For all its culinary flair and seemingly organic growth, My Ceviche is a data-driven fast casual with consumer analytics informing every major decision—even its original inception. Noticing an uptick in ceviche on menus across the U.S., former investment banker Roger Duarte teamed up with chef Sam Gorenstein to create a restaurant specializing in the Latin American seafood dish, which often features citrus and peppers.
“Before we started the concept, we saw ceviche moving into different demographics and different metropolitan areas—not only in Peruvian restaurants, but also in fine-dining settings like steakhouses,” Duarte says. “We wanted to bring it from that fine-dining environment into a casual setting, and through research, we knew this segment was going to grow.”
But the idea behind My Ceviche didn’t end there. Duarte and Gorenstein homed in on another style of food that would come to define the brand as much as ceviche: Mexican-inspired cuisine. The pair decided to add burritos and tacos to the menu, and even though the name is My Ceviche, half of all sales come through these two carrier options.
The first My Ceviche, which was designed to be similar to a take-out window, opened in March 2012 in the South Beach area of Miami next to an international hostel. The popularity of the location soared with both locals and tourists, and My Ceviche has since expanded to six units throughout Miami, including a spot at the Miami International Airport.
The brand has put together an all-star leadership team, including former execs from chains like Burger King and Cheesecake Factory. My Ceviche is also staying ahead of the competition with online-ordering technology, which Duarte says has it on a course for future success and growth. The company was an early adopter of ordering platform Olo and has developed a loyalty platform while working with third-party delivery companies like UberEATS.
“Our biggest direct competitor has been technology; it’s really disrupted the market,” Duarte says. “When we started in 2012, it wasn’t that big, but now it’s an enabler. It’s like gravity in that it will continue to pull you down, so you can either decide to pursue it or not.”
Roger Duarte & Sam Gorenstein
YEAR STARTED: 2012
ANNUAL SALES: Undisclosed
TOTAL UNITS: 6
FRANCHISE UNITS: 0
The ceviche portion of the menu features a blend of red onions, cilantro, jalapeños, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and yellow corn with a choice of fish, shrimp, raw tuna, or octopus; guests choose a base of coconut jasmine rice, greens, or quinoa, as well as one of four sauces. In addition to burritos and tacos, the brand also serves salads, burrito bowls, and poke bowls—for these items, seafood abstainers can select adobo chicken as their protein. Duarte says the charred octopus burrito with queso fresco, Mexican crema, tomatoes, cilantro, pickled red onions, and corn is one of his personal favorites, as well as a popular guest pick.
My Ceviche doesn’t alter the menu often and tries to base new products off of its core items when it does. “One of the hurdles we have is helping [guests] understand that we’re not just ceviche,” Duarte says. “But once they come in, they see everything that we have and then they may try the other items. So instead of visiting us once every two weeks, they come once or twice per week because they’re trying a new product. Not many people know that we serve chicken initially, but it is one of our highest-selling items.”
Each My Ceviche location is tailored to fit its surroundings. Local artists often collaborate with the brand on store designs in an effort to avoid a “cookie cutter” feel of a 1,000-plus-location brand, Duarte says. “When we build a restaurant, we really want to understand the community that we operate in and want to make an impact,” he says. “We can do this internally through job creation and externally by working with organizations around the community.”
All My Ceviche units are company-owned, and the brand doesn’t have plans to franchise. Duarte says that for the next year or so, it will focus solely on Florida, making sure all the proper procedures, systems, and controls are in place before the company targets other markets for growth.
While they refine and incubate My Ceviche, Duarte and Gorenstein have also embarked on a second fast-casual concept, this one specializing in Mediterranean fare. Zuuk Kitchen opened its first location in Miami last year and has a second coming to nearby Dadeland. My Ceviche is also the sister company to George Stone Crab, a national stone crab–delivery business that Duarte opened in 2009.
Duarte says they envision Zuuk as a national brand that can go anywhere there’s foot traffic and customers willing to try new things. My Ceviche, on the other hand, may skew more toward metropolitan markets.
“We are focused on data-driven growth and really understanding the data and why the consumer is choosing us,” he says. “With that, we can have a better understanding for scale.”