Eating House first started off as a pop-up concept by chef Giorgio Rapicavoli and partner Alex Cassanova and it's since turned into one of Miami's hottest permanent establishments. For the restaurant's one year anniversary, Eater spoke with Rapicavoli about how it's been so far, challenges and future plans, finding that, though some changes have been made, their down-to-earth and uber creative approach to running a restaurant has remained the same. Here's what he had to say:
Eating House started as a pop-up restaurant, what was it like transitioning to a permanent establishment?
It was definitely a big wake up call to go from getting to just fly and just make it happen and just be like, "oh, you know it's a pop-up, this is happening, it's a pop-up", to really having to solve those issues and turn it into the restaurant that we thought it deserves to be. So that was like the first major … you know, "welcome to managing and operating a real restaurant."
It was a big wake up call for all of us. We had to build new tables, change the whole A/C system, get reservations. We had to convert almost our entire way of being as soon as we converted to brick and mortar so that was the biggest battle at first: having to figure out how to make this restaurant what it deserves to be. It's like a growing issue. We saw how we worked, we dealt with our first busy brunch. We went through a summer of brunch and it was just so hot. We had to get more tables because we didn't really feel it was big enough and it was just kind of learning to really improvise and adapt to it to being the restaurant we wanted it to be.
What made you want to open Eating House?
It's always been a dream of mine to open up my own restaurant, I always knew that's what I wanted to do. I never wanted to go work for anybody, I never wanted to think of anybody else. I never wanted to go work under some brilliant chef for ten years and then finally just go off, I didn't want to open up anything like anything else. Where I was before at the hotel, I was cooking for guests, I wasn't really making food that I really believe in. I wasn't cooking for myself, I was cooking for hotel guests. Then after Chopped came out, I was watching and checking out the scheduling and I realized like, no shit nobody's won, I'm going to be the first one to win, I have to do something with this. And Phuc Yea was around and all these pop-ups and Phuc Yea closed and there was nothing going on so I talked to my buddy Alex and I was like, "yo, let's fucking do it man, let's just roll with it", and we found this space and we just made it happen within two weeks.
Overall, how was the first year?
First year's been awesome. It's cool we get people that come back that were there when Eating House was a pop-up and they see what it is now and It's crazy when random strangers are proud of you. That's a really rewarding feeling that we get. It's just been awesome. It's been challenging and difficult as well and learning to really make it ourselves. Making it to a year is a huge milestone and not being in the red for a year is a huge milestone, so we're really proud of what we've accomplished. It's been great. It's crazy to think that we used to be in a bakery and now we're nominated for Restaurant of the Year … It's crazy for me. It's like we have the smallest PR budget, we have an independent girl, we have no social media person, we have the shittiest website ever, our tables aren't even even because we built them and we're nominated for Restaurant of the Year … It's crazy! That's not the usual winning formula, that's not what they teach you in school. It's nice that we kind of went against the grain and just did our own thing. Alex and I have been together from the start and its cool that we're still continuing on that path.
Tell me about some of the challenges that you faced.
The heat was crazy, the temperature in here was crazy. The air conditioning just couldn't keep up with the demand and the kitchen was getting so fucking hot, we were freaking out. Eventually I called some dude and I was like "bro, something needs to be wrong here". Basically the cool air intake was missing, so we didn't have cold air. It was mortifying. A couple of times we had the Bosh's come in and it's so fucking mortifying to see Bosh like fanning himself because he's sweating … it's so humiliating. That was horrendous. What else? Oh, our shitty-ass internet, our terrible internet is a pain in the ass, too. So, now we went to City Eats, but our wifi isn't strong enough to hold on to our iPad and anybody else so we have to tell our guests we don't have wifi. It's so embarrassing, it's like almost 2014 and we don't have wifi. And it's not that we don't have wifi, its just that if anybody else logs on, the wifi for our iPads to control our reservations just goes to shit. The building is so damn old, it's from like the sixties, pure concrete, it just doesn't work out. What else? Hm … Oh yeah … with renovations we spent $97,000 on the whole restaurant. That's nothing, but we're also cheap fucks. We just kept using some of the old equipment.So, you have this old-ass oven that's being held together by duck tape, so working with that type of equipment has also been extremely challenging. Shitty plumbing… oh that was nice to. So, whoever built the restaurant before us, instead of putting real bathrooms and toilets in, they put like home toilets, so they were getting clogged and one day in the middle of brunch the entire restaurant flooded. That was a wonderful experience. There's been some ridiculous shit that's happen to us. Like the roof caving in, it was old and wet, that happened. Some really unfortunate shit, but we made it happen.
