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In the Kitchen: No-frills seafood

Cami's restaurant experience produces high-quality, casual seafood at Grumpy Dick's

 - Photo courtesy of 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 seafood.

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 items.

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 market."

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 on that."

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 catering.

"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 in catering."

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 
in Miami.

"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 ordering rare."

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, Maine

 

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