Florida used to be a tourist destination, a warm place for those seeking a respite from the cold weather up North or a fun family vacation at one of the state’s many amusement parks. However, over the past four years, in the aftermath of COVID and with the rise of working remotely, people have flocked to Florida and its food capital, Miami, for a more permanent residence. The population has grown and the dining scene has responded.
Many big-name brands from multi-unit restaurant companies have run down to Miami to open new units amid the surge in residents, effectively turning Miami into the new food capital of the country.
But talk to those who were there before the boon to business, and they’ll tell you: Miami was always the place to be. That’s what Marine Giron-Galy told Restaurant Hospitality.
Giron-Galy is a partner and chief brand officer at Riviera Dining Group, a Miami-based multi-concept group with a big presence in the Miami food scene, both before and throughout the pandemic.
While cities in the North were looking toward outdoor dining for their businesses while people were still six feet apart, Miami was loosening all restrictions, making it a perfect playground for restaurateurs and citizens alike. Riviera Dining Group thrived over the past four years, opening several restaurants both in and out of Miami.
“COVID really helped us by bringing a lot of people to Miami [and allowing] a lot of concepts [to open] that really raised the bar of the culinary aspects of the city,” she said. “The market has completely changed and right now, it's a very multicultural city.”
New customers came to Miami from cities across the country, many from other established food cities, and had high expectations when they arrived.
Riviera Group’s answer? Expand — and expand big-time.
The group built a four-in-one restaurant where, theoretically, customers can spend the entire day. The concepts, all in the same building, include MILA, MILA Omakase, MILA Lounge, MM.
According to Giron-Galy, some customers do spend the entire day moving between the concepts in Miami Beach. The group has one other concept in Winter Park, Fla., called AVA MediterrAegean. There are also two definite concepts in the pipeline: Casa Neos, a boutique hotel and members-only beach club set to open this year, with a namesake Casa Neos restaurant and a Moroccan restaurant called Noora."
Giron-Galy was used to the idea of quiet luxury, something Riviera Restaurant Group tries to achieve with every location. She began her career in her native Cannes, France, as a perfume salesperson, testing scents and creating new ones at several famous perfumeries. This has carried over into her new restaurant venture as she creates signature scents for each concept.
“It’s really like a 360 experience,” she said. “You come into [any of our] restaurants, and you have a scent. Everything is very branded, but in a way that it’s supposed to remind you of home, and at the same time you’re transported.”
The cuisine that marries these scents across all brands is a mix of Mediterranean and Japanese together for a sensory experience.
“At the end of the day, both cultures are really about embracing the best flavors, the best ingredients with minimal processes and manipulation,” she said. “But also gathering around a meal so that you really create the connection, and you really enjoy the experience together.”
The Moroccan restaurant is being added because “as we grow, we are choosing different types of cuisine,” though the basis for everything will lie in the founder – Greg Galy – native Mediterranean cuisine.
That is also present in the name of the group, stemming from the French Riviera where the team hails from.
In addition to new cuisines, the group wants to expand outside of Florida. There are plans to open in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Aspen, Colo., and, eventually, Dubai.
Giron-Galy is searching for people all across the country to help her with these brands and “be part of a big adventure.”