OTC (or Over The Counter) is, as of tomorrow, officially one year old. Brain behind the buzzy Brickell eatery is Michael Sullivan, who describes OTC, his very first restaurant venture, as a "fun, social environment based off a creative scratch kitchen with craft beer and wine". Eater spoke to Sullivan about that first year, the joys of having a new chef, what's changed and the future. Here's the scoop:
How did OTC come to be?
Well, I used to live in New York and work for a couple of restaurants up there and when I came down I definitely brought some of the ideas that I participated in in NY as well as what I saw and future trends that I could see happening there. Honestly, I'm sure a lot of companies start with one idea and then it kind of just evolves into something else and as it evolves you keep going, you keep listening to customers and pushing in a certain direction and it keeps on evolving. Now, at OTC, I got chef Jacob Anaya from Azul at the Mandarin and made adjustments to take the food to a higher level ? push the envelope a little bit more. That's where we're at now. Craft beer is still a huge part of who we are, we kind of always knew we wanted to be surrounded by craft beer from the get-go and I think, honestly, people might look at OTC now and think that its very different than the get-go, but the truth is that its very much the same. The idea being that we have a fun, social environment based off of a scratch kitchen with craft beer and wine. I still feel like we're very true to that today.
Did you always know you wanted to open up a restaurant?
No. Once I studied abroad – I lived in Madrid in Spain – once I was there I kind of, just traveling a lot and eating a lot throughout Europe and Spain, I came back and I just knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. I knew I wanted to do something with food and wine and culture and then that's when I made a decision to move to NY and work from restaurants and honestly from the first day I worked in a restaurant I made a decision that this was something I eventually wanted to be around and own. I'm from Miami so I always wanted to come back here and make it happen here.
Overall, how has the first year been?
Extremely positive. I didn't know what to expect, you know, this was my first venture ever, so I really had nothing to base it off of, but I think it's gone extremely well. I think for us to have at least created a little bit of a name for ourselves here in the Brickell community and offering a product that kind of wasn't here before has been extremely gratifying. Customers have really enjoyed the OTC product since we opened and it's wild that it's already been a year.
How did the opening go, what surprised you about it?
It wasn't so much of a surprise, I had kind of done my homework, I knew what I was in for. But the opening went well. I think ? openings for a lot of other restaurants, it's the hardest part, but it's also very gratifying. I think the staff is the hardest part because you start with an initial idea and, like I mentioned before, it keeps kind of morphing and evolving and rules change and ideas change and you have to find a team that's willing to believe in the big picture and believe in the leader. That's kind of the hardest thing: finding our team. I think we're now starting to find our team, but you know, it's taken a whole year.
What are some of the challenges that you faced that you weren't expecting?
I think finding a team is definitely the hardest challenge, especially for myself. It was my first venture, my first restaurant, so not too many people in the beginning wanted to work with me or for me and it takes a while to gain some credibility – not even that I'm close to having any sort of credibility yet, but at least we've been established here for a year. Not every restaurant gets to say that they've been there for a year. But yeah, getting the team is tough.
You mentioned earlier that you recently appointed chef Jacob Anaya, how's that going so far?
Honestly, it's been better than I could have expected or ever dreamed of. We had an idea of really trying to take the food to the next level and identifying where we wanted to go and who could take us there and Jacob was the first person I called and we hit it off from the moment we sat down. He's really taking control of the kitchen and I really think that the direction he's leading us in the kitchen is just – the food is incredibly high-quality, extremely fun and I think he cooks with a tremendous passion. He's been in fine dining for the last twelve years, this is really his first time being able to play with more fun foods, have a brunch item, have a lunch item, have fun with the dinner items, really start to create a following. I think at Azul and these fine dining establishments you only get to see your "regulars" once every six months because it's special occasion dining. And I think here at OTC it's a little more of a neighborhood and I think people can come here and enjoy his food on a regular basis.
Tell me a little bit more about the direction Anaya is taking with the menu. How's it changed from when you first opened?
I think the concept of the food is the same. It's fun, social environment based off a creative scratch kitchen with craft beer and wine. And I think what we did here is just enhance our food offerings. We just have a wider variety of items on the menu. We're way more balanced that we were before. We have a section of what we call "The Garden", which is kind of all vegetarian options. We have a section from the sea and we have octopus and oysters and [Anaya's] famous tuna poke, we do octopus kimchi, shrimp ceviche – these kind of raw bar aspects that we didn't have before, which is really kind of what he did at Azul with the tuna poke. We also have a section from the farm that's just fun, house-cured meats and croquettes done in different styles with interesting ingredients. It's not your every day ingredient. I think it's been fun, [Anaya] does it in a playful way with high energy. I think it's a little bit educational when you come to eat at OTC, you might learn a new ingredient or a new preparation. At Azul he was cooking a lot with sous-vide and modern technique and basically we're taking that whole style of cooking and just presenting it in an OTC way. Ultimately, the food's still very fun, they're big flavors. It's almost like a shared plate concept now. That's kind of what we saw customers doing before and that's why we evolved here is because guests would come to OTC and order a couple of things for the table and snack on it, but the menu didn't really allow you to do that that easily. So, what we did is we turned the menu into two sections: small plates and large plates. Pretty much every item on the menu now is made to be shared. It helps enhance the concept.
What are some of the most popular new dishes?
Chef Anaya's tuna poke, which he had at Azul – it's done a little bit differently here -, definitely one of the most popular items. I think because we're in Miami, croquettes get ordered quite a bit and we do ours a little bit differently. The potatoes we use are the Okinawan purple sweet potatoes, so when you open it it's a bright, vibrant purple and we stuff them with house-cured pork chop. It's delicious. We put a burger on the menu too. Everyone was asking for a burger before so we put a chef style on and it goes incredibly well with the beers. Some of the large place do extremely well, we do a whole Hawaiian style poulet rouge chicken – it's fun to order that and share it.
What's been your biggest success at OTC so far?
I think brunch. Out of everything we've rolled out at OTC brunch is the one shift that has really taken off. People in Miami really love to brunch. I think the timing was right. We offered a fun product that you see a lot in the West Coast and NY with the bottomless mimosas. But what I really think people come here for is the food at brunch, its absolutely delicious. It's more than just eggs at 12 on a Saturday or Sunday. It's more of an environment, it's very fun, the music, the people and the food's fantastic.
Anything in store for the future?
For right now we're very much just concentrating on OTC here in Brickell, hopefully in the future there will be more, but right now we're very focused on this space, this neighborhood and trying to offer the neighborhood a unique product and keep delivering what everyone's asking for.
When you say "more" you mean expanding the restaurant?
Possibly (laughs). We're not there yet, but we'd never rule anything out. We're having fun, people enjoy us. So we want to build up a nice brand and hopefully expansion and growth is always a part of the future.
· All Coverage of OTC on Eater [EMIA]