In what part of town do you live?
I live in Brickell – in the downtown area.
How long have you lived in that area?
Would you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Born and raised here in Miami. I’ve lived here my whole life with the exception of university. I went to Emory in Atlanta, Georgia. I went to FIU for law school. It had only been accredited for about two years, so it was really brand new. To be honest, I wasn’t even strongly thinking about FIU when I first sent out my applications. But then I received a really nice letter from the Dean. It was a thoughtful letter and made me feel like helping establish a new school in Miami was a great thing.
In hindsight, was it the right decision? Do you feel like you benefited from attending a new school?
I am super happy with my decision. The professors and my peers were top notch. I learned a lot. And, the brand new library and brand new facilities and all that stuff was certainly appreciated. I liked the feeling of being able to start a legacy.
In what part of the law did you specialize?
I went into law school without a concrete plan. I was looking at the value a legal education and training could bring me as a person, as an entrepreneur, as a business person. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an NBA player. Despite reaching six feet in height, it wasn’t meant to be. I enjoyed the idea of maybe being a sports agent, but I did not know that many professional athletes. So, when I got out of law school, I worked at a large real estate law firm for several years. I didn’t really love it. I loved the real estate side of things, but I didn’t love the office politics and monotony. A lot of work was relating to foreclosures and bankruptcies, sad life events for other people. It sort of took some of the joy out of it for me. In 2017, my daughter, Sarah, was just about to turn one, and I took time off to be with her every day and think about what I really wanted to do.
Where did that journey take you?
I’ve always been into food and beverage, and I have great relationships with so many amazing people in the industry. One common thing that I’ve heard over the years from my friends and family is, ‘when are you going to open your restaurant?’ It was an appealing idea, but at the same time, it’s an extremely hard style of business. By the end of the year that I took off, I was considering leaving law, but close friends of mine in the hospitality industry were running into issues with their business partners and landlords. I realized that I needed to start my own law firm and help the people I care about.
How has your business evolved?
I started just from word of mouth. I ended up having work grow from one friend, to their friends, and their associates, and it grew from there. As part of that, I was introduced to Papa Chang, the patriarch of the ‘Chang Gang’ and he wanted me to help him launch the restaurant, Itamae. I helped him get everything started, and he asked me if I was interested in being his partner. My answer was ‘yes.’
What is your role in the partnership? Does it go beyond your legal contributions?
Oh man, I’m also the cashier. I’ll do anything. We’re an all hands on deck kind of fam. At this point in time, I’d say my ceviche skills are there – I can put out a ceviche that could compete. It’s fun because I get to experiment and have access to cooking and then I come home and cook for my wife and it makes her happy too.
Has going into hospitality yourself changed your perspective about the business?
Certainly. I would say my respect and admiration has grown significantly. In hospitality, it isn’t just a chef, or a restaurant operator, or a server or a line cook. It’s everyone involved in the process from the farmers, the butchers, the wine merchants, distributors, and even the cleaning and sanitation crews. There’s so many people connected to hospitality. The majority of people are in it for the love of the game, not because they’re getting rich.
Coming from the hospitality world, what is it like coming to our drive through?
Oh man. It’s awesome. The first time I had the pleasure of having one of your infamous rainbow smoothies was at the farmer’s market. Then coronavirus changed everything. We’ve been very strict. So, my kids have literally been home in our apartment since the second week of March. One weekend, I said ‘let’s go and take a drive.’ Ever since then, Sarah, is just infatuated with your smoothies. It’s become a great thing that we look forward to as a family.
What else are you getting when you come?
You guys have grown a reputation for excellent tropical organic fruits. I never realized how much I love star fruits. I’m crushing them – last week I got 12. I think you are growing awareness about the importance of the food seasons. You’re not supposed to be able to eat every fruit and every vegetable every day of the year. The drive through is a great learning experience. We were having your ‘last of the season’ Longans, and Sarah asked if we could go to Publix and get more. I said, ‘nope.’ Now she knows how it works.
Are there places that you are looking forward to going back to when things reopen?
