Phuc Yea's Cesar Zapata and Aniece Meinhold with Sophia and Lola. View more photos of chefs and their dogs here.
Phuc Yea's Cesar Zapata and Aniece Meinhold with Sophia and Lola. View more photos of chefs and their dogs here.
Photo by Karli Evans

Miami Chefs Embrace Their Dogs

A few years before Danny Serfer opened the famed restaurant Blue Collar on Biscayne Boulevard, he was just a single guy looking to meet someone. "There was this girl I wanted to talk to. She was always walking her dog, so I said to myself, I need a dog." Soon he was smitten by a tiny pug with a biblical appellation.

"This Israeli family was selling him, and they gave him a really kosher name, Moishe," the Jewish chef recalls. But he didn't think the moniker fit, so he changed it to something a little more irreverent: Bacon Chester.

That was ten years ago. He didn't marry the dog-walking girl, but he soon wed another lover of canines, Shoshana. Since then, the couple has had four children and bought a house, and Serfer has become something of a local food legend. But one thing has remained constant: his love for Bacon Chester. "He's so much fun even though he's a little arthritic," Serfer says. "We're growing up and growing old together."

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In the Food Network era, chefs work long hours doing physical labor, which stresses human relationships to the breaking point. But one being — or, in Serfer's case, two — is there without judgment: the dog.

When Coyo Taco opened in December 2014, there was already a major buzz about it. Scott Linquist's affordable, imaginative Mexican cuisine was poised to transform the food scene in Wynwood. The chef, however, was in personal turmoil. His beloved Weimaraner, Kenneth, had died of a heart attack the night before the restaurant opened. "I was bawling my eyes out for 15 hours. The people working alongside me in the kitchen didn't know why... Kenneth took me through a divorce that was traumatic. That's huge in a person's life."

Soon, though, happiness again entered his life, not only because of Coyo's immediate and stellar success but also because of new girlfriend Alexandria Guerra and a Weimaraner that Linquist gave her named Strummer. With a velvety gray coat and piercing eyes, the pup has the same stunning features as Linquist's first, but an entirely different temperament. "Strummer doesn't have the anxiety issues that Kenneth did," he says, "maybe because he's had a much more stable childhood."

Cindy Kruse of Cindy Lou’s Cookies with her dog Eden. View more photos of chefs and their dogs here.
Cindy Kruse of Cindy Lou’s Cookies with her dog Eden. View more photos of chefs and their dogs here.
Photo by Karli Evans

Linquist spoils Strummer the way he knows best — with food. "I bring stuff home from work quite often: salmon, ground lamb, and sous-vide chicken thighs, and I cook for him." Lately, though, he's put himself — and Strummer — on a diet. "We both love our food, and I was overfeeding the both of us. The other day, I was making a pot of miso chicken soup, and Strummer leapt onto the counter and ate the whole thing."

Even that couldn't separate the man from his best buddy. "Human companionship is great," Linquist says, "but there's nothing like the dedication and loyalty of a dog."

Cindy Kruse and her life (and business) partner, Eric Paige, share that sentiment. When they spotted a chocolate-colored puppy at the Humane Society of Greater Miami on West Dixie Highway in North Miami Beach about eight years ago, it was love at first sight. Says Kruse: "We both wanted someone to care about and to come home to... I don't have a kid, yet I feel like I have so much to give."

They named him Jake, and he filled their lives with joy. But the co-owner of Cindy Lou's Cookies in Little River says it's not easy juggling a dog and a business. "We leave our house at 7 a.m. and we come home around 8 p.m.," she explains. "We have a dog walker, but sometimes one of us will still sneak out and go home."

A few years after picking up Jake, the couple adopted Eden, a skinny brindle greyhound mix. "We already had our hands full, but when a friend couldn't keep him, we said sure. We now have double the love." Between baking batches of chocolate chip cookies, Kruse sneaks in trays full of custom doggie treats. "They're made with peanuts and honey, and they're good enough for humans to eat." Two particular fans of her canine cookies are Stanley and Charlie, who belong to South Beach Wine & Food Festival Founder, Lee Schrager. Quips Kruse: "Lee constantly asks me when I'm going to start selling dog cookies. That's my pet project, but it's down the road, after I've got a handle on the people-cookie part of the business."

After a long day, there's nothing like the greeting she and Paige get with freshly baked treats in hand. "Every night it's five solid minutes rolling around on the floor," she says. "They ask no questions, expect nothing. They say so much without having to say a word. It's priceless."

Executive chef Horacio Rivadero and pastry chef Veronica Manolizi are the husband-and-wife team behind the cuisine at Plant Miami, a vegan restaurant at Wynwood's Sacred Space. Their apartment is packed with three dogs — a miniature pinscher named Choco, Chico the Chihuahua, and Jack, a Shih Tzu/Pomeranian mix. There are also two human children, as well two older ones who have moved out but occasionally drop by. "Sometimes the [older] kids come home just to play with the dogs more than visit me," Rivadero says. Now that most of the kids are adults, the dogs get babied by the couple, especially Manolizi, Rivadero jokes about his wife. "At work, Veronica is a superstrong woman, but when she sees Chico, she starts talking dog language." The couple dresses the dogs and takes them out in a stroller.

Rivadero, who's vegetarian, cooks special meals for the dogs, but they don't always cooperate. "Choco eats everything," he says. "My daughter loves grilled cheese, but if Choco sees it, he'll take the whole sandwich and run away."

Plant Miami pastry chef Veronica Manolizi and chef Horacio Rivadero with Chico, Chocolate, and Jack. View more photos of chefs and their dogs here.
Plant Miami pastry chef Veronica Manolizi and chef Horacio Rivadero with Chico, Chocolate, and Jack. View more photos of chefs and their dogs here.
Photo by Karli Evans

If dogs could have a dream life, it would probably resemble that of Capone, a French bulldog; and Peanut, a mixed-breed brindle. The pups share a residence in South Beach with Red the Steakhouse chef Peter Vauthy, who often provides veal bones rich with marrow. Sunday and Monday mornings are reserved for long walks on the beach.

"When I come home from work, Capone will be on the sofa, sitting on the one pillow that he's not supposed to use, and he'll just look at me and raise one eyebrow," Vauthy says. "That's all I get. But I'll jump onto the sofa exhausted and he'll put his paw on my leg. That's all I need."

Cesar Zapata and Aniece Meinhold, who own the hip Biscayne Boulevard restaurant Phuc Yea, found Chihuahua-mix Lola about 11 years ago under a truck. She was infested with fleas. The couple gave her a bath and wrapped her in a sweatshirt. "Cesar and I were having dinner with my brother and parents that evening, and I told them that we had a baby," Meinhold recalls. "I walked in with Lola, and I thought my dad was going to have a heart attack." Later, the partners wound up adopting Sophia, a rat terrier. Though running a restaurant is crazy, Meinhold says the girls are fine at home."My dogs are well rounded. They watch both CNN and Cartoon Network."

Even in the topsy-turvy world of restaurant dogs, Danny Serfer and his family stand out. They love the animals so much that Serfer's daughter Charlie was named after his wife's childhood Labrador retriever. The owner of the oyster bar Mignonette as well as Blue Collar says the chaos of children and dogs has permanently changed his mindset. "It's the greatest thing — watching the kids and the dogs interact. I love having a family." Though Serfer avoids playing favorites at home, there is one exception: "I love Bacon as much as any of my kids, but when my son was playing too rough with Bacon and he got bit, I took Bacon's side," Serfer remembers. "And when my wife complains that Bacon is lying on the top of her head, I'll remind her that I had him long before I met her."

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