Daniel Serfer and Ryan Roman were on opposite sides of the food industry before they teamed up and birthed the fun oyster bar experience that is Mignonette. Serfer was the founder and executive chef for the successful Blue Collar, while Roman was the food blogger (Miami Rankings) that wouldn't give Serfer the light of day.
We spoke to them both about how Ryan became co-owner, the reasons behind Mignonette's prosperity and where Daniel likes to go for self-induced food comas.
Eater: How soon after opening Blue Collar did the idea of a second concept come up?
Danny Serfer: You know, the idea for Mignonette wasn't even mine, it was Ryan's. I think we just had a casual conversation about doing something, it wasn't really supposed to be a restaurant, it was supposed to be like oysters and beer. It was supposed to be right next door to Blue Collar so people could have a place to wait while Blue Collar was busy. I think we had that conversation in spring of '13-ish.
So the idea was for people to not have to wait outside by the (hooker) motel.
DS: Yeah so they had somewhere more comfortable.
Ryan Roman: Instead we did it down here and people still have to wait outside at Blue Collar.
DS: As we kept looking at other spaces and eventually finding this one, a space of this size, I don't think it makes sense to just have oysters and beer. So then it kind of turned into a full-blown restaurant. The roots were really just of a simple oyster bar. We were gonna have oysters, soup and beer. And champagne.
We read that you (Ryan) declined Daniel's invitation to attend Blue Collar's opening night.
RR: I did. Yeah. That's a good story. You wanna tell that one?
DS: We had a very limited amount of media, friends and family invites for Blue Collar when we opened. I begged [the PR agency] to invite MiamiRankings.com. I didn't know him personally at the time. I just knew him because when I was in New York I would read the blog every week and I thought it was like a very intricate, interesting blog that there was like people behind and algorithms. Almost like how ESPN ranks college football teams. I thought it was something like that. I didn't know it was just, Ryan.
So, then when I did find that out, I was like, "Please, please, please, we have to invite this guy. He's so cool." One of the reasons I really wanted to open up a restaurant was to get on that list. And then he snubbed me. He didn't even respond to our request. Didn't even decline. Just like, ghosted us.
How did you guys reconnect after that?
DS: We were doing this thing at Blue Collar, National Blogger Burger Month. May is National Burger Month. So, at the time, every week we had a different blogger make a different burger. And we didn't, obviously, after being snubbed, invite MiamiRankings.com. We thought he was a big jerk. Then he made some obnoxious tweet about it. I was gonna respond something really mean to his obnoxious tweet, but then I didn't. I actually said something nice. And then we went on our first date at Josh's Deli and I think the rest is history.
Danny obviously has experience in the restaurant business. Is this your first real hands-on opportunity to work with a restaurant?
RR: Yeah. I mean, I've eaten in restaurants religiously. So I'm well-versed in the diner side of restaurants but I've never worked in a restaurant previous to doing this project. I also kinda understood that I wouldn't be the one who knew a lot of the practical, hands-on aspects of the restaurant. I've been able to learn a lot from this, but my perspective, and why I think we work well together, is that I have the perspective totally from being in a restaurant as a diner, enjoying the experience and not thinking about how the sausage gets made. That's the side that Danny knows really well. So we just had very different perspectives. And though we don't really have delineations between what we're responsible for, we sort of talk through everything, we've come at it with different angles so I think it works.
DS: Ryan's experience as only a diner was just as, if not more, valuable than my experience coming from actually being in the kitchen.
It's been a year. What stood out the most on Mignonette's opening night?
DS: It kind of seems cliché, but I'll say it because the same thing is happening as we speak right now. Two hours before we opened all the plumbing was backed up. The grease trap was messed up. So I was on the phone with the plumber like, "Please come help us out we're about to open a restaurant, it's fully booked. Can you come and help us," and he came over and saved the day and allowed us to open.
RR: Well, I didn't tell Danny, but, I clogged the drain just so that he'd have a story to tell a year later.
What do you think has changed the most since Mignonette first opened?
DS: Luckily we've had most of the same staff since day one. I think we're much faster at shucking oysters. Also I think the part of the menu that's evolved the most since opening has been the appetizers. We've messed with it the most and have gotten some good results.
RR: I think the place is a few degrees cooler. We try to address some of the things you don't know about a place until it opens. Like what the temperature is gonna be with people in here and the kitchen running. And then the acoustics of it, we just didn't know how it was gonna play out until it was up and running, and then we put in some sound paneling
Other than the plumbing, what are some challenges you've faced in the past year?
DS: I don't really know. We've been really fortunate.
RR: I always talk about this place like a baby. I always say we don't have a really fussy baby, it always sleeps through the night. We've avoided big crises. I think it's just about trying to plan and worry about things when they're not broken and then kind of avoid the big breaks.
(To Danny) Do you think your experience with Blue Collar helped you this time?
DS: Tremendously. In Blue Collar I saw all these different things happen and here, a lot of those same things happened but we were kind of up on it a few days before. Doing a lot more preventative maintenance on all the equipment and stuff like that. We also have a little bit of cross training, which is nice. People can work here and over there.
Where do you spend most of your time?
DS: I'm pretty equal, I think. I have a routine where my time is kind of split between the two. Mornings I'm there and afternoons I'm here. Evenings are kind of where I'm needed.
Other than Mignonette and Blue Collar, where would you guys say are the go-to places for seafood or soul food?
DS: Seven Dials.
RR: They have a great fish and chips.
DS: The best fish and chips. Great duck.
RR: Before we opened, and still, I think we really liked The River. We like what they do. They were sort of the original place focused on having a deep selection of oysters in Miami. Oysters aren't something we discovered or invented. I think we try really hard to present them in the best way. We liked doing this because we liked eating them. I think The Dutch and The River do a really nice job.
What about soul food?
DS: For me, always L.C.'s. I just love that kind of stuff. For me, when I think of comfort food, it's stuff that I wanna eat and then have to take a nap. It makes me feel good and want to just veg. L.C.'s is like that for me.
Any other seaside projects in the works?
RR: One of the things we like when we look for spaces with character is that we're often, like I could give two places now that have a similar sort of thing in terms of being a little off-the-beat in path. You know, it's not the prettiest, safest spot, but it's in a neighborhood we really like, it's got some architectural integrity to it and I think as a result we end up looking at spaces that are probably not like the prime, water-front space.
We're not the hyper-local fanatics. For us it's sort of a mix. Oysters come from the northeast, northwest, maybe the mid-atlantic. The closest oyster to here is probably the panhandle. So it's not really a local product. But, you know, we'll go where there's something great. Our lobster tails are from South Africa because the product is so good, it's sweeter, it's unusual.