Miami Restaurateur With The Midas Touch
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – There are very few businesses more competitive than the restaurant business.
Countless eateries open and close all the time but one South Florida restaurateur seems to have the recipe for success.
When it comes to restaurant concepts, John Kunkel seems to have the Midas touch.
In 2004, he opened a small Mexican restaurant on Alton Road called Lime Mexican Grill.
“It really provided the opportunity for learning and growth that few other people have because we created a brand and built a company, and all those things, on a shoe strings budget,” said Kunkel.
Soon Kunkel had ten more Lime Grills and then sold the chain for a reported $24 million.
Last year Kunkel and his 50 Eggs restaurant group opened up the hugely successful Yardbird Southern Table and Bar just off Lincoln Road. Since its opening, fans of good country cooking continue to flock to the restaurant day and night.
“Like doing Mexican food in South Florida, we had a lot of naysayers that said it will never work. If you know me, that’s like fuel to the fire, now we were really doing it for sure. It really turned into a special thing over there,” said Kunkel.
Last December the forward thinking foodie opened Khong River House, an authentic north Thai restaurant where ‘South Asia meets South Beach’. Kunkel said its been a dream of his ever since he went to Thailand as a young man.
“I love being there, the people, the culture and particularly the food. To do an authentic representation of the food in a respectful way had not been done anywhere in Florida and very few places in the country,” said Kunkel.
Décor in the restaurant is the real deal. All of the wood came from Thailand. The brick pattern on the walls is a tribute to how the Thai people vent their houses. Oh, and there are the chandeliers.
“They are actual Thai fish traps,” explained Kunkel. “They use these in the rice patties to trap the fish and we had them shipped and turned into lights.”
The drinks offered on the menu are exotic as well. Not only are they a real treat to the eye as well as the palette, but learning about them can be quite educational.
“We spent three and a half weeks on language lessons, cultural history, of the ‘dos’ and ‘don’t’s’ of Thai culture. We did that because we wanted to help the guests navigate without being preachy about it,” said Kunkel.
Whatever he’s cooking up, Kunkel said he’s all about authenticity and education – like what is happening at his Khong River House.
“My kitchen crew is East and West. We have our kids from Johnson & Wales and my crew from northern Thailand. It’s really an amazing thing,” said Kunkel.
Kunkel is a big believer in paying it forward. Just off Biscayne Boulevard he operates a test kitchen where aspiring chefs can experiment with their new dishes and restaurant concepts for free.
In March, Kunkel’s group opened their newest spot Swine Southern Table & Bar in Coral Gables which he described as a man cave which features the best of smoked meats & barbeque paired with power cocktails.