Miami isn’t just the headquarters for Pincho Factory; it’s also the beating heart of the growing fast casual, which cofounder Otto Othman dubs a “burger-joint-plus.” Inspired by a common restaurant category in Latin America, the brand specializes in burgers and pinchos—the Spanish equivalent of kebabs.

Like so many great ideas, Pincho Factory was first dreamed up in a casual, hypothetical conversation: Othman and his cousin Nedal Ahmad hatched the concept over drinks at a Fourth of July cookout. But even after the festivities, the idea stuck, and soon the two were roping Ahmad’s brother, Nizar, into the project and bootstrapping the whole operation, from recruiting friends to pitch in to creating the menu.

At first the cofounders struggled to get the word out, but eventually Miami diners—many of whom were already familiar with pinchos—caught on, and business has been thriving ever since. It even clinched a People’s Choice Award at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival three years ago.

Othman explains how Pincho Factory went from being a big idea at a cookout to a brand ready to grow outside its home state.

When burger met pincho

Nedal and I were hanging out, having a beer and a couple shots of tequila. He wasn’t happy with his work situation. So I told him, “Dude, people love my mom’s pinchos and your burgers are delicious; why don’t we combine them like restaurants down in South America?” Nobody was doing it here in the States. You only have burger joints, and nobody was doing kebabs at a national scale. I thought we really had something. I’d do all the branding and marketing, and then he’d run the place because he’s the food guy. He has a very good knack for deciphering what’s in food just by biting it.

We sort of forced his little brother, Nizar, into the partnership because we needed more money. We couldn’t open a restaurant by our neighborhood in Miami Lakes because rents were so high. We saw that most of our friends lived down south by the Kendall area. Having our friends close by, we could leverage them to help with branding and awareness.

We met for four months every night to go through the menu. Nedal would cook and then Nizar and I would taste. Our strategy was to do a very limited menu but make sure those eight items were phenomenal. That way, people didn’t go through that Cheesecake Factory effect where you get decision paralysis. We had the menu, but we still didn’t have a name. On one of my trips to India there was a place there called Kebab Factory that I thought was really cool. It was called Pincho Factory because “pincho” is what people in Miami call kebabs.

Location, location, location

The original location is in the middle of Westchester. It’s not your typical place to go eat, at least not for our demo. I think it attracted a lot of foodies because of that. If we were to open as this huge, beautifully designed restaurant at the corner of Main and Main, it wouldn’t have the authenticity that we have today. We joke internally that what Shake Shack is to New York and what In-N-Out is to California is what we aspire to be to Miami.

The first year we did about $200,000 in sales. When we tell the story to restaurant guys or gals, they’re like, “What the hell were you guys thinking keeping it open for a second year?” Anybody in their right mind would’ve shut down the first year. The second year we did about $356,000. Then that third year, a food blogger, Sef Gonzalez, aka Burger Beast, caught wind of us, and he wrote the first review about us. Since then everything changed. We started getting the attention of other foodies, bloggers, and local press. Now our sales average $1,000 per square foot.

Exporting Miami

We started franchising in 2015, and we were extremely picky. We haven’t franchised since, but now that we have these nine units that are kicking ass, we said, “OK, let’s focus on growing outside of Florida.”

In Miami, it’s extremely popular—it’s burgers and kebabs—but how does Pincho translate outside of Florida? We’re truly understanding the market outside of Miami to see how it resonates; we saw it with our locations in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. Although we might have a bit of trouble explaining what a pincho is, once people are through the door, they understand.

When we first opened, never in a million years did I think we’d be where we are today. It wasn’t like, let’s open this chain. We didn’t even know what fast casual was. I think that the Miami-ness gives us a little bit of an edge that other people don’t have, but at our core we’re a very international concept.

Fast Casual, Growth, Story, Pincho Factory