Five years ago, a small self-described “feel good” restaurant, Fooq’s, opened its doors to much critical acclaim and fan fare. The small eatery made a bet on its Downtown Miami neighborhood well before it became the buzzy spot to be — and it succeeded, becoming a staple of the Miami food scene, an Eater 38 member, and has been credited as a pioneer in its neighborhood. Its owner David Foulquier reflects on the restaurant’s success, its evolution, and what’s next for him.
Eater Miami: Can you believe it’s been five years?
David Foulquier: I can’t believe that we’re five years in, but I’m super proud of it. A lot of places don’t last that long. Ninety percent of the restaurants in the world close in the first year or the first 18 months, so I always like to give myself a little reminder to be super grateful.
Year one was a smash. Still chasing year one total revenue numbers, granted we were open for lunch back then. It hit really big, really fast. Then Nicole left me after my first year and that was a big watershed moment for the restaurant — where you lose the opening chef and you have to rethink your identity. You’ve got to rethink what are we trying to say? What are we trying to do? And then that summer we got hit with Zika. I remember, I was like, “Whoa.” There were moments where I had to put a bunch of money into the business to keep it afloat and no one was leaving their house, almost like this corona thing now, except that this was ground zero for it.
I think when you go through those moments and you stick your head above water, it reminds you to be super grateful that things can change from one day to the next and to just keep trying to do the best that you can and hopefully things turn out good for you.
What’s the emotion that stirs up in you the most looking back on these past five years?
Pride. I was 24 when this started, and I think most people would have bet against me. My own landlord, who’s now one of my best buddies, told me, “I was sure you were going to fail.” [laughing]
I think it’s pride, tremendous pride, and just appreciation for something that I’ve created that has opened so many doors for me from personal friendships to professional relationships to life experiences, maturity. I learned how to become a leader. I learned how to become humbled. I learned how to really bite my tongue, but I also learned how to stand up for myself, stand up for my people, stand up for my restaurant. It’s been a really, really amazing five years. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
How would you say the restaurant scene in Miami has changed in the past five years?
So much. It’s night and day. Honestly, I find myself having moments bi-weekly at this point where I’m just like ... I pinch myself. I’m like, “Wow, Miami is really coming around. Miami is almost there.” When we first started this, there was nothing. There was a couple handful of places that were worth going to dine out at.
I think Miami was redefined itself as a city that has opened a door for high quality and high level concepts, which was definitely not the case when we first started, and I think that it’s going to continue to go in that direction.
I’m starting to feel the pressure every day to open another restaurant or do something before the city becomes over flooded, because every day, literally at this point every week or every month there’s a solid new restaurant opening.
How have you seen the Downtown Miami neighborhood evolve?
It was definitely a risky move when I opened here. I remember the first year or two we were dealing with so many homeless people that were bothering the clients, that were breaking into cars, that were just hustling people all day long. And that aspect really changed a lot. I have to give a lot of credit to E11even. I think that the police presence has become much better. I think that the just natural course of development.
I think that we still have some ways to go, we’re definitely not there yet. Being in the 24 hour neighborhood where you have Club Space, and E11even, and all these night clubs around you, you’re going to naturally have some kind of questionable characters. But it’s become part of our identity, too. And I’m happy because I was never a straight edge person. I never did things by the book. I always did things kind of in a quirky way.
The most important thing about the neighborhood that I have been the most proud of is that the leaders of the neighborhood have had a really nice dynamic, where we all support each other and we’re all in it for the long run. We all want this neighborhood to become one of the top neighborhoods in Miami. Like All Day next door, what a great success. Corner Bar, true and tried and steady. You always know what you’re going to get and it’s just almost always a good time. I only see great things coming for us.
And with that evolution, how has Fooq’s evolved?
Fooq’s is not the same place as it was when it first opened by any means, but it’s definitely has stuck by the same values, which is a mom and pop shop, a place where you could come and feel cozy, safe, welcomed by people who know you by name or know you by face. One of my biggest blessings is that my front of the house has really stayed with me for the most part since day one.
When we first opened the identity of the restaurant was really just a global comfort food. California-inspired cuisine with Italian influences but very little Middle Eastern. I sent Bryan [Rojas, Fooq’s former executive chef] to meet my family in New York and he came back from the trip and he was like, “We should be doing Persian food. This is what you have at home.”
When you go to my house in New York, you have leftover Persian food that stocks the fridge all day, every day. I ate that five days a week my whole life growing up. I guess when I opened Fooq’s, I didn’t think it was going to be something that other people were going to like so much. And they really did. People caught onto it really quick and people love the flavors. It’s unique. It felt honest, it was true. Fooq’s again today, my name is on the front of the door, better put out my food, food that I grew up eating, I grew up cooking, that made me passionate about what it is that I do today.
And for us to be able to honor the tradition and push the boundaries while doing so, a cuisine that’s like really true to my heart, is really special.
Do you think if Fooq’s were to open right now it would have the same successes? Do you think it would do well in this climate now?
Probably if I were to open Fooq’s today and I would have had five years experience between then and now, I think it would have been as successful, maybe more financially successful. And I think there might’ve been less hiccups, but I don’t think it would have had the same impact that it had when we opened.
I think that wouldn’t have been an early adopter, slash pioneer, I would have been maybe less of a big deal. When I opened this restaurant five years ago, it was a big deal. No one was opening restaurants here. No one was in Downtown doing cool, fun stuff that was putting the product first. We were kind of trailblazers. So I think that I would have definitely now been maybe a little bit lost in the shuffle, but since now and when we opened, Miami’s also grown in population, grown in palate, grown in overall food knowledge, and what they wanted has changed. So I think that we would probably been maybe just as, if not more successful.
So, what’s next? What should we be expecting?
We’re working on a couple of new restaurants. New York was a big success, and the Sushi Noz brand is attracting a lot of attention right now. So we’ve gotten a couple opportunities to expand the Sushi Noz brand, so we might be opening another Sushi Noz sometime soon — not in New York. In an undisclosed location.
And we’re working on a really personal project with my brother in New York that is kind of an ode to my late mom. Details about that will come out shortly. Not so far from what we’re doing here in the sense that it’s pretty cozy neighborhood-going, right next door to where I grew up.
I think that at the time when I first opened this restaurant, I had listened to Danny Meyer a lot. Take your time. He waited five years before he opened Gramercy Tavern, and then another five years before he opened Eleven Madison Park. And that always stuck with me, that idea of be grateful for what you have, don’t f-ck it up. And when the time is right, you’ll feel it and then go and expand.