Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Goes Around ... Comes Around: Small World Edition - UPDATED

[Updated - see below]

I initially scoffed when South Miami restaurant Town Kitchen & Bar, which has been in business for a few years now, complained about their new neighbor, 72nd Bar + Grill. Town even went as far as issuing a notice that "someone in the neighborhood has copied us" and that Town was the "original neighborhood joint." Indeed, I suggested that after claiming to have invented the neighborhood joint, next Town would be claiming to have invented the question mark.

After looking at each of their online menus, I'm beginning to understand why Town is so sore. Here, have a gander yourself:

Town Kitchen & Bar:

72nd Bar + Grill:

Almost identical color scheme and font style, right down to the use of the "+" between descriptors in the menu. Pretty much the same menu groupings: salads; "starters"; pizzas; burgers; "certified angus beef steaks" vs. "from the grill"; "Old Town Favorites" vs. "72 Favorites". Even 72nd's circle logo bears more than a passing resemblance to Town's.

The actual food items are different in many respects, but it's hard to imagine how there could so many commonalities in the look, layout and format without it being a deliberate copy.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about it all is the incredible lack of inspiration from Juan Mario Maza and Vani Maharaj, the chef-owners of 72nd Bar + Grill. The husband and wife team, both Michelle Bernstein alumni, also operated Alta Cocina, which recently closed after a two-year run in South Miami just down the street from the location of their new restaurant. Is it wrong to expect a bit more creativity out of folks with that pedigree? Of course, it'll all be just fine if the food is good. If so, hopefully South Miami is big enough to handle two neighborhood joints.


After this post went up, I received an email from chef Juan Maza. With his permission, I am now reprinting it here in full. I'm glad to see that Town and 72nd have apparently cleared the air, and I thought this was a thoughtful and clearly heartfelt response:

I have read you post about the menus with Town. I would like you to know that we have allready apologized to Brandon "Town's owner" and are redoing our menu formats. We both talked like gentlemen and although we never intended to copy him or anything similar they just ended looking similar. As for the logo we agreed they are not similar as you can see on his webpage.

As for the comments of Chef Bernstein we have nothing but the greatest respect for her, when we left Michys and open Alta Cocina everyone seems to think we did it becuase we know it all, and it is not like that, we had only one option to stay in the country and it was to obtian an investor visa through opening a business. Alta Cocina was the toughest learning experience we faced and for two cooks with one year of experience in the kitchen we did well and we learned through very tough criticism. We risk everything we had and own for a better oportunity in the country, but no one knows that but Vani and myself. Now we are residents Alta Cocina did its purpose, we have a better oportunity for us and our future children for our future.

We are not trying to be superstar or super chefs, all we want is to be able to learn and grow and pay our bills.

We are nice people who work hard , not copy cats or anything like that. If you may know we took a big risk, all food bloggers and critics seem were are just trying to shine on someone elses talent, it is not and never been like that I am the first one to tell that all i ever did in Michys was the most simple prep work, and you know I have trained my self almost everything including working the line and I really think for what we achieved at least for being a top Zagat new comer we should just get a little break.

Thank you for taking the time read this and I hope you are a gentleman with this email and if you ever come to us I will love to be able to get your opinions on our food and learn from you.

Juan Maza

I wish them the best of luck and much success.


  1. They are close, but did you read that New York Times article about menu design a couple months back? Anyone following the trends for an upscale grill is going to end up with something similar. If either added a note of real character, it would do a lot to establish their own identity.

  2. Maza and Maharaj were prep cooks for Bernstein. Chef Bernstein was not very impressed with them when they opened their restaurant Alta Cocina. She was not pleased that they were using her name. Chef Bernstein wrote a letter to the Miami New Times following their restaurant review of Alta Cocina. Here is a copy of that letter:

    A Whack at Her Former Employees

    They never shoulda done it: I find Lee Klein's review "Alta Comes Up Short" (December 13) so sad, especially since Vani Maharaj worked making salads for me at Michy's, never moved up or over, and Juan Mario Maza was one of my prep cooks, breaking down chicken and meat. I told them so many times they weren't ready to open their own place, and they of course had to prove themselves like so many young cooks today. The worst part is that they throw my name around without even asking for my acceptance or approval. If I were to open a Michy's South, you had better bet I would be there, and there would be more "seasoned" chefs on the line. I wish them luck, but they have to understand it takes more than working salads for less than a year to be a great chef.

    Michelle Bernstein


  3. billjac - I've seen several menu design pieces recently, but that still only goes so far. It doesn't explain the color scheme and logo, for instance. Simply too many similarities to chalk up to coincidence or even just being informed by the same research. Irony is that there is a good amount of difference between many of the dishes at the new places, but 72nd doesn't seem inclined ot highlight those differences.

    Anonymous - thank you for that heads-up, I remember the Alta Cocina review but never saw Michelle Bernstein's letter. Quite elucidating, and a subject on which I'll be expanding on more generally soon. Here is a link to the letter at New Times.

  4. you guys should give this place a chance. regardless of the owners, the managers and staff are wonderful and the place has a really cool vibe. live music and funky art make for a younger crowd than town, which seems to be a bit dull lately. i think 72nd will be extremely successful and a fun place to hang out!

  5. After Reading the previous posts, I felt inclined to investigate this first hand. I needed only go to 72nd Bar + Grill as I already know Town well because I am a regular there. Upon arrival to 72nd, which by the way is 2 blocks from town, I immediately notice the identical etched logo design on the door. The color scheme at Town is dark wood tables with no table cloths, a square white napkin in center with a fork and a knife to left and right of napkin. Set up at 72nd is identical. Town paint scheme is white walls with dark wood and orange highlights. 72nd grill is identical. As I peruse the menu the menu items and categories are quite similar but more than anything, the layout is identical. Only difference is the put a background color instead of white paper. The wine menu is almost identical in nature as well in how its laid out. As far as service, I was not impressed. Now I'm all about giving new places a chance and I did. This may just be the fact that its new and they are going through growing pains. Hopefully they can get it right and if they do best of luck, but you will only be finding me at the "Original" neighborhood joint of Town Kitchen & Bar. Call it loyalty, but I favor good, friendly and timely service.

  6. I enjoyed the food at Alta Cocina so I'm glad that Juan Maza took the time to clear things with Town and with others who found the similarities unsettling. I'm looking forward to stopping in on my next trip to South Miami to check them out.

  7. That's gotta be one of the classiest feud quelling comment I've ever read. Congratulations Mr. Maza, I hope you can be used as an example in future 'online reputation management' courses.

  8. To clear the air, Mr. Maza has not contacted or spoken to me about the issue of him coping the Town logo style, color scheme or menu. We are all nice people and anyone going into the restaurant business takes big risk. This is all the more reason for one to try to diferrentiate themselves from others, especially in their direct market.

    Brandon Lurie