Are you planning on doing any more renovations?
Yeah for sure, that's the plan. We just wanted to make it our first year. We don't have any investors, so instead of "we need a new oven can we have $20,000" its like "we need a new oven, where can we find one on craigslist?". That's like our mentality, you know? We gotta make it happen. We're planning…. We want to redo the floors because they're slippery all the time, eventually redo the ceiling, we'd like to expose the ceiling. I think that would be nice. Just make it a little nicer. Redo the bathrooms eventually. We have a ten-year lease on it, so we want to be there for a while.
A year later, what, if anything, has changed at the restaurant?
Surprisingly not much of the staff has changed, they're pretty much the same. Unfortunately, Ochoa, one of our main waiters, is moving off to California to become an actor, so that will be a big change and we'll miss him dearly. The wine wall has changed from being a wall that was intentionally made to hold wines to now being a wall that's just full of crap and sneakers and toys and every possible thing you could ever imagine is on that wall now. Our wine list has evolved, our cooking has changed too. The food has kind of changed, we found our own groove and got to kind of find ourselves and really find a path that we wanted to take with the food. Our new sous chef now, Mike Kristen, he worked at Blackbird in Chicago, he's really, really good. My sous chef, Adrianna, is now our chef de cuisine, so that's new. We're open for lunch now and we're working with City Eats for reservations. It's just kind of like we're continuing to become more and more professional. It's hard because we're still a bunch of 30-year old assholes at times. We try to be more professional and we try to continue to better our service, but when people are just douchy we don't tolerate that shit, at all. So, we're still kind of snark when it comes to that. We'll give you white glove service, but don't cross us. It's like, at the end of the day, we still kind of want to have that "fuck you" attitude, but we can't so much. We still have a little bit of that, we're very proud of what we do and we're very defensive of each other.
Are you thinking of expanding?
I think I'll always keep Eating House how it is. Like I always said, I'd rather have three 50-seat restaurants versus a 150-seat place. There's so many different concepts and so many visions that I have. It's hard to even jot them down. I have tons of ideas. I just like drive down Ponce de Leon and just see restaurants I'm going to own one day.
What's been your biggest success at Eating House this past year?
We had a ridiculous year. It was amazing for us. We made it in like months on a Miami Magazine cover, Forbes 30 under 30 was huge, the James Beard Rising Star Chef in America - I was one of those 25 chefs and it was huge. It's just crazy. Next month, for Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival, I'm doing a trade panel with Michael Schwartz, Mike Lata and Daniel Boulud and me. You know, what the fuck am I doing on a trade panel with Daniel Boulud? It's funny, I was talking to the chef from Iron Chef America, Simon Majumdar, and I was telling him the same thing. He was like, "Bobby Flay told me this once, when I was thinking about how crazy it was … five years ago I was writing a bullshit cookbook in London and now I'm on Iron Chef Judging" and he's like "he told me, 'man you earned your right to be at that table'" and he told me the same thing. It doesn't even make sense, I still kind of like … I mean Daniel Boulud and Michael Schwartz and Mike Lata! These are dudes that I idolize, what the fuck am I doing sitting with them? It's crazy to me. It's awesome.
And I love our regulars. We've had people that have gone from being regular customers to like, playing basketball with them every Monday and having them on our running team. It's sick, I think it's awesome that we have a place we don't even want to leave at the end of the night sometimes. Instead of going out, we just chill at the restaurant. It's so sick to get to walk in and see your baby, your vision and something that you've put so much love into and people get that. People I think see the fact that we all love that place so much and people notice we're having more fun than they are sometimes. What else can I ask for? I work with like 15 of my closest friends and family and I love every single one of them. They are more than my employees. Alex is way more than just a business partner to me, he's a best friend of mine for years. We kind of grew up together. I come to work everyday and I work with my homies. We look the way we want to look – you don't want to shave, don't shave whatever, we listen to Biggie, what more could you ask for? We're living the dream for sure.
