One of the most anticipated restaurants scheduled to open in Miami this fall is Siena Tavern. The restaurant, which hails from Chicago, will open in the old China Grill space, a massive 10,000-square-foot space.
Viviani, who garnered fame from his two seasons on Bravo's Top Chef franchise and whose good looks and charming Italian accent won him the "fan favorite" title on the show's fifth season, is looking forward to actually having Miami fans eat his food.
Right now, Viviani says the restaurant is on track for an early fall opening, far in advance of the teeming masses of tourists and snowbirds that grace Miami Beach's sands. "November 7 or 8 is the official opening right now," he says.
But, before a single dish can be served, there's training to be done. "Every one of my people has to have four weeks of training, minimum, or you're not going to talk to my customers. Everyone has to serve me and my business partners before you can serve my guests. I'm not changing that. I've heard too many stories about bad service in Miami."
Viviani says that he's relying a mix of both "open calls" and referrals to staff his Miami restaurant. "Five percent of the people who come to our open calls are actually eligible to work here, but we have connections with institutes and other restaurateurs. In the kitchen, for instance, we have a team of rock stars." Leading the back of the house is Paolo del Papa, a chef with years of experience, most recently Casa Tua. Viviana explains that the two chefs formed a friendship years ago and the timing was just right. "He's one of the finest chefs in Miami. He took a few months off from the day-to-day to be with his family and now he's back and ready."
And far as the menu is concerned, Viviani is delighted that his original plans to substitute plenty of light fare into the menu won't be necessary. "I thought Miami had a very light, fresh, summery approach to food, but you guys are eating as heavy and as juicy and as saucy as any cold city in the United States. You guys eat more than in Chicago.
"That makes it easier for me so I don't have to totally reinvent my food. The reality is that you guys have an appetite. I'll have some light foods, still, but I feel better about serving heartier foods. I will still replace pastas with some things that are seasonal and local, but I am confident that if I cook a lasagna or a braised meat, you guys will eat it. My comfort level in some of my richer dishes has gotten a boost."
Viviani, who recently purchased South Beach real estate in order to spend more time at his newest venture, said that living day to day in Miami is much different than he imagined. "Look, the humidity is not going to make me retire here, but I like Miami as a city. The local scene is not the same as the Miami of tourists. I see is good people hanging out and building a community. I think we'll have a great run in in Miami."
But don't plan on having the chef make your pizza for you personally every single time. "My name is on this lease and I have an apartment three blocks away. But the reality is I have another six, seven restaurants so I can't be in Miami 365 days a year. There are people who come to my restaurant once a month and on that one day if I'm not in the kitchen they make an assumption. But come every day for 30 days straight and see how many times you catch me."
Viviani says that's why he takes the time to find quality staff to hold the fort while he's traveling. "I hire people like Paolo del Papa to be here 365 days. I'm a restaurateur/chef, so for me the health of the business is as important as being in the kitchen. I hate what I do because it took me away from just being in the kitchen, but I'm also blessed because I have a healthy business with great people."
Although Siena Tavern is about as centrally located to the tourist scene on Ocean Drive as one can be without being in the epicenter, the chef/restaurateur wants locals to feel welcomed. "Sure, I can open in a tourist spot and charge people a lot of money, but that's not what I do. To me, it's about building relationships. I'm impressed and I'm glad to see that there are actually more locals looking for a meal on the beach than some stoner looking for a two dollar shot of tequila."
One way he plans to draw locals in: ample parking. "We own 200 spots in the parking garage above the building. We are the only restaurant in South Beach with a 200-car parking lot. You give the keys to the valet, you'll have your car in five minutes. Boom!"
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Another lure for locals is price. "I'm building a community restaurant, not a tourist place. If you walk in my restaurant and order a pizza and a beer, you haven't spent $20."
Viviani has other plans for Miami. "This is a proving ground. If we do well and we read Miami well and do what I think we can do, we have fantastic concept that's been proven in other cities that we would love to bring to Miami. But it would be crazy to say we'd love to bring a steakhouse to Miami when we haven't opened this one yet."