Less than a week before becoming the co-founder of Pincho Factory, Nedal Ahmad placed a frantic call to his cousin after discovering the mere $6.27 left in his bank account. Despite a load of logistical setbacks, including a complete lack of trained staff, Ahmad insisted that the restaurant open that very weekend, “because there really wasn’t another option; we were going to have to pull it off ourselves.”
Fast-forward five years, and South Florida’s Pincho Factory has a handful of awards, a loyal foodie following on the blogosphere, and a South Beach Burger Bash win—placing Ahmad and the team in the ranks with industry greats like Bobby Flay and Michael Symon.
“Our beginning kind of defied all of the laws of businesses—you and I should not be having this conversation today based on our first two years—we had no reason to be in business period, much less be growing at this point,” Ahmad says.
All of this was accomplished simply because Ahmad, his brother Nazir, and his cousin Otto Othman, had an idea while cooking up burgers and kebabs at a Fourth of July cookout and decided to stick with it. After their jokes about opening a restaurant started seeming more like a reality, the team spent every night cooking in Ahmad’s father’s kitchen testing different proteins, spices, and flavors for their new concept, which was built around two main menu items: pinchos—a Spanish take on kebabs—and burgers.
The first Pincho Factory opened far from the trendiest Miami retail spots in the mostly residential area of Westchester. As South Florida natives, the team was eager to showcase the area’s medley of flavors and cultures—from Cuban and Nicaraguan, to Middle Eastern and Mediterranean. Choosing pinchos and burgers as the fundamentals gave them plenty of room to flesh out the menu with a diversity of international and uniquely American flavors. “Growing up here, it was really cool to be able to experience all of the different food influences,” Ahmad says. “We try to offer a space where you can experience the entire culture of Miami under one roof.”
With no marketing budget, the Pincho’s team took to Facebook, promising the first 100 customers on Friday's opening free pinchos for a year. With nearly 300 tickets on the first day, it worked. By Monday though, the honeymoon phase was over.
“We muscled through it,” Ahmad says. “Something told us to keep going with this. We had something on our hands, but we didn’t know what yet. But there was something special about the place. People that actually made it through the door came back. And they came back again, and then they brought friends.”
The slow days offered plenty of time for the Pincho’s team to test out new initiatives and menu items while the brand slowly built a cult following among locals and visiting foodies alike. In 2012, Pincho launched Try-Me-Tuesdays, where it announced experimental menu items—like the now-famous Toston burger with fried plantain buns—on the store’s signature chalkboard and gathered customer feedback. The initiative quickly turned Tuesdays from one of their slowest days to one of their best.
Then, this year, Pincho Factory was invited to Food Network’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash, catapulting them further into the spotlight. Despite having no formal cooking training, Ahmad took home the People’s Choice Award for his Croquetesa Burger—a dish requiring nearly 48 hours of prep time and leaving no room for mistakes.
“It’s an honor just to be there competing,” he says. “To win against that kind of talent just shows where people’s taste profiles are going—that they want something different, and something creative. Things have really changed drastically since that win, and I think we’ve got a recipe to grow this.”
In the weeks following the win, Pincho Factory had lines around the block. The company is still receiving calls from franchisee hopefuls. While Pincho is being careful to grow slowly and deliberately from its two base locations, the restaurant has plans to have 50 stores open by 2018, moving its multinational flavors up the East Coast.
Pincho Factory is also keeping busy putting together a nonprofit to help young people who are looking for vocational training for the restaurant industry, which it hopes to have open for experiential learning by the end of the year.
By Emily Byrd