Richard Hales of Sakaya Kitchen Talks Food Trucks and Brussels Sprouts, Part 2

​Sakaya Kitchen's Richard Hales gave us frank answers to questions about wine and food trucks, though not about wine on food trucks. During the first part of our interview with the restaurateur, we talked a bit about eating Asian and business school.

Hales is living his childhood dream, even though it's a stressful one. He spoke with us about working as a sommelier and the upcoming opening of a dessert food truck.

In what follows, you can actually read the tale of the famous brussels sprouts you crave in the night.

New Times: When you were at the Mandarin Oriental, you became a sommelier. Is that something you thought would ever happen? What was your experience like?

No. It sort of fell into my lap. My goal to work in the front of the house of Azul was to learn management to run my own restaurant and that sort of fell into my lap. And I wanted something to be creative and Michelle Bernstein was the chef there and I really wanted to work closely with her. Instead of working with raw ingredients cooking, I was working with this finished product and I could be creative how I paired it with her food. It was a job. Cooking for me, is a pleasure.

You don't sell many wines here?

We don't sell too many wines here. People don't even realize that I was a sommelier here and in New York City. I personally have a huge collection of wine. I love to drink wine. Sakaya Kitchen, sakaya means sake shop, originally, we were going to this huge sake selection, but it just never came out that way.

Do you have a favorite you sell here?

I like the one here, a very simple one, it's called Hawk in the Heavens, it's a junmai. It's earthy. It goes well with food. It's nice.

The food trucks. You're opening a dessert truck?

I'm opening a food truck called the Baketress. It's going to be a concept like Sakaya Kitchen where everything is made from scratch, we don't buy anything processed or pre-made. We're going to do soft-serve, pies, fresh doughnuts, and ice cream sandwiches.

I have eaten at Dim Ssam a gogo. There are tons of pork dishes. I love pork. A lot of Asian food has pork in it, but is there some reason you use it so often?

I started the concept of foods I love to eat, and that's one of them. Everybody loves bacon and whatnot. Also, it's affordable. On the business side of it, chicken and pork are very affordable compared to seafood and beef. It fits with the Asian concept, there's lots of stuff I can do with it. And I love to eat it.

Your brussels sprouts are super popular. When did you first create that recipe?

It was actually by accident. One of our purveyors sent us some brussels sprouts by accident, and I called him and said, hey you sent us some brussels sprouts. He's like, just keep 'em, and I'll take 'em off the bill. I made it, threw a sauce on that we were already using in the restaurant, and that was it. That was one of those things that snuck up on me, that people come in for brussels sprouts, it's awesome and hilarious at the same time. It's that thing with Samuel L. Jackson saying, "Eat your fucking brussels sprouts." I'm thinking like, you've never had our brussels sprouts. We worked on it, after I made it the first time, I was like, man this is a winner. Then I tweaked it a little bit. A little more acidic here, a little bit less sugar.

And everybody loved it. With the food trucks. Are you guys on a regular schedule now? You were having problems with permits and stuff.

We're still having this ongoing issue of this place we can go, this place we can't. But we are trying to work with all of the food trucks or organizers that are creating events. We actually had a few meetings already to say OK, on Tuesday night we're going to go here, on Thursday night we'll go here, because we were getting a lot of four events on one night and no events on other nights. So, we're trying to work together now. It's better for the public. We're working very closely with the county. It's kind of a push and pull. They've been very supportive.

You have to deal with city permits, too.

The county is creating the ordinance and the city seems to be working them as well.

It seemed for a bit they were driving you out of town.

Yeah, and we started going to Broward and Broward started cracking down on us a bit. That's the thing with the food trucks. It was exciting at first but it's kind of a pain in the ass. The restaurants, here, I know everyday, we're going to open. With the truck, you never know if it's going to open if it's going to be busy. It's really stressful.

In the future, what'll you do with the trucks?

Right now I have two food trucks. The Dim Ssam a Gogo and I have the Sakaya truck, but I do a lot catering with the Sakaya truck. I probably have one more concept for a truck. But I'm only going to have three trucks total. Two food trucks, probably not two with the same menu like I have now, probably like two different concepts and then the dessert truck.

You're very busy...

I was telling one of my guys the other day, this restaurant and the path that I'm on has totally changed my life in so many ways. You think that when you own the place, you'll have time to do whatever, you don't. Barely have a personal life, seven days a week it's open, I never stop thinking about it. I dream about it, like a luxurious prison.

What are the perks to opening your own restaurant?

I just love it that it's my own. There's a lot of gratification in cooking things that people love and that's the best part about it. I'm right in the middle. I'm living it. Like I said, it's not as glamorous as I thought it would be, I wasn't naive enough to think it wasn't work. It's just nice. I have these people working for me. It's a nice feeling. They depend on me, I depend on them. I like this moment in time for Sakaya Kitchen. I know we're going to get bigger, I have people that want to open Sakaya Kitchens all over the place, I'm looking into new locations to make this multiple units, but I like this point in time where I'm writing on the wall, I'm cooking a little bit. I'm doing all this stuff. I think that's the best part. This is what I dreamed of. This is my dream since I was a little kid.

I thought the name of my restaurant was going to be Richard's. And I was about seven years old, and I still have the Trapper Keeper folder that says, "Richard's" all over it, with an apostrophe. My mom asked me, what's that, I said, oh, that's the name of my restaurant. She kept it. I'm living that. Obviously it's not a Richard's, but it's what I ended up doing.

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