That list is supremely long. Do we go geographically…alphabetically? My buddy Niven, just opened up (Mamey) a new spot in Coral Gables. The food looks great, but I haven’t been yet. The guys that Bar Lab cocktails opened up their natural wine popup on South beach, and it looks amazing. I still haven’t gotten my hands on one of those pizzas that Brad and Old Greg’s are doing in the Design District. I really miss the eating the ceviche at Itamae on an everyday basis.
I still get my share of my EL Bagels – that’s like my essential breakfast and brunch item. I still eat a ton of Stanzione’s pizzas. I had an amazing lobster roll from Justin Flit and Mike Beltran at Nave. They’re doing a New England style clam shack menu on the weekends. Aaron Brooks is doing a pop up at Stanzione 87. It’s like a Turkish inspired pide and lahmacun. Aaron is supremely underrated. His food is incredible. One of the silver linings of the pandemic is all the creativity that’s coming out of it.
I’ve also had some random homemade things. There’s a nice girl, that I met through the Miami food community, that’s making homemade Armenian food every weekend. People are signing up and she’s selling out every weekend. Her name is The Spicy Dolma. The guys from Kyu, Chef Raheem and his crew, are doing amazing barbecue right out of their front yard. It’s impossible to list everyone. Jaguar Sun is doing amazing things right now in Little River. People are finding ways to survive. They’re finding ways to thrive. They’re finding ways to support their teams and to support their families. All of that is really amazing.
What’s a worthy splurge for you?
I splurged last weekend at the Grovestand and I’ve been enjoying your turmeric shots all week.
What community groups or philanthropic groups are important to you that you might like to promote or share?
We are active members of our temple, Beth Shalom on Miami beach. Itamae had the privilege of participating with World Central Kitchen, preparing meals for first responders and others with food insecurities during the pandemic. That was something that just felt good.
Also, my wife and I are very supportive of the social justice issues that are front and center today in the media. I think that America is in the crossroads. We need to live up to our ideals and standards and we really need to fight and make sure that all voices are heard. I am a proud ‘girl dad.’ I want my daughters to have a better America and a better place than what we have today. I’m tired of black people being killed for trivial reasons. We need to make it right for everybody. I’m not saying I have the answers, but I know that we need to start taking concrete, real steps. It’s just time, I’m tired of it.
Would you like to share a pitch about your law practice and the restaurant?
Oh man, I don’t like to plug myself. I practice real estate and hospitality law. I’m a deal maker, not a deal breaker. I find solutions. At Itamae, we’re very excited that we are moving to a new space in the Design District. We’re taking a beautiful ground floor space with a huge terrace area right in Court Plaza. We should be reopening sometime in the next four to six weeks. Our sushi bar, B-Side at 1-800 Lucky in Wynwood has been doing great. Chef Val just dropped a new menu. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Is there a question that you would like to ask us?
(DM) How did you guys come up with your rainbow smoothies?
(A+W) We realized that the Rainbow was a great way to encourage people to try unknown fruits and flavors. Our goal each week is to introduce as many people as we can to what is grown locally on our farm. When we had a mango smoothie and a jackfruit smoothie, most people would order a mango smoothie because it was familiar. However, when we changed the focus of our menu to colors, we found that everyone ordered the Rainbow. Now kids and adults are drinking kale, beets, and jackfruit every week without hesitating.
(DM) That’s a stroke of marketing genius. It’s it takes out all the unfamiliarity and gives people comfort. I’m smiling when my daughter is in the backseat saying ‘Poppy, this is so good.’
Is there a challenge or words of advice you would like to pose to the readers, to our community?
Are you registered to vote? Check, confirm and make sure. Get a mail-in ballot and drop it off yourself. There are drop boxes at the election sites, you don’t need to mail it. Go out and make a difference.
How can readers be in touch with you?
Follow me on Instagram @DMO305. My new website is going up soon: Morales.legal. And, feel free to email me if you’re buying, selling, or refinancing real estate, or if you have any kind of contract lease, anything that needs review, I’m here to make it easier for you. David@Morales.Legal