Miami's first true pop-up restaurant will return mid-October when Cesar Zapata and Aniece Meinhold open their Vietnamese bistro, Phuc Yea, in Miami's burgeoning MiMo District.
Phuc Yea opened downtown in 2011 as a last-resort effort for the partners in business and life to stay in Miami. Zapata explains that after they parted ways with partners in another place, Blue Piano, they couldn't find work and were thinking of moving to San Francisco. Meinhold was already on the West Coast to test the waters. "I didn't want to go, and I didn't want to work for anyone. Daniel [Tremain, partner in the Phuc Yea pop-up] showed me a business plan he had written for a pop-up. I did some research and saw that this concept was being done in New York, Los Angeles, London, even Cuba. I thought this might be our solution."
The café took over Crown Bistro in the Ingraham Building (25 SE Second Ave.) and was so successful that the couple ran out of food the first day of service. "There were like ten to 15 people waiting for like 45 minutes for a table," Zapata explains, "and when they finally sat down, we had only three menu items left. We just weren't expecting the volume."
The pop-up closed, as expected, after three months, but the concept just wouldn't go away quietly. Even after Meinhold and Zapata opened the Federal Food Drink & Provisions a few miles north in a strip mall on Biscayne Boulevard, they would resurrect Phuc Yea from time to time. And they hoped to eventually bring back this Asian concept with the naughty-sounding name for good.
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First, they had to make sure the Federal was up and running. Meinhold says their entire existence was riding on their American comfort-food concept. "In order to open, we cashed out our 401(k). We literally maxed out every single available credit source to open. The stakes aren't the slap of a hand. They're everything."
The couple's philosophy is to work hard. At times, it's not all wine and flowers. "It's a shit show," Meinhold quips. "We curse at each other all the time." But through everything, the constant is that they're in it together. Zapata, who helms the kitchen as the executive chef, says that if he's short-staffed in the kitchen, his partner is the first to jump into the line. The same goes for the front of the house, which is Meinhold's domain. "I think at the end, if there's a big problem, it makes us stronger, because we go through everything together. We'll say, 'OK, we screwed up; now let's try to fix it.' This definitely pushes us together as a couple."
Zapata and Meinhold will have a new set of challenges and successes to look forward to when Phuc Yea opens in its permanent spot at the former Moonchine space at 7100 Biscayne Blvd. The restaurant will bring back some favorites, such as duck and spring rolls, but will ambitiously add a raw bar, a papaya bar, and a wok station serving Viet-Cajun cuisine, made popular by Vietnamese immigrants who moved to Louisiana to work at crawfish plants that serviced Bayou fishermen. The migrants combined the shrimp, crabs, and crawfish indigenous to their new home with traditional Vietnamese flavors to form the hybrid dishes.
What's next after Phuc Yea? Zapata jokes about a barbecue joint named Studs. Whatever happens, it will be a joint effort by the young couple. "We're a team," he says.