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In the Kitchen: No-frills seafood
Cami's restaurant experience produces high-quality, casual seafood at Grumpy Dick's
By Joan M. Lang
March 01, 2007
Having grown up in the business, Richie Cami knows a thing
or two about seafood restaurants. He's putting it all to good
use at Grumpy Dick's, a popular casual Florida-style fish
restaurant and catering business in Plantation, Fla., that
represents more than 20 years' experience working with
Cami's father, Dick Cami, operated an upscale continental
restaurant in Hollywood, Fla., in the 1970s and '80s called Top
of the Home, locally famous for its special-occasion five-star
food and captains in tuxedos. Richie and his brother, John,
both worked at the restaurant from the time they were legal,
from busing tables to working the line in the kitchen.
"I was brought up into that discipline of quality and
freshness, and I learned to respect all the beautiful fresh
fish we have down here," says Richie Cami. "I've just been
fine-tuning it ever since."
After cutting his teeth at Top of the Home, the younger Cami
was involved in a number of casual seafood restaurants - both
with his father and on his own, and at all levels of management
- before helping Dick Cami open Grumpy Dick's in 2003. Now
operated by Richie Cami, "Grumpy's" is in distinct contrast to
the Top of the Home. It's got the informal, colorful,
beach-shack ambience of the Keys, and a moderately priced menu
that's South Florida incarnate: Four to six nightly seasonal
fresh fish, stone crabs, crab cakes, fried seafood, conch
fritters and chowder, grouper specialties and raw-bar
This core menu focuses on fresh, straightforward
presentation - what Cami terms "no-frills." Fish such as
grouper, ahi, mahi or salmon is prepared on the char-broiler,
although customers can also get it blackened, jerked or
teriyaki style. About the most ambitious item on the menu is
the Ahi Crusted Carpaccio appetizer.
"We're using many of the same recipes the Cami family has
always been known for," says Cami, "but we've fine-tuned the
whole formula. We focus on all-scratch cooking, with great
attention to quality and freshness."
Most entrées are priced less than $10, which appeals to both
families and young diners, as well as older residents,
snowbirds and tourists.
Grumpy Dick's also sports a sushi bar, which is presided
over by Mark Lee, a certified sushi chef.
"The concept works well with a seafood menu, in terms of
both purchasing and day-to-day operations," notes Cami. "It
also gets us some attention because sushi is unusual for this
Prominently located at the back of the dining room, the
sushi display counter dispenses a variety of the more familiar
offerings, such as California and other rolls, as well as combo
plates and sushi-based lunch specials. Sushi captures about 8
percent of total sales at Grumpy Dick's, at least a portion of
which is incremental.
Specials are a big part of Grumpy Dick's strategy. "Even
with low prices and high quality, you need to give people more
reasons to come back," says Cami. That's the reasoning behind
the concept's half-dozen oyster and 1-pound king crab specials
on Monday, seasonal fish-and-chips deals on Tuesday and so on.
"We try to keep creating that buzz."
The latest wrinkle is a catering business, which Cami is
launching in response to demand. "We did a lot of self-service
lunch platters for local businesses, and I know we can expand
Now in the market for someone who can take over day-to-day
management of the restaurants, Cami is holding steady with the
catering program, but hopes to ratchet it up to include social
"I'm keeping it pretty small for now so I can make sure it's
done correctly," he explains. "With this kind of customer, the
last thing you want is a bad reputation. It's all word-of-mouth
Over the years, Cami has had plenty of opportunities to
assemble his list of suppliers. "The most important thing is
quality, and I work with people who understand my standards.
Then I consolidate as much business as possible with them so
that I can get the best price."
Most of his shellfish comes in frozen, directly from a
broker. "It's amazing what the industry has done to maintain
quality with frozen product," says Cami. "It's a lot better now
than it was 10 or 15 years ago."
He works locally with Empire Seafood and Manny's
Enterprises, and with Two Bills for fresh fish. Sushi-grade
fish and other specialties come from Cape Florida Seafood
"For things like tuna and wahoo, it's really important to
get absolutely the best quality, even if it costs more," says
Cami. "This is especially true with fish that people are
Ultimately, Cami would like to take Grumpy Dick's out of
Florida, to areas like Georgia, North Carolina, the Midwest and
Las Vegas. "This place has a real 'South Florida' feel, and I
think it would go gangbusters in a market that can't get this
kind of seafood otherwise."
Contributing Editor Joan M. Lang lives in Cape Elizabeth,