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BY NANCY DAHLBERG
Sometimes thinking outside the box means rethinking the box.
That includes traditional restaurant spaces with high rents and construction and interior design expenses that can eat away at the bottom lines for even the most successful restaurateurs.
To counter this trend, and in the spirit of using what is available and local, restauranteur and catering veteran Ken Lyon is opening Miami’s first full-service restaurant built entirely out of shipping containers. It’s part of The Wynwood Yard, which has become a hub of eateries and events. The restaurant, CHARCOAL Garden Bar + Grill, is aiming to open in two weeks at 82 NW 29th Street in Miami.
And the real benefit to a restaurant made from modified shipping containers: Need to move locations? “Just pick it and go,” said Lyon.
Lyon, who also owns catering company Lyon & Lyon, and Della Heiman, founder and CEO of The Wynwood Yard, met in 2015. Soon after, Heiman asked Lyon to build and operate a large, central bar at The Yard. Lyon also recently helped with the enlargement and redesign of The Yard’s organic vegetable garden, which now includes a pergola down the middle and is run by the Little River Cooperative. The Yard has grown steadily as a dining, entertainment and hang-out hub, and last summer, Wynwood Yard leased an additional lot.
At the north half of the new lot and with a separate entrance from NW 29th Street, Lyon chose to plant his new restaurant – the Wynwood Yard’s first full-service dining option. A pathway connects the restaurant to the nearby garden, which will supply some of the herbs and vegetables CHARCOAL will use in its cuisine.
Step into CHARCOAL, and you will find an open-air bar, an open kitchen, a “dining porch” that seats about 24 and a “conservatory dining room” that can seat about 40, all constructed from containers. These structures open onto a courtyard with additional seating. The conservatory contains floor to ceiling windows and will be air-conditioned; the porch has a Cuban tile floor. Both are adorned with art and photography. The containers were built by The Little River Box Co., which repurposes shipping containers into spaces for the event and hospitality industry.
WE ARE NOT ABOUT OVERLY MANIPULATED, OVERLY INTELLECTUALIZED FOOD. WE WANT THE FOOD TO SPEAK FOR ITSELF. WE WANT THIS TO BE A CONVIVIAL PLACE TO COME, A NEIGHBORHOOD PLACE. Ken Lyon of Charcoal Garden Bar + Grill
Lyon believes CHARCOAL is the first full-service restaurant built of shipping containers in South Florida and one of the the first in the nation. “We haven’t seen it done before.”
The CHARCOAL menu will feature Florida farm-raised meats, including whole hogs, lambs and chickens butchered in-house that will be fired up on a Josper grill using only charcoal, Lyon said. To pair with the offerings, guests choose a condiment from a punch card featuring a selection of 20 sauces, such as traditional South African braai barbecue sauce and curried coconut sauce inspired by the flavors of Mumbai, Lyon said. Other menu items may include appetizers such as garnet dandelion served with Andean red quinoa, farm egg and toasted pecans.
“It’s really about the food we are buying, the simple way we are cooking it and then giving people a choice of the way they want it through the flavor profile they select,” said Lyon, in an interview in the restaurant last week. “We think it will be a way people will want to dine on a regular basis, not just special occasions. We are not about overly manipulated, overly intellectualized food. We want the food to speak for itself. We want this to be a convivial place to come, a neighborhood place.”
In building and designing CHARCOAL, Lyon followed the premise behind “lean urbanism,” an approach to architecture in which only the most essential resources are used to build small-scale structures, all the while minimizing the environmental footprint. “We are an example of what that means,” said Lyon. Think temporary structures, built with local resources, that will activate a space for the community, he said. But each structure will have a long-term impact on a space.
Lyon plans to open CHARCOAL on Feb. 14. Dinner will be served Tuesday through Sunday and entrees will run from about $16 to $25, said Lyon, who ran Fratelli Lyon in the Design District from 2008 to 2012. Plans call for a regular Sunday jazz brunch buffet leading up to Wynwood Yard’s popular Reggae Sunday that begins at 2 p.m.
Wynwood Yard-founder Heiman also thought outside the traditional box when she was trying to open her restaurant in Miami. Originally she was looking for a bricks-and-mortar location but the rents were too high to make her business plan add up.
LYON FOLLOWED THE PREMISE BEHIND “LEAN URBANISM,” AN APPROACH TO ARCHITECTURE IN WHICH ONLY THE MOST ESSENTIAL RESOURCES ARE USED TO BUILD SMALL-SCALE STRUCTURES, ALL THE WHILE MINIMIZING THE ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT.
Instead, at Lyon’s suggestion, she looked for a food truck. She found a food trailer and leased the empty lots where it was parked. That’s where the Wynwood Yard now stands and and where she planted her restaurant, Della Test Kitchen. Heiman invited other selected culinary entrepreneurs to set up shop as well. The Yard’s central bar, food trucks and lively event schedule of reggae, startup pitch nights, yoga and crafts has attracted a strong following.
The food truck businesses are changed a couple of times a year, but the current crop includes the omakase sushi food truck Myumi; Kuenko; The British Garden for comfort food; the Israeli-inspired Shnitz n’ Fritz; World Famous House of Mac; Mr. Bing’s, serving “Ice Cream with a Fork,” The Lone Wolfe Food Truck for Mexican cuisine and Yoko Matcha for inventive Japanese teas.
“We are the upscale place in Wynwood Yard but we aren’t billing it as fine dining,” Lyon said. “As it relates to the rest of The Yard, we think there is an element to this crazy thing that is chic and elegant in a casual setting.”
Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg
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