One year ago, a chain restaurant called Devon Seafood & Steak opened its doors for the first time in Florida (and Miami) and it's since done very well for itself. Besides garnering a lot of local buzz and attention, the restaurant also scored big points with the food critics including a three-star review from Miami Herald. Eater spoke to executive chef Drew Hall, who left his Devon post in Philly to launch the concept in Miami, about the first year in business, challenges he faced and what's made it successful.
How did you get involved with Devon Seafood & Steak?
I was in Missouri, that's where the headquarters is. I started there as an hourly line cook and just worked my way up through the ranks. I went from Kansas City to Philadelphia as the sous chef and then I made my way down to Miami for the executive chef position.
How did the opening go?
The opening went really well. You know, there was a brand new staff, who has never even seen Devon because it's the first time we ever opened up in Florida and it was very tough, very busy night … for any restaurant, I'm sure, with a brand new staff you're going to have your challenges, but our staff did a really good job of sticking together and getting through it. We learned a lot the first night and learned what not to do and what we're doing good at and our staff really, really did a good job. I would say about 75% of that beginning staff is still with us. It's really great. Most of our staff has been there since day one and they all really love it and they all do a great job.
Overall, how was the first year?
The first year was good, you know, it was a learning experience obviously. It had it's ups and downs and, like I said, it's the first time we opened up in Florida or Miami and it really taught us what the business is like down here, what kind of people we're feeding … but it's been good. Miami Spice was a really big hit for us. It's something that we're not really used to. We're used to a little bit shorter of a restaurant week kind of thing, but it's been really good.
You've worked with Devon in a few cities. What's different about being at the Miami location?
It really is different. The weather makes a difference. People go out at different times, they tend to eat different things … it really is kind of wild to see how different it is from place to place. You wouldn't think that it would make that much of a difference with the same restaurant, by what people want to eat, but it really does. Things that work in Philadelphia for me, don't really work here, things that work in Florida wouldn't necessarily work there. I would say the biggest difference I notice is that people here really seem to love Florida fish. There are a lot of local species on the menu and people just really love it and that's what they want to eat. Why not give the people what they want?
What are some of the challenges that you've faced this past year?
I would say really just learning how to run a restaurant in Miami, adapting to what people like down here and what they expect of us and what they expect when they come into our restaurant. It really does vary from place to place. We try to have one standard across the board, but there are little changes that you have to make here and there to accommodate where you are. Other than that, I would say just forming a team for the restaurant. With a whole brand new staff, it takes time to really get them all together and keep them wanting to work there. And I think we've done a really good job with that, we've kept a tightknit crew.
What was your biggest success at the restaurant so far?
I think we've had a lot of success with the wine tasting series that we've had. We did a few last year. We did a tequila and tamales and a couple of others and it was a really nice way to see people come in and try something different that they've never seen on our menu and probably something that maybe they've never tried at all. And we got a lot of really good feedback. We're setting up the same thing for this year, where we'll do five or six different kinds of tastings with different kinds of alcohol and different kinds of foods and hopefully we get the same response this year.
What's your focus at the restaurant right now?
My biggest focus right now is really just keeping up food quality. We've had really good feedback from food critics and yelp and we really pay attention … any time we get a negative comment we try to figure out why that person had a bad experience and how we can fix it. We've made a lot of strides to figure out what we are not doing for our guest experience and we work toward fixing it all. I would say the biggest thing we're focusing on right now is our Sunday brunch. When I started there it was good, but we're starting to try to refine it. Instead of just doing prime rib, I made up a brine and we're brining the prime rib now. We're really trying to figure out what people would like to see when they come to our brunch. I think that our brunch is one of the best in the city, especially for the price, it's just a really good deal. But I really want us to make it even better. I want a lot of people to come in for it, so we're really working hard on getting it as best as we can.
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