Well for starters, Matt knows the name of his cows, “I’m literally getting my beef delivered from a guy that is three hours away, who is delivering the meat from his farm to here. Nobody does that. I know the name of my cow.”
Locally sourced is the way they do things, “we get fresh alligator. Nobody gets fresh alligator.” Mismatched furniture and little details here and there also add to the place and make LoKal feel perfectly snug in the Grove.
Just so you get an idea, Matt told us that, “the entire restaurant is literally made out of things that we found in a dumpster or about to be thrown away. The chairs are all from restaurants that were going out of business. I have bicycle tires, cassette tapes; I have my parent’s suitcases. I have my toys all over the place. I have this old TV that I found and we made into a book shelf. We just kind of made all these types of art out of nothing.”
His most prized possession was actually his mother’s—a lime green suitcase from 1970—that “they would never make again,” which makes him feel like he is five years old again, going on vacation.
We hear Bob Marley in the background—talk about cozy. LoKal is probably as local as it gets.
Learn more about Matt and the LoKal below.
What is your background, how did this all start for you? When did you realize that this was what you wanted to do?
I was raised half Puerto Rican and half Jewish in Washington D.C. My grandfather owned restaurants in New York and also here in Plantation and Broward. My father also grew up in the food business so I grew up knowing nothing else except for sleeping inside a Dunkin Donuts. So I always wanted to open up a restaurant.
I went to FIU for Hospitality, which changed my life and put me in the right direction. I knew I wanted to do a burger concept; this was probably 10 years ago. When I wanted to start it, I still didn’t have the money and I didn’t have everything ready. And all of a sudden Burger & Beer Joint and 8 oz. and all these burger places started opening up.
Around that same time I visited a dear friend of mine in Seattle. He’s extremely eco-friendly and an influence in my life. He would go to my house and start changing my water faucets and throwing away my toilet paper and buying eco-friendly toilet paper, changing my light bulbs for eco-friendly light bulbs.
And in Seattle, I got a taste for it and I started realizing the system, what was wrong in Miami and what was right around the world. It happened at the same time that all these other burger places were opening up. So I started formulating this idea that I was going to do something like that but I was going to take it to the next level. I’m going to start sourcing out local farmers and that’s what I did.
What’s the concept behind LoKal?
The funny thing is that I started off with the concept of doing a burger joint but that’s not what I consider ourselves at any point now.
We’re a casual farm to table concept. We make everything from scratch and we want to do it in an environment that is affordable. In Miami, all the eco-friendly places, for the most part, are very high end. So, I wanted to do a place where the “normal” person can come in and have it.
And here is the reality, I used to be a frat boy, I used to be a person that didn’t care about what I put into my body. So, I wanted this to be an environment where if you care about supporting local farms, and you care about clean proteins, you are going to come out here and eat. But, if you don’t care about all of that, it’s still going to be an environment that is fun, good food with burgers, sandwiches, salads and by the way—you’re eating clean proteins, your money is staying in Florida and you’re supporting local farmers.
What do you think played a key role in winning The Nature’s Plate award?
What we do here unfortunately for Miami and fortunately for us, nobody does; even the green and vegan restaurants here which some of them are great they don’t do it to the degree that we do.
First of all we compost all of our waste. Every single food that you do not eat here goes into a local farm, and basically gets re-used to grow the vegetables that we are getting here. This is very common in other parts of the world and other parts of the country, not common here in Miami at all.
We have a little grocery, where we support all the local people that aren’t big enough to really do things yet. We have local honey, local jam, local barbecue, local granola and local pickled onions. People have a dream of starting a local business and we’re giving them another outlet for them to sell.
We use pear energy, we were the first and I believe we are still the only place that uses pear energy, which is basically a company that sources their own energy from wind and solar power and they send it to the FPL grids using the energy that they source. Instead of getting my energy from nuclear and coal, I just pay extra to get my energy from clean sources. Yeah, I pay more for it and there aren’t necessarily any real benefits for it, but it’s the right thing to do, so I do it. It makes me feel good and I like to do it.
Those are the main things; obviously we recycle. When we opened I visited the recycling plant to make sure that what they said they did was actually what they did. They hate me because every time there is a problem or I see the trash delivery guy doing something wrong thing with the recycling we are very over the top in making sure that recycling is done the way it’s supposed to be done.
We also have a garden in the back where we grow arugula, mint and basil. Three of our dishes have ingredients that we literally grow from the backyard.
Who is the chef behind LoKal?
The chef is Spider. I’ve known him probably for ten years now. He’s been here ever since we opened.
What are your favorite things on the menu?
I love the Grouper Reuben. We get two local fishermen that go to Islamorada every day and they catch our grouper. So, if they don’t catch fish than we don’t get it. So the grouper is extremely fresh and I love the rye bread with the homemade coleslaw in there, that’s one of my favorites.
The Frita by Kush is definitely my favorite burger. It tastes just like a guava and cheese pasetelito, like in a Cuban bakery. My wife had the idea to put guava in a burger. The LoKal we probably sell the most of. We use arugula from our own garden, we use local honey in our honey mustard that we make from scratch and we use local avocados.
Talk to us about the beer… What can we find at LoKal?
Here is the thing: a lot of people think they do craft beer and they don’t even really know what craft beer is. They try to capitalize on a fad.
The people that know beer, the people that work at breweries, the real beer geeks, they know that this is the best beer list in Miami. First off we have a reserve list, where we age our own beer.
We get what they call one-offs that nobody else in Miami gets. So if one case or one keg comes to South Florida especially if it’s Miami, we are pretty much one of maybe three places that has the option of getting it. So you’re getting a lot of beers here that you can’t try anywhere else.
How do you get the beer that no one else has?
David, who is right over there, he has the most knowledge of anyone when it comes to beer that has the power to buy beer to the level he does. There are obviously people that know more about beer but nobody knows more about beer that can actually choose his own beer list.
Where do you eat out in Miami?
Well, that’s my favorite thing to do. If I could ever retire I would definitely be a travel food writer, even though I can’t write, or a critic of some sort. I love Hiro Yakko San, River Oyster Bar, Mandolin, PB Steak my new favorite place is in the Quick Stop—there are three Thai ladies that make to go Thai food that is unbelievably out of this world. I don’t know what they actually call it, I think it is Thai Kitchen but it’s literally inside the Quick Stop. I love Mary’s Coin Laundry for my pan con bistec.
I would like to eventually open a LoKal in every major city in Florida. I also have a different concept for the Grove that I would like to do that is a little different.
How do you feel about what’s going on in Miami, food wise?
I love Miami, I love the culture here and I think we are in a great time for Miami. I think there is a great restaurant scene that is starting here. It’s a small community, people know each other; there is still an opportunity to try new things and be more creative. I would never leave Miami.
Cheers to Miami and its Hungries! We’ll be going places, just you wait and see!
LoKal is located at 3190 Commodore Plaza, Miami, FL 33133.