On January 13, 2011, Danny Serfer opened a tiny restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard on Miami's Upper Eastside.
The restaurant, decorated in vintage lunchboxes, offered a fever dream of comfort food. Sure there were burgers, mac and cheese, and a Philly cheesesteak, but there was so much more. A chalkboard listed dozens of different vegetable sides (that could be combined into a colorful platter), along with a "rib," "braised meat" and "parm" of the day. Pork and beans shared billing with Chanukah latkes (served year-round), and Cuban sandwiches were compartmentalized into spring rolls. The menu was whimsical and comforting, and it was an instant hit.
Ten years later, the restaurant is as familiar as your favorite cashmere sweater. On a recent Tuesday evening, the tiny restaurant had just opened, but already it was filling up. In 15 minutes, all the tables were filled.
The chicken parm ($25) was a hulking plate — two giant chicken cutlets resting on a bed of angel hair pasta. The first bite brought back memories of Brooklyn red sauce joints paneled in wood. At a nearby table, a couple took one look at the dish and ordered the same.
Blue Collar's Danny Serfer says that when he signed the lease on the space, he'd just moved from New York City with no job prospects but a little money in the bank. The neighborhood wasn't exactly trendy at the time, but he figured if Michelle Bernstein (Michy's) and Kris Wessel (Red Light) could have restaurants in the area, it seemed promising. Besides, the rent was reasonable, and the landlord took a chance on him. "Well, I guess he figured that once I closed up, he could rent it to someone else," he jokes.
Serfer admits he didn't have the highest hopes for his little restaurant. "I figured I would do this, and when it doesn't work out, at least it could help me get a job." A decade later, the tiny eatery is still going strong.
Ten years can go by in the blink of an eye. For Serfer, these years provided many changes. "When I opened, I was single with one dog. Now, I've been married for nine years with four kids and three dogs."
What hasn't changed: Serfer's dedication to his restaurant and the people who work there. Serfer says most of the people who work at Blue Collar have been there for many years. "Adam [Simon], our manager, has been here for nine and seven-eighths of the ten years." Other employees who've stood the test of time include chef de cuisine Luckner Brown (seven years), sous chef Scyles Jean (four years), and prep manager Junior Pericles, who's been there since Blue Collar's inception. Serfer notes that all but one member of the front-of-house staff has worked at Blue Collar for at least five years.
He adds that he tries to walk in the shoes of the people who work there. "I remember what it's like to work 14-hour days, six days a week. To miss out on friends' weddings and family outings. I said if I were in a position to hire people, I would do it differently."
The chef says he also pays a living wage and offers health insurance to employees. And even in these difficult times, he pays out an annual bonus. "Every single year, we have given back to employees. It may have been lighter in 2020, but we still did something."
What's more important than money, Serfer says, is time and family. "We've always closed on major holidays like Christmas and New Year's Day. Sure, the restaurant could make a few extra thousand dollars, but people want to be with their families."
Serfer admits he spends more time these days at his seafood restaurant Mignonette in Edgewater — but that's because Blue Collar is so small, he feels he's in the way at his own restaurant. "If I'm not on the line at Blue Collar, I'm taking up space," he confides. At Mignonette, the restaurateur can spread out at a table and do the bookkeeping and paperwork necessary to make his restaurants run.
Still, Serfer checks in daily with his chef de cuisine and tries to get back to the neighborhood from time to time to see how it's evolving. "We've had so many new restaurants thrive here — El Bagel, Via Verdi, Bar Meli. This is a real neighborhood filled with great independently run restaurants," he says.
And he's thankful for the small restaurant on its tenth anniversary.
"Blue Collar has given me everything. It helped me find my wife. It helped me have a family. It supported me financially. I met my best friend there. It's given me a life beyond my wildest dreams."
Blue Collar. 6730 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-756-0366; bluecollarmiami.com. Daily 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m.