It's been a year since PB Steak first opened its doors in Sunset Harbor. Since then, owners Andreas Schreiner, Jose Mendin and Sergio Navarro a.k.a. the Pubbelly boys, have kept at it, expanding their restaurant offerings one at a time and most recently developing L'echon Brasserie, their latest concept scheduled for a February opening. Eater spoke with Andreas and Jose about what this last year at PB Steak has been like, how they go about managing all their restaurants, changes, and what's next.
First off, how did you guys meet each other?
Andreas: Jose and I have known each other for a long time, since 1998. We met in Miami by coincidence through some mutual friends. Jose was finishing culinary school and I was finishing hotel school. There weren't too many people that were from Puerto Rico studying and cooking here at that time, so we just kind of met and we followed our friendship throughout our careers over the last almost 17 years and always respected each other and what we were doing. By coincidence we ran into each other after not having seen each other for a few years in Chicago. Jose was opening a restaurant there and I was doing the food and beverage operation for the ELISIAN HOTEL and we got to talking, we met at a bar, and a year later we ended up in Miami. We got together to decide that we both wanted to do something on our own, we fell in love with the food culture in Chicago and all the wonderful things that were happening there and we loved Miami so much – we thought, why couldn't Miami have a similar culture of little privately owned restaurants that were all about the food and the soul and the people and not about being pretentious or superficial and that's how we got together.
How did the idea for PB Steak come to life?
A: Well, we had opened our fourth restaurant and there was a very iconic restaurant here in the neighborhood called Joe Allen's for 17 years. It was the only restaurant in Sunset Harbor that kind of lasted and it was a real staple. When the owners got tired and sold it, some good customers of ours purchased the property and offered us the space. Another tenant came in before and had two flops within a year, so they repossessed the space and offered it to us. We got to talking to decide what does the neighborhood need and what can we do that's different and fun and we decided to come up with a steakhouse for the local community that was geared and had a feeling just like Pubbelly where the majority of the items are meant to be shared and its geared toward small plates. So basically a steakhouse where you didn't necessarily have to have steak if you didn't want to. And the space was really conducive to it, so we sat down together and came up with PB Steak.
Do you remember opening night? What was that like?
Jose: Opening night was pretty smooth. We got to try a lot of the dishes before at Pubbelly when we came up with the concept. When we come up with a concept we start trying out what we're going to do with it, so we knew what we were doing in the kitchen. It was a pretty smooth night, the reaction of people was good from the beginning. I think we have adjusted the concept a little bit over the year, we changed the menu a bit – still working on it and making the concept the way we want it to be. At the end of the day, we are trying to be a neighborhood restaurant. We're trying to be a local restaurant and take care of local people. It is a steakhouse but definitely we're more than that here. We work with a lot of seafood and a raw bar and it's a sharing concept and we see a lot of repeat guests. I think people are enjoying the type of dining experience that we give them.
A: The opening night went quite smoothly after four openings within three years, we have a pretty good recipe down. Not to say that it wasn't incredibly busy and chaotic, but we were able to have a really good team in the kitchen and in the front of the house and we all jump into action, so we make sure that the customer doesn't suffer and the food is the first priority. So we've been very blessed that every opening we've done has been great from day one; PB Steak was no exception.
Jose, you mentioned some changes. What are some of the things that have changed over the last year?
J: At the beginning we were focusing a lot more on steak. We've taken that down a little bit. We have less steaks on the menu, but the steaks that we have are all exactly what we're looking for; dry aged or they come from a particular farm. And then we have added a lot more small plates and seafood into the menu. Those are some of the changes. And basically the menu layout, from the beginning to what it is now, its two very different layouts. But the dining experience has been the same from the beginning, that hasn't changed at all. I think our happy hour is getting a lot bigger as well. We went all out with the happy hour menu and I think that's a factor of the restaurant that's become very popular.
A: We've added brunch on Saturdays and Sundays and the brunch has become a staple in the neighborhood. It's probably become one of the best brunches in town. We started off with a steak inspired lunch, but we realized it was a little bit on the heavier side. So we decided to debut our new concept called Taco Belly, which is our Pubbelly-style taqueria. So we're debuting that inside PB Steak during lunch for a limited time. It was a pop-up, but we couldn't take it off it was in such high demand, so it stayed through the Winter. So that's been another positive change – basically you get two restaurants in one at the property. It's been really fun and it goes to show how much thought we put into our customers, we're always trying to give them new and fun and fresh.
When do you guys plan to launch Taco Belly?
