The staff exhales as the last bill is paid. A radio is turned on, a shot of tequila knocked back, a glass of wine sipped. No, work is not over. For some, it has just begun. This is the moment a restaurant goes from serving diners to shutting down, when a typically public operation gives way to something private: a nightly ritual that is as familiar to industry workers as it is foreign to their customers. Though what happens in these hours may not be celebrated by critics or beloved by regulars, it is no less integral.
In photographing five very different restaurants around Miami—from a mainstay of Cuban homestyle cooking to a paragon of New American cuisine to a raucous Asian food hall—I learned how every restaurant has its own set of procedures for powering down, its own dance steps to the tallying of receipts, stacking of chairs, cleaning of grease traps, and so much inventory. Yet among these differences there was something shared, a sense of camaraderie, a collective sigh during which the staff stole moments to gossip, shrug off a tough customer, and recap the glories and gouges of the night.
More often than not this dance was set to the soundtrack of salsa, the rags and mops and dish racks swaying and clanking to the beat—a reminder of the vital role Latinxs have played in America’s restaurants in general and Miami’s in particular, where they make up over 70 percent of the population. While shooting I do my best to be a fly on the wall, but even in the rush to close I was seen, brought in, offered a pastelito or a licuado to sip on while I made photographs. “Segura?” I heard when I hesitated—“You sure?”—and soon enough I accepted, momentarily slipping into their nightly rhythm as the restaurant was primed for another day.
Among the closing chores at Niu Kitchen, a Spanish tapas restaurant in Downtown, the close-knit staff finds time to joke and gossip while cleaning wine glasses and stacking chairs.
While closing down Krus Kitchen, an inventive seasonal restaurant in Coconut Grove, the staff alternate between intense focus and amiable banter. The crew of Los Felix, their sister restaurant located a floor below, trickle in for a nightcap and a hug.
About Secret Menu
We created Secret Menu, a print and digital magazine from DoorDash, on the belief that one restaurant’s story can help or inspire another. We’re proud to elevate stories that connect local restaurant communities and celebrate the craft and ingenuity that makes them so vibrant here on the Merchant Blog. Read more Secret Menu stories here.