When Rob van den Blink and his friends Jerry Bock and Erhan Kostepen opened DOYA, their inspiration came from their friend’s home cooking. The three used to dine at Erhan’s house frequently, enjoying a variety of meze-style small plates spread atop his kitchen counter. After countless dinners and a few memorable trips together to Greece and Turkey, they knew they wanted to bring this experience to the larger community of Wynwood, Miami.
For reviewer Joe D., who stumbled upon DOYA through a Yelp Elite event, the restaurant immediately felt like home. “It had the feel of almost eating in a friend’s house and trying their cuisine, whatever their specialties were,” Joe said. “[The staff] say, ‘Oh, I made this pie, but it’s got this special thing that only my grandmother did…’ If they could bottle and sell that, they’d make a fortune.”
In fact, the restaurant’s environment is key to standing out in a busy, food-centric neighborhood like Wynwood. Rob and his friends bought an old warehouse and transformed it into a cozy garden oasis over the course of eight months. “We were very adamant that we wanted to take a space and make it our own,” Rob said. “And by default, that meant we had to be property developers before we became restaurant operators.” From crafting a terrace out of the parking lot to adding an open kitchen, each aspect of the interior design was intended to capture an eccentric but modern look.
The food, too, is crafted with just as much care. All plates coming out of the hot kitchen are cooked over a wood-fired kitchen. Ingredients—from the specialty cheeses to the tomatoes—are carefully selected by the team. This resulted in an ambitious 50- to 60-item menu of innovative cold and hot dishes. “My absolute favorite was the muhammara, red peppers ground with pomegranate and walnuts,” Joe wrote in his review.
Attentive service is another essential part of the DOYA experience. “Every day before lunch and dinner service, all the chefs, all the waiting staff, all of us, we get together and talk about the service that’s upcoming,” Rob said. “We like to create a work atmosphere that is respectful, that is appreciative of the staff. And the cliche is so true in hospitality which is: Treat your staff right, and they treat your guests right.”
As much as the owners consider DOYA a labor of love, they also rely on business acumen. With a 60-page business plan, the team had a concrete foundation laid out before actually building DOYA.
“When it comes to the hospitality industry, you typically get people that either come from a chef background with that passion and knowledge,” Rob said. “Or you have people that maybe only come from the business side. But when you merge those two together, we think that’s where a lot of the magic happens.”
That blend of passion and strategy is what makes DOYA enticing to customers like Joe. “I’ve actually been back, I think, four times now,” he said. “I went back the next day and then went back a couple more times with clients. It was just terrific.”
Rob and his team live by these additional tips to help their restaurant thrive:
- There’s tremendous value in writing a business plan. Even if you’re not taking it to a bank or investors, your success depends on you taking the time to think out the numbers and the words that describe your business and what you do.
- It’s all about the little things with customer service. At DOYA, staff is constantly filling water for guests in other sections and paying time and attention to all guests no matter how busy they are. Joe felt this in his experience.
- Responding to and leveraging critical reviews is a mindset. Sometimes you just have to let things go, but be confident that what you’re doing matters. If you have intentions and purposeful execution, it’ll all work out.
Photos of DOYA on Yelp; editorial contributions by Alisa Gao
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear more from Rob and Joe, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
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