By Alona Abbady Martinez *It’s unheard of that a restaurant concept conjured up in drunken jest on a 4th of July family barbeque would go on to become one of Miami’s hottest fast-casual restaurants, but that is exactly what Pincho Factory managed to achieve.
Pincho, which is the Spanish word for skewer or kebab, is the name founders Otto Othman and Nedal Ahmad, alongside Ahmad’s brother Nizar, felt suited their fast-casual restaurant concept best.
“It was 4th of July 2010. We were just hanging out, joking around,” Otto Othman and Nedal Ahmed, who are cousins but consider themselves brothers, recall. “I was really unhappy with where I was at and said, ‘let’s just open a restaurant!’” Ahmed, who previously worked at a restaurant chain, adds.
Othman agreed, focusing on his mother’s kebabs, which had already garnered fame amongst family and friends.
“People used to call me and say, ‘If I bring a pound of steak do you think your mom can cut them and season them so we can barbecue?’”
The cousins decided they’d focus on Latin street food, highlighting Brazil’s popular street kebabs, known there as espetinho. Othman’s mom, who moved from Palestine to Brazil at 15, learned how to make them from a Middle Eastern woman living in Brazil, then merged traditional Middle Eastern kebab spices with the Brazilian-style skewers.
“In the Middle East, you’ll see the kebabs have veggies. In Brazil, no veggies- just the meat, like ours.” Othman says.
The cousins have worked relentlessly to get to where they are today since opening their first location on Bird Road and 98th avenue on November 6, 2010.
“Beautiful Westchester Florida,” Ahmed jokes.
“It was the only thing we could afford,” Othman explains. “We chose it because it was between Kendall and FIU.”
They used what little money that had. Othman, who was working as Creative Director at a well-known advertising agency, had to move back in with his parents.
“I had just gotten married, I was making good money. We were living in a beautiful Brickell apartment and I told my wife, ‘it’s either we stay here and I work for someone for the rest of my life or I quit and go help Nadal, but then it means we have to go live with my parents.’ She was super supportive!”
Ahmed summarizes, “It’s the key to this industry: marry a saint!”
Pincho Factory began with only 8 items on the menu, the idea being there would be fewer dishes but each would be extraordinary, beginning, of course, with Othman’s mother’s kebabs.
“We didn’t want ‘the Cheesecake Factory effect’ where you wonder, ‘maybe I ordered the wrong pasta,’” Othman says, explaining such large menus can be overwhelming to customers.
While the restaurant was under construction, the three men got together every night. Nadal would cook and Otto and Nizar would taste, correct, and taste again.
“We were trying to hit as close to perfection as possible,” Nadal recounts.
When they found themselves short on cash (only $6.27, to be exact) then had to open earlier than planned. Luckily, Othman’s previous jobs had garnered him an extensive network of friends, something that paid off on opening day.
“We had 400 people show up!”
They also offered the first 50 people to come free pinchos for a whole year.
Still, it wasn’t a straight shot to success. The cousins found it difficult to get people to come to their location in the run-down, forgotten strip mall. They muscled through hard times because they had confidence in their product.
“Everyone that walked through our doors loved it.”
When Seth Gonzalez, the blogger that goes by Burger Beast, walked through their doors, that changed everything. From that moment on people took notice. Soon after, they won Best French Fries of South Florida by Channel 10 and the next day there was a line out the door.
Simultaneously, the cousins launched “Try Me Tuesdays” as a way to peak interest on their slowest day. The idea was to offer something crazy and new for one day, and one day only. It would be announced via social media. The tactic was a huge success and Pincho Factory went viral after that.
“Some of those items ended up making it on our permanent menu, even becoming part of the restaurant’s DNA. The Tostón Burger and the Fritanga Burger was born out of ‘Try Me Tuesdays,’” Ahmed explains, before proudly adding, “The New Times wrote, ‘if you don’t know the Tostón Burger, you don’t know Miami!’”
The Tostón Burger ($8.49) uses two fried green plantains (tostónes) as the bun. The burger is topped with jack cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and homemade cilantro sauce. The Fritanga Burger ($8.49) comes topped with fried white cheese, cabbage slaw, and crema.
Other creations were equally memorable but did not make the cut, such as the Elvis Burger which had peanut butter, bacon, and bananas.
Today, Pincho Factory has 8 locations and offers over 26 items on their menu. The concept is straight forward: pick your base (pita wrap, rice bowl, or salad), then choose your pincho (chicken, steak or shrimp) and follow it with your “style” which are in-house toppings like Latin (black beans, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and cilantro sauce) or Mediterranean (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, pitons- a pita crouton- and lemon pepper dressing.) There’s also an array of burgers, chicken sandwiches, fries and tots, including sweet potato tots served with apple butter dipping sauce. Prices range from $2.99 to $9.95 per item.
Pincho Factory also partnered up with MIA Brewing and created the 627 Ale, which is the commemoration of the $6.27 left in the bank account before opening their first location. While they don’t do “Try Me Tuesdays” anymore, they do have a new Chalkboard special once a month. They have gone on to win the coveted People’s Choice Award for Burger Bash at SOBEWFF. Paired up against Food Network greats like Bobby Flay and Michael Symon, they are the first local brand to ever win.
Their 9th location will open in Ft. Lauderdale (their only other Broward location is in Pembroke Pines.) On December 9th, there will be an invitation-only ribbon cutting ceremony at 10:30 a.m. officiated by City of Fort Lauderdale’s Vice Mayor Bruce G. Roberts. All those who walk through the door from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. will receive a free Pincho Burger as a welcome. Normally priced at $7.49, the Pincho Burger is topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, American cheese, potato sticks, and a secret pink sauce.
The cousins are excited to expand their brand to Ft. Lauderdale, citing that their clientele has been extremely diverse.
“Obviously in Dade county there’s kind of a natural Hispanic leaning there, just because the county skews that way,” Ahmed explains. “But everyone takes to the fast-casual concept with a warm, embracing vibe.”
Ahmed continues, “we’ve almost, by accident, become a cradle to grave brand, where you’ll see very young children and older couples as well. Whenever I get to take my young daughter out to dinner she’ll always say, ‘let’s go pincho!’”
In partnership with the Broward Health Foundation, a portion of the day’s proceeds will support the organization; its mission is to improve the health of its community by providing resources to promote, support, and enhance the programs and initiatives of Broward Health.
Alona Abbady Martinez is a freelance food, lifestyle, and luxury travel writer based in South Florida. With over twenty years of experience, she writes for International Opulence Magazine, Upscale Living Magazine, Lifestyle Magazines, Miami New Times, and Broward New Times. Her food blog, Culinary Compulsion, has been captivating reader’s hearts with decadent tales of food, family, and travel for ten years and her book My Culinary Compulsion, Serving Up Sizzle, is scheduled to come out this winter. You can reach her on Instagram at @alonaabbadymartinez or on her website at alonamartinez.com.