George Stone Crab: Roger Duarte's thoughts on Miami

Welcome new MIAbites contributor, Paula Antoniazzi.  She shares with MIAbites her sit down over mezcal and chicharrones with My Ceviche co-founder, Roger Duarte. Follow her on  #RumoristRecommends.

Before My Ceviche became a local chain and George Stone Crab was dubbed the largest seller of stone crabs in Latin America by Bloomberg/s Business Week, there was an independent-minded investment banker named Roger Duarte.

The youngest of three and the only male, Duarte was something of an unruly child in Mexico. Errant behavior and rule-breaking landed Duarte on the fast track to the strict but exclusive Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “I think Valley Forge did me right. I learned discipline, tenacity, and leadership. My time at Forge also gave me brothers; I am very grateful for the people I studied with. They are my brothers for life.”

When speaking of “brothers,” Duarte also refers to his best friends, a team of five young men with whom he shares a profound passion for eating. Much like Duarte, they share an infatuation for finding the best and most unique eats in every city they visit. It was during my conversations with Duarte that I found out about a secret list of the best and most hidden gems that the four foodies share.

Getting access to this list, or at least a few recommendations, was why I decided to set up an interview with the Stone Crab king.

We meet in an inconspicuous bar in the heart of Little Havana for what Duarte assures me will be a very different experience. Ball and Chain is a revival of historic Miami locale whose 25-year run saw the likes of outlaws, bootleggers, gamblers, jazz stars, and blues kings. No longer a tobacco-infused haven, the new Ball and Chain pays homage to the 1950s with live music acts, dim lights of green and golden hues, vintage newspaper ads, and a prominent island bar overflowing with panama hat-wearing locals.

The afternoon starts off with an order of absurdly large glasses of happy hour-priced, chilled mezcal. He warns me that I should be ready to drink, a thought I quickly dismiss by assuring him that he will NOT out-drink me. Next thing I know, we are shaking hands – loser pays (damn!).

As I am getting ready to fire out the first question, a mountain of chicharrones, house-made crunchy pork rinds spiced with smoked paprika and fresh lime, hit the table.

The Rumourist: Clearly, you are a lover of the mom-and-pop / hole-in-the-wall restaurant like I am.
Why do you think that is?

I love discovery. I love discovering things that are not trendy and popular, those with a niche. Usually mom-and-pop restaurants do one thing, and they do that one thing right. Small restaurants do things with love and soul, and they establish relationships with their customers.

TR: Can you reveal a favorite hole-in-the-wall?

If you ask me what the best taco place in Miami is, I would have to say it is Viva México, a 12-seat taqueria at 542 SW 12th Ave. The owner and I are longtime friends. We chill over a 12-pack, call mariachis, and pig out over pig ear tacos. I don’t like being just another number at every other restaurant. And mostly, I really like supporting my neighbors because staying local is the only way one really makes an impact in a community.

I also love a Haitian restaurant on 82nd and N Miami Ave.; I go there to eat the griot (fried pork) and pikliz (a hot sauce made with shredded cabbage, carrot, onions, shallots, and peppers). You must go at 4:30 p.m., and for $8, you can feed an entire family. Best pork you can get with tostones and maciza.

TR: How do you usually find these places?

I have a network of friends with whom I share a passion for discovering untapped places. We keep each other informed whenever we find a place worth sharing. It is like a secret language; we only divulge new finds to people we know will truly love and appreciate a good hidden gem. If a person is not a foodie, I probably will not take him to a hidden gem because I know he will not understand and appreciate it. I only want to bring people who really understand the notion and will give it respect.

TR: What do you see as My Ceviche’s place in the culinary landscape of Miami?

I think it is very well accepted. What makes us successful is not the owners or celebrity chefs; it is the value proposition we give to the consumer. We serve tasty food using quality ingredients at an affordable price point. The food is healthy, fresh, and infused with specialties like the secret sauces or the popcorn, which hook our customers.

I believe that the most notable impact I have made through My Ceviche is the creation of 90+ jobs in Miami since 2012. Next year, we will surpass a headcount of 300!

TR: What do you think is so rewarding about Miami?

Diversity. I am in Little Havana now, but in 20 minutes, I can be inside one of the highest-grossing nightclubs in the world or dining inside an international institution like Joe’s Stone Crab.

TR: We heard that you are responsible for 28% of the world’s stone crab. Is that so?

Yes, on the wholesale side, we are responsible for a 28% market share of an approximately 2.8 million-pound industry.

TR: Well, since you brought it up, how do you feel about Joe’s?

I love it; if it weren’t for Jo Ann [Bass], I would not be successful. Joe’s is not a restaurant; it is an establishment that has put stone crabs on the map.

TR: If you had to give a tour of Miami to a friend who is a “foodie,” where would you take him for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

First off, if they are foodies, it will not be three stops; it will be six because foodies can always eat. Even if they are full, they can keep eating. I would start with La Ventanita de Versailles for a coffee, then My Ceviche for an assortment of burritos, tacos, and ceviche. For a midafternoon snack, I would stop by Viva México for tacos; I think I would order tripa (tripe), campechano (fried pork crackling), and lengua (tongue). For dinner, I would take them to Joe’s Stone Crab and order fried chicken, grilled tomatoes, cioppino, stone crabs( Oct to May ), and key lime pie. After dinner, we would go to Radio or to Ball and Chain, stop by Soho Beach House, and finish off at LIV.

Basically, I will age them eleven years in one day.

TR: What’s next?

I am working on opening a significant number of new My Ceviche locations as well as a new Mediterranean fast-casual space in Midtown that will follow the same fresh, concept as My Ceviche. I am also focusing on My Ceviche and George Stone Crab opening inside Miami International Airport.

My Ceviche- South Beach, Brickell, South Miami and...

George Stone Crab