Brickell's newest waterfront eatery, Cantina La Veinte, made its debut one week ago at Icon Brickell, right next door to Cipriani. The Miami restaurant, a lavishly designed Mexican eatery owned by Mexican hospitality company Cinbersol Group, is only the first of many to come. General manager Jorge Del Valle tells us Cinbersol CEO Alberto Cinta already has plans to expand the concept to multiple big cities around the U.S. Until then though, Cantina La Veinte will make sure its first Brickell location is up and running. We spoke to Valle about their first week open, pulling in 3,000 guests on opening weekend and training staff to work with traditional ingredients like escamoles (otherwise known as —brace yourself — ant eggs).
Tell me a bit about yourself and your previous experience.
I came six years ago to open Philippe Chow in South Beach at the Gansevoort hotel from Mexico City. I was the general manager in Mexico City for Philippe Chow. I came to open the restaurant here in South Beach after being the general manager for three-and-a-half years, then they basically decided to open a new branch here in Miami and I was brought down here. Before that I worked in the restaurant industry as well. I would say I have 16 years of restaurant experience.
How did you get involved with Cantina La Veinte?
Well, I used to work in Cipriani. When we closed the restaurant in South Beach, I didn't want to go continue working for them in New York in the city because my family is here, so I didn't want to move up north and transfer all my life to New York. So, I decided to stay here and I got a job in Cipriani. I met Alberto Cinta [CEO and co-founder of Cinbersol Group] at Cipriani and he basically was talking to me about this project here in Miami and that I'm Mexican and understand the system they want to have and understand the food perfectly, so he basically offered me the position here to run the restaurant in Miami.
How was opening day at the restaurant?
It was good, we had three different opening parties over the weekend. In just the three days we had almost 3,000 people here in the restaurant. It was very, very difficult to handle, but we did the job.
How about the rest of the week?
The rest has also been very busy since we opened the first night. Hopefully, it's going to stay like this for many, many years. People get very excited about the restaurant because of the decoration, the food, the service. When you have an opening for a 225-seat restaurant, it's difficult with little employees, but we're trying to make it happen.
How do you think Cantina La Veinte stands out in the Brickell scene?
I think it's something different. There is no restaurant like this in the Brickell area, and I would say in Miami. We have a lot of entertainment, people can come to the restaurant and say, "okay, listen I want just a cocktail at the bar," or, "okay, I want a full dinner," "I want to sit down with clients and have a business meeting," so we can accommodate any type of parties. We have mariachi some nights, no live music, but I would say we have ambient music and then two main screens for projections at night, so it's a very fun restaurant.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
As a matter of fact, I have been checking reviews on OpenTable and Yelp and fortunately we have very good reviews. People are accepting the restaurant very well. We can't make everyone happy, but in general we have very good comments. The first day was a little bit off because we were still training with the staff — all the staff, they're not used to working with all the ingredients that we have because we are more authentic and it's not just a sauce and cheese Mexican restaurant, some of the products we bring straight from Mexico, so we are the only restaurant in Miami carrying, for example, escamoles, different clams you can only find in Mexico. People get very excited with all of this new type of cuisine and Mexican food.
What are some of the greatest challenges you faced this past week?
One of my challenges is to get all my staff to understand the philosophy of the company and the type of service that we want to have. We are focusing on customer service. The customer for us is the first thing. It's completely difficult to manage a restaurant when you are open for business and at the same time training people.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice before opening, what would it be?
I would say, do as much training as you can before you open. It's very important to train the staff; they are the soul of the business.
What's in store for the future?
Well the company decided to open the first restaurant in Miami and in the States because we want to expand the brand and expand the Mexican gastronomy to the States. So, the plans for Mr. Alberto Cinta, for the company, is not just this new branch. For the company it's difficult just to open one branch, so they want to expand in different cities like New York, L.A., San Fransisco, main cities and make La Cantina La Veinte one of the most successful Mexican restaurants in the United States.
What timeline are we looking at?
They're planning to open New York and Vegas in the next year. We want to make this restaurant more happy and fun and then we are going to be opening more branches. But at this moment we want this restaurant to be working 100% properly. We have the plans, but we don't want to run before we walk.
· All Coverage of Cantina La Veinte [EMIA]