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Eileen Andrade On Keeping Miami Open For Business

Eileen Andrade is a chef and third-generation restaurateur specializing in Latin-Asian fusion cuisine in Miami. In 2014, she opened her flagship restaurant and was listed among Zagat’s 30 under 30 list for that year. Currently, she is chef and owner of Finka Table and Tap, Amelia’s 1931, and the upcoming Barbakoa by Finka at The Doral Yard.

I’ve been working in the industry ever since I was about 19 years old. I’m 32 now. My parents own Islas Cañarias restaurant, which is pretty much a Cuban staple here in Miami. My baby is Finka Table and Tap—we’ve been open for six years now going strong. Even though the pandemic has been very difficult, we are still pushing through it, and we’ve been very busy the last couple of months, thankfully.

In 2014, I was named to the Zagat 30 under 30 list. It was my first year opening the restaurant, so I hadn’t been in the game for a long time. But to be recognized at a young age and so early on in my culinary career—I was super honored. It was cool to be awarded and create this sense of community since I was so new to it. I met a lot of people, and we continue to stay in contact. They’ve done amazing things, and I’ve grown a lot.

As a restaurant owner—specifically as a restaurant owner since the pandemic—it’s been a roller coaster. I almost didn’t even believe the pandemic was a real thing. I thought it was a hoax. I probably said a couple times that it was fake, which I’m embarrassed to say now. But in the beginning, since it was so new, I just couldn’t believe that I was living in a time of a pandemic. I was like, how could this happen? There’s no way that the whole world is going to shut down. And then it did.

That’s when I got scared. My employees got scared. We didn’t have any answers. We never really closed, so I never felt like I was stuck at home or bored out of my mind. In fact, I worked more when the pandemic started because we shut down indoor dining, so it was me and my handful of employees that weren’t scared to work. It was just us.

We were doing takeout, and I had my servers who didn’t want to come in to work as my delivery drivers, and my managers boxing food and delivering as well. So everyone was all hands on deck—whatever you have to do to get the ball rolling. We had about three months where we only did outdoor dining, and that was pretty scary because we were doing way less than half of the sales we would normally do.

At Amelia’s, we actually closed completely. Amelia’s took a really hard hit because we had absolutely no income. It’s a smaller restaurant, so we started using the employees from Amelia’s here at Finka because it has a way larger space with way more takeout. Then we got a tent outside. We did outdoor dining.

We started doing cocktail mixes to go. We were selling over 200 liters of cocktail mixes a week, and people were having these house parties with just their family drinking. We started doing these little bags called “Corona Cures” that were drinks, but a double whatever you wanted because people just wanted to drink. You have to be innovative.

I think Florida handled the shutdown as best as they could. I feel like everyone was kind of lost. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know what was right. One day an inspector would come in here and say you can’t set up your tables—“There can be nothing on the table.” Then the next day someone would say, “No, you can. It’s totally okay.” There were no rules set in place that were concrete, but we just followed whatever we needed to follow, and I respected that because I wanted to be as safe as possible. But I also wanted to make money, and I’m glad that they never completely shut us down.

I think a lot of people may say we were irresponsible for not completely shutting down. But to be honest, I think our economy is doing better than the ones that did. I think we have done as best as we could without tarnishing our economy.

We’ve been fortunate enough to receive the PPP loans at all of our establishments, which is what helped us get through those really rough three or four months where we were just in the red the whole time. We were able to pay our employees and pay our rent, though not Amelia’s because it was so small and our takeout was never really that strong to begin with. We kept it closed until recently, where we opened just for lunch to satisfy cravings of the people who wanted Amelia’s. We are in the process of expanding the place—while the lunch hours open, we are working on creating a full dining room for a hundred seats, and a full bar that should be opening in the next two or three months. That way we can open indoor dining for lunch and dinner with social distancing. Right now we only have 49 seats in the current space.

The last three months we’ve been extremely busy with indoor-outdoor dining and takeout. It almost feels that there is no pandemic, in a way. Our tables are still separated. We only allow a certain number of guests at a table. We don’t allow the three rows deep we used to have at the bar on a Saturday night. Masks are required, and we follow all the rules, but people are coming out to dine. I feel like restaurants aren’t doing that bad if you already had a big following.

I go out and I see the restaurants around here are popping. I go to other states, and I see restaurants are really struggling, so it’s kind of all over the map right now. I don’t want to say every restaurant in Miami is doing great, because it’s absolutely not true. A lot of restaurants have had to close, especially restaurants in hotels or tourist destinations. But we’re in the suburbs. The same people that dined here pre-pandemic are dining with us now.

I’ve noticed in the last couple of months a lot of people from New York coming—not only people who want to live here, but businesses. We welcome everyone with open arms, but it kind of scares me because it’s people with probably more money, and more experience, and bigger names coming to my town, and taking over my city. I’m seeing a lot of really big names coming here and opening up places. And since we’re so open, we have a lot of celebrities in town, which is also bringing a lot of people to Miami. That’s all great, but it is going to become challenging for us, and it’s going to keep everybody on their toes because there’s more competition out there for sure.

My goals for the future are definitely going to change when I’m operating three restaurants at the same time. Time management will be number one—how to still operate Finka at its fullest potential, plus Amelia’s and Barbakoa all at the same time, while remaining sane. But during this time I was able to work on Finka a lot and get things to where I want them, so I feel more comfortable. I’ll move on to Amelia’s when we reopen, and then Barbakoa. I think by that time we’ll have a better grasp of everything. I can’t spread myself too thin without ruining the reputation of my restaurants, as well as my family’s legacy.