Soon to Serve at a Location Near You, the Pincho Factory’s Combination of Shish Kabob and Gourmet Burgers has Taken South Florida by Storm – and is About to go National
It’s not on the brightly lit restaurant-row stretch of Giralda, now a pedestrian plaza, but rather on the quieter part of the street close to busy Douglas Road. It doesn’t seem like the optimal place to open a new burger joint, especially in a town where burger places have come and gone.
But for Otto Othman and his two cousins, Coral Gables was the touchstone for their new fast casual food concept, the Pincho Factory. Having nearly failed in their first location on Bird Road in Westchester, Othman and cousins Nedal and Nizar Ahmad decided to roll the dice and open a second location in Coral Gables.
“We actually almost closed in our second year, but I sort of talked my business partners out of it,” says Othman of the decision to move into the Gables. “Although not the best real estate, it was an upgrade for us and we kicked ass,” he says, doing $1 million in business the first year there. “After that I quit my marketing job and went into the business full time.”
That was six years ago. Today, the Pincho Factory – headquartered in Coral Gables – has 10 locations in South Florida, with more on the drawing board. And they are looking to take the concept big.
“What Shake Shack is to New York and In-and-Out is to California, Pincho is going to be for Florida. We are getting ready now to expand nationally,” says Othman.
In many ways, the Pincho Factory is perfectly Florida, and even more perfectly South Florida, reflecting the area’s unique blend of Latin American influences.
“We decided to always be transparent with everything, so that what we eat here is what we would eat at home.”
For those unfamiliar with the term, a Pincho (the Spanish word for “thorn” or “spike”) is traditional bar food from northern Spain. It’s like tapas, in the sense of a small bite consumed while drinking, but uses a skewer (usually a toothpick) to spear a few edibles together on a piece of bread. In South America, it is a common form of street food, and the way to serve a shish kabob.
The inspiration for the Pincho Factory came eight years ago, during a 4th of July cookout at the home of Othman’s cousin Nedal. Othman showed up with his mom’s succulent Middle-Eastern kabobs, which she used to cook for him during his childhood in Brazil, while Nedal was firing up his special hamburgers that family and friends raved about.
“I remember that barbecue, and how Nedal wasn’t happy with his job,” recalls Othman. “I said I wish I could eat these pinchos and burgers all the time. I looked at Nedal and said, ‘Why don’t we start a restaurant? I’ll do the marketing and you do the cooking.’”
For months afterward, Othman, Nedal and Nedal’s younger brother Nizar (talked into joining them because they needed more start-up money) worked on recipes. They decided that rather than offer an exhausting menu, they would focus on a few key offerings they could make great.
Those focal points are six versions of pinchos (Latin, California, Tex-Mex, etc.), served in a wrap, rice bowl or atop a salad, and seven versions of Nedal’s burgers (Fritanga, Bacon n Blue, Toston, etc.). The signature Pincho burger, topped with cheese, potato sticks and a secret pink sauce, has already won numerous awards and accolades, from Zagat to the Food Network to a People’s Choice Award at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. And as for the Pincho, with its cilantro, mango and lemon pepper sauces, “We still use my mom’s recipe. There is nothing like it,” says Othman.
Patrons apparently agree. “This is like Latin comfort food,” said one patron at their Gables location. “I eat here all the time.” Among the reasons for their popularity is the chain’s obsession with ingredients. Rather than spend on lavish interiors, theirs are Spartan – white tile walls, exposed duct-work ceilings, an open kitchen, and a wall-sized blackboard that reads “Never Settle” in large, scripted letters.
“In any restaurant, I really want to know what I’m eating. We decided to always be transparent with everything, so that what we eat here is what we would eat at home,” says Othman, who got the idea for the name of the restaurant during a trip to India, when he saw a place called The Kebob Factory.
In addition to climbing aboard the fresh-ingredient movement, the Pincho Factory is also recognized by such food industry publications as QSR to be a pioneer in what’s called ‘fast casual’ food. Whereas fast food is low quality, low price, the fast-casual category is high quality, moderately priced, and in a better setting.
“Fast casual is the answer to the question, ‘How do we democratize fine food?’” says Othman. “We consider ourselves fast-casual 2.0, because in addition to high quality and moderate price, we are in a cool setting, with cool music, super high-ingredients that are hormone free, and sustainable, like using real silver wear instead of disposables. We are getting closer and closer to casual food, so our competition is going to be Applebees and Chili’s, not Chipotle.” Shake Shack, eat your heart out.