One of the hottest Miami newcomers, Juvia, is approaching its one year anniversary on February 18. Located on 1111 Lincoln Road, the 10,000 square foot penthouse eatery sits atop a parking garage and overlooks Miami with every inch of its space. This might be one of the reasons why it was awarded Design of the Year by Esquire magazine and still welcomes in guests with awed expressions. Almost one year in, Eater spoke to owner Jonas Millan, executive chef Sunny Oh, and executive chef Laurent Cantineaux who all give a nod to Miami with this creative and visionary dining spot.
How did Juvia come to be?
Jonas Millan: Juvia in a way is the result of a journey. When we set out to build this restaurant, we had a vision. We wanted a restaurant that would speak 'Miami' from the ground up. Miami is a vibrant city, full of different cultures. We wanted to translate that into a space where people would feel comfortable. We wanted a sense of nature, that's how the vertical garden came to be. Then we wanted an open space where people would feel comfortable and free to see everything from the kitchen. Juvia came to be as a result of our team work. There is so much of each one of us, that we wanted to create a unique place, a place that will somehow translate everything that we've done in the past years, all our experience into a single place.
How did the opening go? What surprised you about it?
JM: We didn't advertise at all. We wanted to put Juvia out there for people to embrace it, to discover it by themselves. When you start explaining something people lock down a vision of what this place should be. We wanted people to be amazed. The first time I walked into the space, I was like, WOW. It was a bold move on our part ? but somehow we're happy with the outcome. The response from Miami has been great and we're very grateful for it. It was such a personal project that in a way we were putting ourselves out there, so we were very pleased that people enjoyed it and they keep enjoying it.
Laurent Cantineaux: Maybe surprised about how fast the voice of Juvia spread. The restaurant was fully booked once we opened.
How did the review process go with the critics?
Sunny Oh: We have such a diverse clientele because of the location. Lincoln Road is notorious for having a touristy crowd. Then you have the locals. We try our best to make the critics happy, to make every customer as happy as possible. But I think the response is we have a lot of returning guests that come back on a weekly basis. So far so good, they seem to like us.
JM: Either way, every time, we try to read all the reviews and try to understand and read between the lines, we try to understand how can we improve and how can we make Juvia better.
LC: We have more than 2,500 customers a week, that's a lot of people. We try to make each one happy, but taste is about them, the individual.
What are some of the challenges you faced that you weren't expecting?
SO: Weather. We didn't foresee how the weather was going to play into this. Every day was a challenge; every day still is a challenge. It's our heart and our soul in this. Everything was a discussion. The debate about the purple linens? We took hours upon hours, weeks upon weeks to decide whether it was going to be this napkin or that napkin. Everything was like that. Every little detail.
JM: Now that we are open, there's an expectation of what Juvia is. One of the biggest challenges is not just meeting those expectations, but trying to exceed them.
A year later, what has changed at the restaurant?
SO: I got a day off (laughs). In the beginning we were here – I think it was like 120 days straight. After a year, things are falling into place better and better and we're growing.
JM: I think one of the things is that when a year passed by the foundations of the vision that we had of Juvia are now in place. Now the challenge is to raise the bar a little more everyday and make this experience as unique as possible.
What's been your biggest success at the restaurant?
JM: Success is a big word. I think success is a destination more than a journey and we don't believe that we're there yet. It's been a great journey and that's where we want to keep going. There is no destination. We want to keep growing. We're glad we're where we are, but we think there's so much road ahead and ways to discover it. That's where the thrill is.
LC: Day after day you have to be creative and inventive. You can be successful, without ever reaching success. You never know what's going to happen tomorrow.
What does Juvia have in store for the future?
SO: We have some ideas that we're talking about. Future ventures are a possibility.
JM: But business is like comedy, the most important thing is timing. Right now for us, it's reaching that year.
When you're in Miami and not at Juvia, where do you like to eat?
JM: I love Houston's. Wow, that's the hardest question. I like Michael's Genuine Food & Drink. That's really the toughest question of all.
SO: My background being Asian, I like Asian food, so I'm always hunting out good Asian restaurants. I like to see Ethnic food coming to be in Miami. Momi's definitely nice. I do go to Tropical every once in a while for some Dim Sum.
LC: I love Houston's. For special occasions I like to go to Hakkasan. Sunny helped me discover a new place, Momi Ramen. What a revelation, I mean, it was such a good surprise.
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