A: We're looking at the Fall perhaps. We're now focusing on the brasserie that we're opening up and the food and beverage operation at the new cabana resort that's opening up now in late February. So that's our main focus, once its running smoothly we'll go ahead. We have to look for the right spot for Taco Belly, everything else is already done for us, so we just have to move into the space and open the doors. But we want to make sure that it's a space that embodies everything we want for the restaurant and a little hole in the wall without being a hole in the wall that fits the concept.
Tell me a little bit about how you split your time up between all the restaurants.
A: Well, it takes a little bit of juggling. We're very blessed and the way that our restaurants have worked well is because we are three owners that are very, very involved and hands-on every single day of the week. We're here everyday and we're able to watch all the restaurants. Between Jose, Sergio and myself we take our turns. I come in early in the morning and make sure all our restaurants are ready and operational and observe lunch, Jose later comes in and backs me up with that, Sergio comes in afternoon and wraps up all the dinner services. On the weekends all three of us are here in the evenings and at night time during the week we make sure that at least two of us are always circling between all the restaurants, so its pretty funny if you stand on a corner in Sunset Harbor you'll see if not the three of us at least whoever is on duty that evening running back and forth between Purdy and 18th street and West Avenue at least 15-20 times a night. So that's pretty funny, but we get our cardio workout. We love what we do and we love our restaurants. It's great when you're happy to be here and it makes a big difference between a job and a career and a passion.
Have there been any surprises over the past year?
A: Probably more than we could even talk about. Being new restaurant owners over the last four years, we all knew how to operate a property, but its completely different to be an owner and have to deal with every single issue from plumbing, electrical issues, permitting, flooding … you name it, something's happen to us. And it happens on a daily basis, then it just becomes normal operation whereas before it was a surprise and you had no idea or what to do with it, now it's just a day to day operation.
J: Always surprises.
A: Surprises keep us going.
What were some of the biggest challenges that each of you faced?
J: For me, it was about defining the concept that I wanted to do, the menu development, the experience I wanted to do. You call yourself a steakhouse, everybody perceives something different. Steakhouse is a concept that is different in every town or country. We wanted to give our style of identity to the steakhouse, but its not always what we think works, you have to adapt to the customer and what they want. I think now after a year, it's been a challenge adapting to the customers and giving people what they want, but people are getting it more now. To make a sharing steakhouse, a lot of people don't understand it. Everybody wants their own steak, but that's not the case here. You want to have a lot of small plates and finish with one steak and share it with a couple of people with a bunch of sides – that's what we're trying to do. I think now the people that get it are coming back and loving it. Making that concept fun and for everybody has been my biggest challenge. At the end we're here for the customers, we want to make them happy.
A: For everything that's non-culinary related, was the biggest challenge. How to be able to manage all of those things on our own in the beginning, from coming in the morning and doing all the accounting and then I had to do all the permits myself for the restaurant – and I've actually done it myself for every restaurant – first I didn't know you could hire somebody to do it, second we didn't have any money to hire someone. I had to learn how to do it either way, but having to learn vs hiring somebody has made us stronger more savvy business men in every aspect of the company. I had to learn how to do public relations and marketing because we couldn't afford a PR agency, so from answering e-mails to writing press releases to everything that we did the first couple of years until we were able to bring on Ali to help us out. So, everything has been a challenge. Finding the right people, training them, being able to delegate to my new managers. It's hard to give away something that's so close to you, these restaurants feel like my children and to have them run it and be confident is challenging. I've been very fortunate that we've found some very good people to do that and help us out. But we always strive for perfection and better and pushing the bar and that's always something you have to keep on working on with your staff.
What do you see in the future for PB Steak?
A: This will be the second year and I see wonderful growth for it. I see a lot more people are now getting to know the restaurant and understand the concept and what we're all about, they're really falling in love with everything that we're offering and I think it's going to continue to grow. I think more people are going to get to know it and it's going to become, I think, the local restaurant in Sunset Harbor. It has the most fun bar, it has the most innovative craft cocktail and beer program, and the menu suits everybody who wants to come have a steakhouse experience or somebody who wants to come have a traditional Pubbelly experience and just have a bunch of small plates. It really encompasses both gamuts of what we were trying to do and I think it's going to continue to grow and become one of the favorites.
Does it feel like it's been a year?
A: No, no it never feels like it's been a year. It feels like it's been ten. We always say that. After the first year we're like, "really it's only been a year?" I mean so much has happened and more so even with us because we've been opening a restaurant like every eight months, that's kind of the average. It's pretty daunting, we never stop, we always keep on going and it definitely feels like we've had it longer, but that's always a good thing because it means it's becoming stabilized and has a strong identity. There are always fun things that we can grow and improve on, which still keeps it a very interesting process. But for sure more than a year it feels like.
· All Coverage of PB Steak on Eater [EMIA]