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Meet Daniel Serfer of Blue Collar and Mignonette

Today we’d like to introduce you to Daniel Serfer.

Daniel, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I started cooking in college at Florida State. Back then, I still thought I was going to be an attorney. As time passed, I realized I liked cooking more than reading and writing about the law. Once I graduated, I went to culinary school instead of law school. I was fortunate enough to work at an amazing place in Miami for 5 years under a chef who achieved anything a chef strives for (namesake restaurant, James Beard award, fame, money). He took me from a barely competent prep cook, to chef de cuisine. He is my mentor and I am forever grateful for everything he did for me. During my time there I always knew I wanted to open my own restaurant. I thought though, it would be like his; large, full bar, fine dining. After leaving him, and going to other places and working in NYC, I realized I wanted a different kind of place, a more casual every day, approachable, and neighborhood place. When I returned to Miami from NYC, I had no intention of opening my own place yet. As fate would have it, no one would hire me for the kind of position I felt I was qualified for. I had heard of a funky spot available and took a chance on myself. Really I was just trying to have a job, and if it worked out that would be amazing, and if not, well then it might lead to me establishing a work history in Miami again and be more attractive to local people hiring. Well I worked hard and got very lucky. Blue Collar, my first restaurant is almost 7 years old now, and over the course of these past years, I have been fortunate enough to open a second restaurant with my best friend that is going on 5 years. My work has changed quite a bit over this time. In the beginning I did absolutely everything from cooking, managing, book keeping, hiring, social media, plumbing, you name it, I did it. As time passed and we had more success, I was able to hire more people to help me out. With more people on board, my role has changed. I do way more managing of people from managers to line employees, and focus quite a bit on the financials and over all big picture of the places, and future possibilities. Both kinds of work are rewarding, but coming from long days in the kitchen for so many years, it is quite an adjustment to get settled in on the business end.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I have been very fortunate. While not everything has been perfect I have had challenges that are surmountable. Both of my restaurants are in older buildings, so some of the biggest struggles have been dealing with plumbing, roofing, and general maintenance issues of a building I do not own. Sometimes they have been so bad that we have had to close the restaurant for a day or two, or even mid service which is always scary. My first thoughts are always ph my gosh, how will we get back on, but luckily through the years we have built a great roster of contractors and such that help us get through it. That eats up a good part of the bottom line. I pride myself on my ability to build a team; and have had success with that as most of my team at both places has been with me a long time. The Hurricane last year was a big challenge and struggle, much of beyond our control which is the most frustrating. But, at a certain point, I just have to let that go and solve the problems that we actually have the power to solve.

Blue Collar and Mignonette – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We are two very different restaurants. One specializes in decadent, indulgent comfort food (Blue Collar); the other in lighter fare as it is an oyster bar and seafood restaurant (Mignonette). I think Blue is known for our big ragout sandwich, which is a big meaty sauce composed of braised brisket, veal shoulder, pork butt, pancetta, sausage, veggies and tomatoes, served in a hollowed out crusty sesame roll and smothered in cheese ( or over fresh pasta). We also have different braised meats every couple of days. Our most popular being the spicy braised ox tail which we use classic French technique, and add a fair amount of mango and scotch bonnets.

At mignonette, we are known for our pristine sourcing of east and west coast oysters. We get them from all over the country and treat them very carefully when opening them up to ensure all the juices are intact, the bellies are not popped, and there is no annoying shell bits that get in your mouth. Our warm lobster roll is also popular as I believe we are one of the few places in town that serve a warm prep with butter instead of a cold one with mayo.

As a company, I am most proud of our retention of staff. I have people that have been at Blue for over 6 years since day one, and at Mignonette, ones over 4 years since day one.

I think what sets us apart is why we have such good retention. We are two small restaurants, yet we offer a suite of benefits that include healthcare, paid time off, bonuses, and I am focused on providing a great quality of life for the team which includes two days off each week, and the ability to have a flexible schedule so people can feel comfortable requesting a weekend off so they may attend their best friends’ wedding or important family function.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
There has been many highs. I won the new times best chef award in 2015, have a stable of regulars that continue to support us, and an endearing staff. But I am a family man, so I think that I have found a good work/family life balance where I am enjoying the best of both worlds is my favorite achievement thus far.

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