In Miami's topsy-turvy culinary landscape, restaurants come and go quicker than a Kim Kardashian marriage. Short Order's list of monthly closings is proof that all the money in the world can't guarantee success. But more often than not, the concepts that stick share one common ingredient: passion.
There's no shortage of that "it" factor behind Miami's newest coffee shop and inexpensive eatery, Urban Oxy. The spot, which will serve Panther Coffee at its three upcoming locations, is a labor of love by restaurateur Emmanuel Garcia Coll. Coll worked with Danny Meyer on Shake Shack, is a BurgerFi franchisee, and has helped build countless other restaurants and franchises.
Coll is one of three partners in the international BGM Group, an umbrella for hundreds of projects. Prior to that, he graduated at the top of his class from the Culinary Institute of America and worked his way around the restaurant industry before moving into fast-casual concepts.
Urban Oxy is a little different from his other endeavors. Coll dreamed up the concept and built the place from scratch -- literally constructing tables, hammering wood onto the walls, and essentially handcrafting every element of the upbeat, airy space. It took a lot of trips to the Home Depot, he says.
The downtown location, at 101 NE Second Ave., boasts blue walls, pale wood paneling, and black chalkboards where patrons can express themselves artistically. "I want them to write on it, go crazy. In the end, it's their coffeehouse, not mine," Coll says.
Coll is all about creating local community -- a "coffeehouse of the people." And while he eventually wants to extend the Urban Oxy concept to other cities, it's fundamentally about hometown charm. "Yes, we have the backup to do many of these, but I want it to always be sort of homegrown."
"I always liked re-creating classics. I worked with older French chefs who were doing things from scratch, and I wanted to do the same thing with coffee, to sort of be the antithesis to Starbucks," he explains. "Starbucks is very commercial. We're not going to be a roaster, but I want to support local roasters; that's why these three locations are Panther locations."
They'll have plenty of options, from simple drip coffee to specialty frappes. They'll also sell a potent, house-made cold brew in charming, retro brown glass bottles.
The cuisine covers soups, salads, handmade pizzas, grilled cheese sandwiches, wings, and an assortment of sides. All are simple twists on café favorites -- many of which are vegetarian-friendly, and customers are welcome to customize.
Menu items include Tillamook cheddar beer soup; a grilled cheese with roasted artichoke, sun-dried tomato, goat cheese, provolone, Swiss, and pork rinds; a steak and eggs pizza with fresh mozzarella, Tillamook cheddar, spinach, skirt steak, and a sunny-side-up egg; and truffle mac 'n' cheese.
"We make everything from scratch, so you can have everything the way you want it," Coll says.
Price points are low. Coll wants to keep food items under $8, though some might climb a little higher with protein add-ons. Nonetheless, that's ambitiously inexpensive for Miami's market.
"It's a challenge, but that's the idea. You gotta kind of break the rules or else you're just like everyplace else."
In addition to its other unique charms, this urban oasis is all egalitarian. When you order, they strip you of your ego and give you a card tagged with a pop culture moniker. Think "Frank the Tank," "Aretha Franklin," or "Steve Jobs."
"The end goal is to spark conversations among strangers, since in a way we would have stripped you of your name, ego, etc., thus encouraging the feeling of community and equality," Coll adds.
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A new identity is always a welcome change, be it a first name or a bright new addition to a burgeoning Miami neighborhood.
The first Urban Oxy location is scheduled to open the first week of April in downtown, the second in May or June in South Beach, and the third a couple of months after that in Coral Gables. Stay tuned for updates.
Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahalexs.