Food News

Beer and Burger Joint: Interview With Founder Ron Garcia

Beer and Burger Joint, in little more than a year, has become one of South Beach's most successful restaurants, a haven of hamburgers, hearty sandwiches, and no-joke neo-Southern cuisine. 

Featured last year on Man Vs. Food for their ten-pound  hamburger "The Mother Burger," B&B has attracted the usual bevy of celebrities and celebrity watchers, along with a regular crowd of locals. 

Beer and Burger joint recently opened in Brickell and is mulling expansion into Broward. I sat down with friend and veteran restaurant impressario Ron Garcia to talk about the new American appetite for traditional, lip-smacking American food.

Clean Plate Charlie: B&B has somehow introduced the true meaning of "hearty" to South Florida. Your dishes are "pull back and loosen your belt" filling and employ some creative Southern cooking recipes with a little nouvelle cuisine thrown in. What made you think that big and tasty food would work in tiny, trendy-food-dominated South Beach, and how did you manage to be right?

Ron Garcia: The lack of comfort food in South Beach made it clear that there was a niche needing to be filled. You can call it anti-South Beach. Where comfort food is scarce in this fast-paced environment, we created a menu that makes you feel like a kid again. We provide big-portioned food that can be eaten on a regular basis without breaking the bank and isn't junk food. We seek out the best, natural ingredients that we can buy, which certainly isn't what fast-food companies do.

B&B feels like innocent pre-'90s America -- classic rock, a classic American menu, giant bowls of ice cream for the kiddies. How has the art of restaurant and menu design changed post-9/11, recession, and all that jazz? Is there a resurgence of nostalgia for comfort food, pretty waitresses, and danceable soundtracks?

Comfort food never goes out of style. When times get rough, including the economic downturn, people turn to comfort food. People nowadays are looking to get more bang for their buck when they go out. Here at B&B, they not only get quality food and service but a quality experience for not a lot of money. That, I believe, is our true value. As for the classic rock, we pulled rock-themed music from all eras for our soundtrack choices. Our one common denominator? The songs are something people recognize. It evokes memories; it brings them back to certain times and places in their lives. Call it "comfort music."

You've been in the restaurant business for more than 20 years. What top trends do you see approaching as people move away from glitz and toward personal connections and inexpensive, people-centered dining?

People are seeking quality, personalized service, and not being treated as just another customer. The family connections we create between the staff and our regular patrons is a top priority here. They want to know that it is their place and that the local population has such a place that they can call their own. As far as trends go, people are going to continue opening more and more burger places. In this business, there are so many examples of reinventing the same thing, and people, especially in South Florida, are quick to jump on the bandwagon. There were very few places in Miami that specialized in this food genre before B&B came along. We seem to have started the trend anew --  both directly and indirectly.

What's next for the B&B franchise?

Let me begin by saying we are not a franchise. We prefer to own and set up and manage our restaurants. The integrity of our brand is essential for the success of B&B. At this point, it's not just a brand but also a culture. We got the garage, grungy, motorhead, rock 'n' roll, local feel down in spades, and our colorful regulars have become an integral part of our image. As for what's next, we would like to seek out other neighborhoods and do something similar. Create a safe zone for locals and a gathering spot before or after the "night out."  So we'll continue our search mostly in South Florida for a community that we feel B&B could fill a niche in and continue with our rapid growth history.

 It's not hard to bring back rock 'n' roll when it never went out of style!

Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.