By Kristine Thomas
Directly below the Bank of America building on Orange Street in downtown Orlando, a contemporary modern French restaurant called DoveCote Brasserie has spread its wings. The space – former home of Harvey’s Bistro and Terrace 390 – was reworked into a classic bistro with diffused light chandeliers, cozy smoke blue banquette seating and wood farm tables.
This partnership behind the new downtown hotspot includes James Petrakis, known for the Ravenous Pig, Gene Zimmerman, National Sales Manager for Halter Ranch Vineyards in Paso Robles, CA., and Chef Clayton Miller, owner of the nearby craft cocktail bar, Courtesy.
Miller has worked across the country in some of the nation’s best restaurants, including Thomas Keller’s famed The French Laundry in California’s wine country. Among his many achievements, Chef Miller also was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2010, an accomplishment he is most proud of, although owning this restaurant might also rank high on his list.
Unlike the storied reputations of many a hi-brow chef before him, Miller readily admits that he doesn’t know everything. “I’m not a plumber or an electrician” and building any business (food-based or otherwise) is about “surrounding yourself with talent and people who can complement your skills. Gene Zimmerman, for example, brought to the table everything I didn’t have regarding the beverage industry,” he said.
So much goes into opening a restaurant, so much more than it takes to say, prepare a weekly menu for a family of four. It’s much more complicated than just being able to prepare quality food: it’s also about brokering deals, overseeing construction, understanding beverage orders, scheduling, marketing, analyzing and shifting priorities when warranted. And more. Most importantly, perhaps, is in knowing what to buy, when to buy it and the value of what’s being purchased. A cerebral consideration when creating a menu and restaurant that is both approachable and affordable, as DoveCote is.
While some foodpreneurs follow rising and popular trends, Miller takes the long view. “You have to be sustainable, you have to make yourself and your business sustainable.” Build your business around what you do well and not what is “cool,” he advises.
“At the end of the day, you’re the one on the line,” says Miller as he describes the experience of owning a restaurant. “It’s a different world; a different kind of pressure. Even with over 20 years’ industry experience, success is never guaranteed, as many a pop chef can attest.”
In his own experience, Miller thought he would “hit it out of the park” with DoveCote, but the restaurant is growing slower than he anticipated. “That’s life. You take chances,” he says with no regrets. The life of a foodpreneur is sometimes risky, but thankfully for Chef Miller, the future looks bright.
DoveCote continues to build its brand in popularity as word of mouth spreads among the businesses and residents of Downtown Orlando about this culinary gem. Miller has crafted an accessible
(affordable and recognizable) menu that is open for early morning coffee and pastries, lunch and dinner and Sunday Brunch. Sought after classics such as Steak and Frites, Caramelized French Onion Soup and Chicken and Sausage Cassoulet accompany other comfort dishes like Terrines, Crab and Gruyere Quiche and Brioche French Toast. A thoughtful list of wines by the glass, unique cocktails and craft beers round out the list.
Miller looks forward to continuing his foodpreneuer journey as he builds his brands through DoveCoat and Courtesy, and by participating in the local food scene that is dominating Central Florida.
Kristine Thomas is the Executive Director of the ORL Food Lab. The Lab is dedicated to celebrating Central Florida’s extraordinary culinary community; learn more at www.ORLFoodLab.org.