible reviews from diners. Whether on OpenTable or Yelp, when you read the ratings or the comments ? as of this morning we were rated the number four restaurant in the city of Miami through TripAdvisor. So, the big success is that people love the food, people love the service and that is something that we are very proud of.
What is your focus at the restaurant right now?
To deliver that experience that cannot be found in other restaurants. We focus on delivering an experience that is above our competitors, we have an uphill battle. We blow people away from the minute they walk in. You walk in here our focus is to give you an amazing experience that will make you walk back through those doors.
Anything in store for the future at the Miami location?
We're going to continue to do what we do. Fortunately, we're very proud of the product we're offering. There's no real plans of changing what we're working on. So, to just continue to sell ourselves to the local Miami community into 2014.
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