During Art Basel 2013, Richard Hales opened his second restaurant concept in Miami's Midtown neighborhood, Blackbrick Chinese. The restaurant was an immediate hit getting attention from local -- and national -- food lovers and those looking for a break from the traditional Chinese eatery.
Eater Miami spoke with him about his first year, what challenges he faced and if we should be expecting anymore Blackbrick restaurants in the future.
Overall how has the first year been at Blackbrick?
It's been great. We can’t complain with the amount of accolades and awards — Top 50 from Bon Appétit Magazine, Best Chinese Restaurant from Miami New Times, 3 star review from Victoria [Miami Herald's restaurant critic]. It’s been an amazing year. Bringing something new into the city, into Midtown, and the community supporting us, it’s been great.
What have your biggest challenges been?
I think the challenges for me, and I’ve seen it in Blackbrick, but for me overall, introducing something new that is outside of what most people would expect. When I opened Sakaya Kitchen people were expecting sort of Thai Sushi, since it was a new Asian place and it was anything but that. At that moment there was nothing like it in the city, and Blackbrick has been the same thing. People were expecting a certain type of Chinese and it’s always dangerous for anybody that’s creative to go outside what people are expecting, and introduce something new and that’s always challenging. We’ve had to make adjustments throughout the year and do a mixture to what people expect but still continue on that mission of doing something new.
You listed off a few accomplishments, but out of that list what would you say you’re most proud of?
We’re proud of all of them. I think the most shocking for me, not that I expected anything that we got, but the Bon Appétit one just shocked me. I didn’t expect that at all. You know, you expect a review from the Herald, and you expect a review from the New Times, and these are sort of normal things and you hope for the best, and I am happy that we did get great reviews, but I was not expecting that. They had contacted me in January of this year after we had been open a month and that they noticed what were doing. They were big fans of Sakaya Kitchen and the food truck, and he [Andrew Knowlton, Bon Appétit's Restaurant and Drinks editor] had sent a letter of "congratulations, I heard you were crushing it down there already with this new place." But I didn’t really even think of that, I just thought it was something cool that he was doing because Andrew Knowlton is just a really chill, cool, laid-back guy. When I got the request for some fact checking for Bon Appétit I didn’t even think about the Top 50 list, it didn’t even cross my mind. Then the morning of when I first looked at Twitter and I saw a lot of re-tweets about Bon Appétit and that list I was like, "you’re f***** kidding me." I got to my computer and I saw it and it was just jarring. I was really just shaken by it. A lot of hard work has gone into my career and that’s an accomplishment that really stands out.
How would you say that Blackbrick has evolved over the past year?
It changed very quickly, because even on paper it was one thing then it opened. You have to understand my first employees started with me about four days before we opened the restaurant. The kitchen started about three days before we opened. I was testing recipes, and once the crew got in I was like "alright, these are the 20 things we’re going to do, can we do it?" Then we started to put things together and it evolved where I was focusing really outside Cantonese food, not that I do not like it, I just wanted to do something different. One of my chefs that I have there he is an expert in Cantonese food and he started showed me the way it’s really done. This is the more traditional way. It really sort of evolved in that direction where I was more accepting of doing that stuff that I felt was a little too main stream for my goals. So we evolved in that direction. Originally I was going to do a lot of Northeastern stuff and Western cuisine but those things we’ve incorporated like cumin lamb, but we’ve incorporated a lot more Schezuan dishes that I originally expected. It’s sort of indicative of my style. I don’t write anything down. I just start cooking, get the ingredients in, and one dish leads to another and the next dish and the next dish. It sort of evolves naturally but it wasn’t planned. Where we are today is a bit different what I had in my mind a year ago today.
How is it running Blackbrick versus Sakaya Kitchen?
Blackbrick was more what I was trained to do. I went to culinary school, worked in very high-end restaurants in NYC and Asia, working for the Mandrian Oriental as well. Then I opened a fast casual restaurant which was something I had never done before. I had never worked in a fast food restaurant even as a teenager. So Sakaya Kitchen was the first counter service restaurant that I had ever worked in and I owned it. That was a big learning curve for me. Then getting back into Blackbrick where it’s full service, full liquor, full wine list, that;s more what I have been doing all along. So it feels more like home. I love Sakaya Kitchen, it’s my baby, I was there the last two days expediting, and I just love being in there. It’s my first restaurant but I just love the concept. Blackbrick I love as well but it’s just different type of restaurant. It’s exciting because it’s kind of happening and trendy and that part is always fun.
So will we be seeing more Blackbrick restaurants in the future?
I always have my eye for expanding. I do get quite a bit of offers. There is a possibility, I’m not going to say yes or no at the moment but there is a possibility. There’s always possibility for more Sakayas and Blackbrick seems like its able to expand as well. But it won’t be in the numbers that I have planned for Sayaka.
In the upcoming year, what’s in store for Blackbrick?
Well just to get better. We are going to pick up some of the design elements that I wasn’t able to do because I don’t have any partners so it’s me financing the whole operation. So we are going to do some tweaks in the kitchen, some tweaks in the dining room just to make it more comfortable and more efficient in the kitchen. We have the same crew we just plan on getting better. I plan on delving more into the dim sum aspect and really doing some cool stuff in that area, evolve the wine list, evolve the liquor program to where I want it to be. We opened up in Art Basel, so what we had to do at that moment we just haven’t gotten to in 12 months. This year is about making it better and streamlining it for the future.
Does it feel like it’s been a year?
No. It just feels like a blink of an eye. It feels like a day and it feels like it has been forever. Like there has never been a day without it, one of those feelings. Just as if we’ve been doing this forever, it doesn’t feel like when you think of 12 months, no.