Just one year ago, The Local House opened up at the Sense Beach House on Ocean Drive. The restaurant mirrors the laid-back, beach-house ambience of the boutique hotel it resides in. A few seats take up almost the entire lobby, the front doors are kept wide open, and the whole experience exudes more of a chill-out-and-watch-the-afternoon-roll-by than a dine-and-dash attitude. For their one-year anniversary, we spoke with owner Ciro Campagnoli, a first timer in the restaurant biz. Here's what he had to say:
How did The Local House come to be?
Actually, we're pretty happy… we became what we were supposed to be, a Local restaurant covering the South of Fifth area. The story is very simple actually. I'm coming from real estate. I've been in real estate for 15 years. I moved to Miami three years ago and when I bought the hotel there was an opportunity to open a restaurant. So there were 45 seats approved and after looking for a partner in Miami I didn't find anyone who's marrying with me and the hotel perfectly, so I decided to open it myself, to take the challenge and do it myself.
Keep in mind that the hotel is so small that it's difficult to outsource the restaurant to someone else because it's really part of the hotel. Even the dining room, it's in the lobby, it's completely mixed and linked with the lobby. And we were looking for an idea of a restaurant that was reflecting what we have in the hotel. The hotel is a beach house, so we're looking for a restaurant that was a light menu and a seafood menu because we are basically in front of the beach. So the idea of the restaurant comes out basically from the hotel. We were renovating the hotel and we said, "why don't we do it ourselves and open a restaurant too?"
How did the opening go, what were some of the things that surprised you about it?
The opening went pretty well actually. We had 60 or 70 guests, all local, all from Miami. Most of them are friends because after being here for a year, we're always getting the same people. We have guests that are coming here once a week. We had media too. We did the one-year anniversary party also, to thank our customers that have been here from the beginning. That wasn't really an anniversary party, but a family party.
This being your first venture into the restaurant world, what were some of the challenges you faced that you weren't anticipating?
The challenges… There's a lot of challenges. The challenge in the restaurant business is basically putting together the menu at the beginning. Making a light menu that was reflecting the idea of our concept. It was pretty difficult. Putting together the family that is working here right now has been challenging, but rewarding because now we have a team in the front and back of the house that I trust, that I'm proud of and that reflect the value of my company, not only the hotel and the restaurant. My whole real estate company. Putting together reliable, strong people was the most challenging thing, but rewarding. Most of the time the word challenging is connected with the word rewarding for me.
What was your biggest success at The Local House this past year?
Maybe the brunch. I was not expecting to have one of the strongest brunches on South of Fifth. It starts at 9 a.m., we're packed by 10 a.m. and by the end of the day we're serving 100 to 150 guests. For a 42 seat restaurant it's a great success. We have an outstanding cocktail list. We worked on it for like six months. It sounds like fun because basically everyday you get to try new cocktails, but after five or six days you're dead. So brunch. The brunch is a real success. And we have beautiful people.
The Local House recently dropped their prices and this is something you don't usually see restaurants doing. Can you tell me a little bit about your reasons for doing that?
Dropping the prices is I think strictly related to our name. We're The Local House. We're looking to have recurring clients. We were seeing we have people coming here twice a week, but we want our guests to feel like they can outsource the kitchen out of their apartment. We call the hotel "your home away from home." We want the restaurant to be "your kitchen" … oh that sounds cool … "your kitchen away from your kitchen." This is why we dropped the prices. We want to have your kitchen away from your kitchen at an affordable price. That's the idea.
What is your focus at the restaurant right now?
To grow. And when I reach the number that I want to reach, to open another Local House in another hotel. We're expanding. We're looking to buy another hotel. The marriage between the restaurant and the hotel is working pretty well, the concept is working. When we're going to reach the numbers we want – and we're very close – we'll open another restaurant. And in a year, I'm very happy. Usually in the restaurant business the first year you're opening, the second year you're stable, the third year you start making money. We're almost doing what we should do on the third year on the first year, so if we keep growing like this in six months we're going to look for something more challenging.
Do you think you want to open the same concept or a new restaurant altogether?
Maybe The Local House, but I'm not really sure because The Local House is connected to the territory or exactly to the location that it's in. So, it's based on the idea of the beach, a seafood menu. So, if the new location is a location similar, it could be. But the idea of something local, with local products for local people, it's working.
When you're not at The Local House, where do you like eating out?
I really like Casa Tua, Sardinia. If I'm getting a drink I really like Monty's.
What does The Local House have in store for the future?
We're starting monthly or bimonthly charity events.
· All Coverage of The Local House [EMIA]
[Photo Courtesy of Ciro Campagnoli]