Even as the chef is in Paris for the opening of his new restaurant, Moloko, in the Pigalle neighborhood, word has spread that his flagship, Pubbelly Noodle Bar, has closed.
In a phone conversation from France, Mendin says the decision to close the little noodle bar was a positive one. After a grease-trap issue surfaced, the restaurant's partners decided to shutter the restaurant so they could concentrate on growing Pubbelly Sushi. The chef says most of the favorite menu items at Pubbelly Noodle Bar — ramen, baos, and dumplings — will be incorporated into Pubbelly Sushi's menu, which Mendin will redesign.
"When we opened Pubbelly nine years ago, I was 31. Now I'm 40 and a family man," Mendin recalls. He says he and his original partners — Andreas Schreiner and Sergio Navarro — didn't know they started a movement of chefs opening affordable dining concepts throughout the Miami area. "We were kids from Miami, and on our day off, we wanted to go and eat something good, but hotel restaurants were just too expensive for us."
The partners filled that need by serving Asian-style tapas in a location described by New Times as "sleepy 20th Street." Mendin says the restaurant's success prompted other chefs to open their own concepts, as evidenced by the Pubbelly partnership that encouraged Michael Pirolo to launch Macchialina in 2012. "I like to think Pubbelly helped open the door for chefs like Michael to go on their own."
Since then, Mendin and his various partners have amassed a sizable catalog of restaurants, including La Placita with TV personality Julian Gíl, and Moloko in Paris with French restaurateur Olivier Demarle. Mendin also plans to open Rivertail, a seafood spot in Fort Lauderdale, and is working on a pizza concept to debut at the Wharf.
In the process, there's been a fair share of closings, including PB Steak, L'echon, PB Station, and now Pubbelly Noodle Bar. Mendin, however, understands that a closure can be a step on the path to success.
He has found that forward momentum with Pubbelly Sushi. With six locations in the United States, Dominican Republic, and Mexico City, the concept is set to expand even further, to Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Atlanta, and New Orleans. "It's a concept that works in a number of cities," he says.
Mendin says that with maturity comes some difficult decisions — such as closing the restaurant that earned him several James Beard Award nominations. "Ten years ago, three friends took a chance. I put all the money I had in the bank into opening Pubbelly. We never dreamed that we would be turning out food people really wanted."