Even though Miami is a city filled with thousands of diverse culinary options, the city isn’t necessarily known for an abundance of health-focused concepts like you would find in, say, L.A. As a whole, the local restaurant scene has catered to the health trend with increased healthier options available on menus. But what about restaurants with completely guilt-free menus?
In many cities on the west coast, veggie-centric eateries are sprinkled all over, but not so much in Miami. Enter: Dirt, which set up shop in South Beach a few weeks ago. This brand new concept — with a mantra to “eat clean” — aims to deliver healthy, farm-to-table, fine-dine quality food, with faster service at a more approachable price point. (Aside from bottles of wine and factoring in add-ons, the most expensive thing on the menu will run you $16.)
The Real Meaning of “Eat Clean”
Words such as “fresh,” “local,” and “quality” have popped up on menus at restaurants where these terms don’t even belong. They are vague, have become trendy, and are being used to sway consumers.
But these words are more than hot button words at Dirt. The co-founders Jeff Latulippe and Matt Ernst, along with chefs Jonathan Seningen and Nicole Votano, have spent a considerable amount of time sourcing the best ingredients, while preparing a locally seasonal menu that offers options for diners with dietary restrictions of all kinds.
Dirt offers separate menus for paleo, vegan, and gluten-free eaters. Diners can pick up one of these menus and not be concerned about finding limited options for their needs. Instead, they have an array of options that they can trust to fulfill their dietary requirements.
“One of the other big differentiators for us is transparency,” says Jeff Latulippe, co-founder and general manager at Dirt. “We have this big copper wall that shows where a lot of our food is coming from. So, we wanted to take the chalkboard list that you see in a lot of places and bring it up a notch, and show you a map of Florida and the world, and show you where we are getting ingredients from, not only locally but nationally and sometimes internationally, and what exactly we are getting from those suppliers.”
With the changing landscape of fast-casual and good-for-you restaurants, new concepts must not only find ways to differentiate, but also be able to evolve amidst an ever-evolving landscape driven by consumer habits and demands.
“The merging of fine-dining, chef-driven food with healthy food is a unique aspect of what we are doing,” says Latulippe. “We’re not trying to be like a generic healthy place that just serves brown rice and chicken.”
Just because the concept stresses “eat clean” doesn’t mean Dirt serves boring and bland meals.
“You can come here if you are not a person who is consumed with just health and you’re not digging down into that nutritional index of each product we serve,” says Matt Ernst, co-founder and operating partner at Dirt. “You can still come in and get a Dirty Steak & Cheese and it’s got really well-sourced and well-prepared ingredients in a unique way.”
Co-founders Matt Ernst and Jeff Latulippe | Kerri Adams for Foodable WebTV Network
New Restaurateur Challenges
Starting a restaurant is no walk in the park. The two founders used Danny Meyer’s book, “Setting the Table” as a guide, but there were still some hiccups in the restaurant startup phase.
“The biggest challenge was definitely the fact that we are in a historical Art Deco district and there were tons of restrictions on permitting, construction, and all sorts of approvals we needed on our design, particularly our exterior design,” says Ernst. This delayed the opening of the restaurant for months.
Besides construction and permitting challenges, both co-founders are new to the restaurant business. “Jeff and I are both new restaurateurs. While we understand business, branding, marketing, and systems, we’re trying to do something new that really hasn’t been done down here before, and figuring out all the challenges that make that work — from sourcing to getting food out fast enough, while bringing up a new set of employees from all walks of life,” Ernst says.
Just because Latulippe and Ernst are new restaurateurs doesn’t mean they didn’t do their research or have background in important operational sectors. Ernst’s background is in technology, so Dirt is using the latest restaurant technology to make their operations easier in multiple ways. “The level of sophistication in software and analytics that has come from the restaurant space in the last five years is impressive,” Ernst says.
Some of the many vendors they’re using are Revel’s iPad POS software, LevelUp’s mobile loyalty and payments software, Swipely’s analytics software, and HotSchedules, an online employee scheduling software. Dirt is also jumping on the delivery bandwagon with third-party services like Delivery Dudes and Postmates. “We are really trying to use restaurant technology as much as possible in every way,” says Latulippe.
Dirt's exterior with outside seating | Kerri Adams for Foodable WebTV Network
Why did the co-founders decide on Miami as the first Dirt location?
“We saw it as a huge market need here in Miami and a lot of people travel to South Beach. We hope to take this in other markets and it will have a little bit of brand recognition,” says Ernst. “We already have had people from New York, L.A., and Paris say ‘can you bring this to our cities?’ We think if we can prove it here, it has life to go other places.”
Partnerships With Wellness Brands
Latulippe and Ernst are cleverly aligning themselves with wellness brands, such as Lululemon with the Dirt x Lululemon Salad by Christina.
“We met Christina in the process of opening the restaurant and she is the community ambassador for the Lululemon on Lincoln Road. So we said, ‘Christina, what’s your favorite fall salad, tell us the ingredients.’ So she gave us a really awesome list of ingredients and then our chefs made up this awesome salad. It’s actually our best-selling salad,” Latulippe says.
With every new seasonal menu, the restaurant plans to offer a collaborative menu option like this.
So with this new health-focused concept paving the way in Miami, will we be seeing more restaurants like this in the area soon? Are we on the brink of a veggie-centric culinary revolution? Only time will tell.