Garcia's: The Family, The Business, and... the Dolphins?
Luis Garcia has his claws deep in the family business.
Photo by Riki Altman
Garcia's is more than just a quarter-of-a-century old restaurant. It's a multifaceted story incorporating a family legacy, a wholesale business, a market, and occasionally, Suite 343 at Sun Life Stadium. Huh? Yep, feeding the hoity-toity box at the Dolphin home games is a new leap of faith for the Garcia family, but one they are hoping will pay off.
If you've never been to the restaurant, you're in for a treat. Sure it smells a bit fishy, but that's comforting since the seats are right on the river and the market downstairs is loaded with a stunning selection of shiny claws and colorful creatures with fins. Family pictures are found on nearly every wall, too, reminding guests that they are more than just diners once they walk through the door. The downstairs seating area, just behind the fish market, is loaded with basic wooden picnic tables, while upstairs is more jovial. Garcia said the long bar, ornate flooring, and lofty seating offering views for miles were built as a tribute to his father who passed away five years ago.
So here's how we'll divide this interview up: Today and tomorrow we'll talk with co-owner Luis Garcia about the restaurant and all its related businesses. Then Monday, we'll focus more on executive chef Claudio Bravo. Tuesday we'll give you reason to run to the store when we share Bravo's recipe for stuffed lobster with crabmeat, shrimp, and scallops. Is your mouth watering yet? It should be. That dish is freakin' dreamy, FYI.
Anyhow, let's start with Luis, the guy who attempted to be the family's black sheep, studying communications at LSU and stating the fish biz just wasn't in his cards, but eventually worked his way into Garcia's.
New Times: How did you decide to build a restaurant over here? It's the strangest location. But you've been around so long...
Luis Garcia: This restaurant was built out of necessity. My father, when he got here from Cuba, he didn't know anything other than fishing. He borrowed money from a friend and started a warehouse space [a few blocks down the road]. Fishermen would come and fish for him and he started selling their fish. He made enough money and bought this land 40 years ago for, like, $23,000. There was a gas station here for boats. He wanted to fill up his own boats. My mom just about shit her pants. I believe he slept on the couch for a good month.
His worked his ass off to send us to college. We talked him into opening a restaurant.
But you didn't want to be involved otherwise?
I am very, very, very lucky. My mom, dad and my brother are the heartbeat. I'm the dreamer examining how to keep pushing the business in the direction they'd rather not go in.
So how does the family all work together?
My brother is running the wholesale business. We are both owners of the business, the land, and the boats. And my mother is the CFEO.
What's CFEO stand for?
CEO, CFO, COO -- everything. She's the light that shines on the place. I cannot tell you the amount of nurturing and care she brings that I could never duplicate. She built [Garcia's] with her hands.
So how did Garcia's get started?
We are wholesale fishermen. For 50 years that's what we've done. My father was a wholesale fisherman. We were selling to restaurants all over town. The need to open a restaurant was because my brother, myself and my mom were like, we should just open our own restaurant. My mom knows how to cook. It was an evolution, really.
Tell me more about your brother.
His name is Esteban Jr. We're four years apart. He runs the wholesale business and the fish market. He's the better man. He handles fishermen better than I do. We have 15 fishermen and about 11 to 15 boats.
What are you catching locally?
Some fisherman only fish lobster, only fish stone crab, only fish yellowtail, only fish bait fish. There are different licenses and permits.
But they're all local fishermen, too?
Yeah. Thank G-d.
And do you sell to local restaurants, also?
We sell to a purveyor who handles fish, lobster, and stone crab, and from what I understand, they are handling the product to resource outside of Miami. We only sell outside of Miami.
What fish have you had trouble getting this year?
I don't have a lot of tuna. I could probably call and get some but -- here's the deal -- my dad was a big believer in hiring his people. If he had relationships with fishermen, he wanted those guys to pay their bills. They've been fishing for us for 40 years for a reason. He would say, 'Do you know Juan has two kids? I know I've already got yellowtail, but I'm buying that fish.'
Then you would just go without the tuna, you're saying.
Do you 86 a lot of things on the menu then?
Our menu is basic. It doesn't matter. What do you want to eat? We're gonna make it for you. Don't worry about the menu.
So you'll go catch whatever I want?
So you only serve what you catch?
We catch everything except oysters. Those come from Apalachicola. They're the best from there. We trade, we barter, we send them seafood. [Editor's note: We were able to verify this information as a delivery guy dropped off boxes of fresh oysters and informed us he was taking some of Garcia's goods back up north in exchange.]
Tomorrow we'll talk with Luis Garcia about his Dolphins' interaction, the crazy crowds he feeds, and what the future may hold for his family's brand.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.