What's your focus at the restaurant right now?
It's always been food. I think the kitchen, the food at the restaurant is better than it's ever been. We're more refined and we've really found ourselves. The focus to me is always making sure that the food is continuously evolving and as we're growing and I'm expanding and I'm learning as a chef, I always want to bring that back to the food. We'll always have those tomato, Brussels sprouts, and carbonara and dirt cups – It's always going to be on the menu. That's 25% of the menu, that leaves me %75 of the menu to really get to express myself. And I can also express myself in those tomatoes and those Brussels sprouts in the sense that I am a business man too now. We have to pay the bills. I'm up to my ears in Brussels sprouts, but they are on every table, you know what I mean? Maybe people will get tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, carbonara and one day get pork cheeks just to be adventurous. Maybe next time you'll come back you might have the carbonara again, but you might try a mushroom tartare, who knows, and you start expanding yourself and trying new things and I think that's really important. I'm not stupid either. It's like David Chang taking the pork buns off the Momofuku menu, why would he do that? You have to grow and learn to keep a balance of being a business man. There's a difference between being a chef and a restaurateur and being a chef owner. Brussels sprouts, tomatoes and carbonara pay the bills – that's cool with me.
People wait in line for your stoner-themed brunch, walkin-n-bacon, can you tell me a little bit about that?
Yeah, brunch is like … definitely stoner-themed I think is a good way to describe it. We just wanted to make really delicious food. You can get two eggs sunny side up with hash browns and bacon and French toast anywhere, you can get regular pancakes anywhere. What am I going to make like ricotta and blueberry pancakes? What am I Martha Stewart? Let's have some fun you know? Let's have a good time … It's brunch on a Sunday and people want to eat delicious shit, they aren't afraid of eating fun, delicious food that early, they feel better about it. So, can we make waffles that taste like a birthday cake? Sure. Why not? Let's do it. We were like, "let's make cereal pancakes," how cool is that? I used to make a dessert called breakfast, which was like a cereal moose and so we decided to make different cereal pancakes. We made Cap'n Crunch the first time and we were like, "yeah we're not changing this, this will stay." We just have bold dishes and it's like a small menu and we just try to make sure that everything is delicious and it's all fun. If you're offering ten items, make sure they all taste good. We make tang mimosas because why not? Tang mimosas, five bucks. It's delicious. We have those people that are like, "oh my god it's not orange juice" … It's like, "go fuck yourself", come on dude have some fun. It's called "wakin n bacon", what do you expect? We don't even have real champagne at the restaurant, that's not our demographic. You come to the restaurant, spend $20, have a good breakfast, get in and get out. You're not there being lavish and having all you can drink mimosas. It's more like, during brunch we just turn it into an awesome breakfast joint that's got just gnarly, fun, delicious dishes. Whether you're four years old or forty years old, I think you can really like what we offer at brunch. We have a lot of kids at brunch and they're happy and that's important. Kids like your food that's a good sign.
There was some talk of you opening up a bar called Drinking Room, what's up with that?
Yeah, that's the plan. That's the next venture for sure. Unfortunately, we're waiting because we want the space where we want it. We don't want to just open up a free standing bar, we want it to kind of be attached to the restaurant. We're waiting for that to happen, but when the time comes, we'll open it up. We're ready to go for it.
When you're not at Eating House, where do you like to eat out in Miami?
I like Pubbelly, I like Macchialina a whole lot, Blue Collar, Yakko San, Sakaya. Now that Brad is at J&G Grille, it's bonkers. Zuma, it's fucking nuts its so good… I like eating a lot. It's cool to always go to your friends places, we always take care of each other. We get to just eat like kings. I love Sugarcane, awesome food.
Any other plans for the future?
Yeah, lots of restaurant concepts. I want to eventually go back to my Italian roots one day, have an Italian place. I have plans for an Argentinian place. Who knows? So many fucking things I want to do. That's what I admire so much about Jose and all those dudes and Andreas, they really have such wonderful concepts and they really just execute them so well. Those dudes are like big brothers to me. They really mentored us a lot and helped us out. You can give them a huge fucking shout out. When we were first getting together, they were so nice … anything to help us out. They were super rad. Those are my boys.
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