In a city where restaurants come and go quicker than Lebron did, it's rare to see a dining establishment stick around very long. But The Federal managed to buck the trend keeping itself relevant throughout the years. On the eve of its third birthday, Eater Miami spoke with partner Aniece Meinhold, who runs the restaurant along with chef and partner Caesar Zapata, about what has given the restaurant staying power and what we can expect from the duo in the future.
How's this past year, your third year, compared to your first two?
Our third year I think was the one where we solidified what we were doing.The first year was, 'this is the concept let's test it out.' The second year you find the stride, and because our partnership we had a bit of a fall out and we had to backtrack and find some other stuff, and now the third year was, 'this is what we really want to do and this what makes us happy.' It's really been all about focusing on the small plates and the comfort food stuff -- all of those funky initiatives that we always do because that's what we're selling and making people come back all the time. Things like crawfish boils, BBQ, the fun different dinners, stuff like that. And we're still doing the full menu revamp every four months. The only dishes that stay are the classics and everything else changes. Some places change a couple dishes here and there but we redo the whole thing, and we're happy doing that. It really stimulates Cesar's creativity and we want to keep it seasonal and as local as we possibly can.
Do you guys think you did anything differently in order to have some longevity in this town?
Restaurants do open and close. The stat is that 80 percent of restaurants close within their first year of operation. We're just happy that we can continue to do something that's fresh, contemporary and that people truly enjoy. I guess we knack for making really cravable things that no one else is doing, such as the crawfish stuff and the BBQ, and I think changing it up is what keeps people coming back.
What do you think your biggest challenges have been over the past few years?
I think the biggest challenge has been making sure that people do keep coming back. In a city like this you have 60-70 new restaurants opening every year and you're competing for a diner that eats out once or twice a week, that's a lot of competition. People go and try the new restaurants and sure they like it, but at the end of the day they always come back here. They think someone is going to be there that's going to treat me super nice, I can go back get my biscuit, there is a level of consistency that we are able to achieve and people have come to expect from us, and just the fact that we really love the people that come into our restaurant. The fact that you're a neighborhood restaurant and people will keep coming back, is something that we do really well, if not that's what we do best.
You guys have gotten plenty of accolades over the past few years. What would you say was your biggest of achievement?
I think the greatest accomplishment yet is being on the Bravo TV show Best New Restaurant (which begins airing next week). It's going to be airing all over the country, all over TV, over and over again. Besides from the obvious, you're also competing against your peers nationally, and when you have people like Tom Colicchio and Maggie Nemser that are actually telling you how awesome you are, and how creative your food is, you're really given credit for all your hard work. I don't know how to put it, no offense, but it's not the normal accolades you get locally. It's pretty well-regarded people in the industry who aren't locals that are actually saying, 'hey you're doing a great job." That's incredible and a phenomenal honor.
So tell us what you have in store for your third birthday celebration.
For the remaining Thursdays in the month we are doing a "Throwback Thursday" homage to where we've been. We're going to do specials from the Blue Piano days, stuff from our first two years at The Federal, we might pull something out of the Phuc Yeah hat, but we don't know. We're a little more cautious about that because the prep for that is so different from the rest of our menus, but definitely highlighting three or four dishes on a weekly basis to show where we've been and where we are today. On top of it all it makes people happy. Something about a little sandwich called a "McLovin" with some ground up pork, quail egg and chipotle mayo makes people really happy.
What's in store for the next year at The Federal?
We're looking to expand on what The Federal is and its vision, but more than that it is continuing to work with our local famers, continuing to contribute to our community, and devolp our culinary scene down here. We just came back from ten days in Califorina and you know honestly there's a lot of talent in Miami that measures up to that talent, in LA and San Francisco, and we should be really proud to contribute to that and be a part of it.
There have been rumors swirling around for a long time that a permanent Phuc Yeah is in the works, any truth to those rumors?
We have been working on finding a location for Phuc Yeah but finding a location is really difficult. It's been over a year since we started looking for a spot for Phuc Yeah. I mean are we working on it? Yeah we are absolutely working on it but until that spot becomes available it's still a work in progress. It has everything to do with what's out there, what's on the market, how much money you have, it's really not as easy as one might think.
What's your biggest piece of advice for aspiring restauranteurs?
Don't do it. [Meinhold laughs] Having a restaurant is like being a parent. If you think you can find any sort of semblance of balance while having a restaurant you are barking up the wrong tree. Restaurants take passion, commitment, a lot of time and patience. For people who want to open a restaurant, if you don't want to put in the commitment, the time and the patience to do it, then don't do it. But if you have the deep pockets and you can just hire people then go for it, but then what do you stand for.