Kevin Danilo was still working on the outdoor patio of his latest Batch Southern Kitchen even as the restaurant prepared to open on the last day of December.
Instead of delaying, he decided to open the indoor dining room. "The bottom line is that we held true to the date we said we were going to open because it's better than keeping our employees out of work. So what if we're still tying up some loose ends with the patio," Danilo told New Times.
Miamians are likely familiar with the Batch name. Danilo opened Batch Gastropub in Brickell (30 SW 12th St.) at the end of 2013 and, unlike most sports bars, attracted great chefs to its kitchen, including Michael Reidt and Pablo Zitzman. The original Batch is still going strong, but Danilo wanted to expand with a restaurant that was more elevated yet still accessible price- and food-wise.
"The challenge was to have the new restaurant live under the Batch umbrella but not be Batch Gastropub. We wanted it to be a different dining experience but have continuity. It was walking a tightrope," Danilo says. His team decided that a Southern restaurant made sense. "We love Southern food, whiskey, and American beer," says the restaurateur, who opted to also offer healthier alternatives to traditional Southern food. "We wrestled with how do you created a great Southern restaurant while taking into account that many people are thinking about the food they eat."
Danilo's chefs went to work creating delicious alternatives like pulled barbecue jackfruit and a frittata made with egg and meat substitutes. "We put together a vegetarian and vegan section so that everyone can experience our flavors," he says. "Turns out we have a lot of vegan Batch fans."
In 2018, Danilo opened Batch Southern Kitchen & Tap in West Palm Beach (223 Clematis St.). When a spot opened up in Fort Lauderdale's Flagler Village, Danilo knew Batch Southern Kitchen & Tap would be a good fit. "The bones of this building are solid and we were excited about our fitting into this market," he says.
As most restaurateurs discovered, opening a restaurant during the pandemic presented unique challenges. "We had to crack a lot of eggs along the way," as he puts it. But, having a solid plan for employee retention in place helped. Earlier in the year, Danilo and his partners distributed bonuses to staff who had been with Batch for years. The restaurant group also initiated a culture program where each location plans monthly employee excursions and giveaways. The goal, Danilo says, is to "bring the magic back to hospitality."
On a recent visit, the industrial-chic Fort Lauderdale restaurant was buzzing. And though the menu offers the aforementioned barbecue jackfruit ($14), there are plenty of stick-to-your-ribs meat-centered entrées like sweet tea-brined chicken and waffles ($22.50), a 12-hour smoked brisket sandwich ($17), and a chicken pot pie ($17.50).
Don't forget to order one of the cocktails, like the toasted pecan whiskey sour ($13) or a moonshine-spiked Carolina sweet tea ($12). For those partaking in Dry January, the restaurant offers house-made root beer, molasses ginger beer, and blackberry mint lemonade.
Danilo says he plans to expand the Batch brand (there's a Batch Gastropub at 14813 Lyons Rd. in Delray Beach), but for now he's happy to introduce Fort Lauderdale to Batch. "We wanted to balance things out and have two of each concept."
Even with four restaurants under his belt and more to come, Danilo says he still doesn't feel like a restaurateur. "I feel more like a plumber and electrician," he jokes, then adds that the key to his success lies in working with good people: "My philosophy is to hire a bunch of talented people and treat them right."
Batch Southern Kitchen & Tap. 525 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale; 754-757-0000; batchsouthernkitchen.com. Open Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight, Friday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to midnight.