Dining in Style with Miami’s Saladino Brothers
Words by Konstantina Pyrnokoki
Photos by Kris Tamburello
Sean and Michael Saladino are on a mission to put Miami on the design map by working on some of the most innovative, unique eateries in South Florida.
After making a name for themselves with their own restaurants, the brothers founded Saladino Design Studios, a hospitality- and retail-focused interior design firm. The dynamic duo has brought the Saladino touch to some of Miami’s best restaurants, including Beaker & Gray and Paris 6. From French bistros to rustic breweries, you name it and the Saladinos are up to it!
The team has already set their sights on other US states, with 22 new projects currently in the works. Before they unleash Miami’s ‘deco vibe’ to the rest of world, we caught up with Sean and Michael to learn more about their work, their dreams and their favourite places in Miami.
Konstantina Pyrnokoki: How did you start designing restaurants in the first place? Does it run in the family?
Sean Saladino: I have always been intrigued by design and nice details. My first opportunity was working alongside Nancy Mah and Scott Kester from NYC’s Rockwell group on a project in Miami and I was hooked. I knew that this is what I wanted to do.
Michael Saladino: I have been in the hospitality business for a long time. Having owned and operated several successful restaurants and nightclubs, I’ve been able to be a part of some amazing projects. One aspect I really love is the design-build portion of it; I’ve come to enjoy more of the creative-build process than the operating side. We now only do design-build and have over 30 projects across the United States. My brother and I are partners, so, yes, you can say this runs in the family...
KP: What’s the most fascinating thing about Miami that inspired you to design so many of your most famous eateries, such as Beaker & Gray and Paris 6?
Sean: The energy and the people are our inspiration!
Michael: There are so many interesting people here who have influenced design and style. You have these creative people all huddled in a few areas and what they are producing is mind blowing. Just to be in the mix with them is pretty cool.
KP: From your point of view, is the city evolving towards a force to be reckoned with, design-wise?
Sean: Definitely! How many cities in the US can say that they have a Zaha Hadid building going up? Guys like George Perez, The Goldman Companies, Scott Robins, all have influenced this movement by bringing big projects and even better designs to their properties.
Michael: The city has all types of architecture and design. It is a really exciting time for Miami.
KP: When it comes to the design process, who has the last word; you or the client? Could a client’s vision sometimes clash with what you have in mind for a specific project?
Sean: Many times our clients have an idea and that idea is good, but it doesn’t really fit. We have to give credit to our team. We have some of the most talented people who are able to convey our ideas in a visual way to “influence” the change of mind.
Michael: Our approach is more of a ‘make them think it was their idea’, rather than coming at them head on, but, ultimately, the client always has the last word.
KP: What’s the craziest request you’ve had from a client?
Sean: We are usually the ones proposing crazy things. With Pride and Joy BBQ we proposed putting a vintage truck in the back bar area and using it as a beer tap system.
Michael: The truck had to be sourced and chopped to fit into the space and still look real. Then we had to figure out the tap system so the beer came out cold from the front bumper.
KP: This does sound crazy! It seems you’ve taken up a lot of different projects, from ‘rustic-like’ places like the Funky Buddha Brewery to refined restaurants like the Vietnamese Phuc Yea. Do you find constantly adapting to a different philosophy or tradition that comes with a brand challenging?
Michael: Not really. Again, we have to give credit to our team. We lock ourselves into a large design room and spend the whole day there with the projects design team, and we don’t come out until we figure it out.
Sean: We don’t like to repeat the same concepts on any project so that makes it even more challenging. The level of frustration sometimes becomes really intense, but when it starts to happen, there is no better feeling. It always starts to flush and that makes it all worth it.
KP: I assume you’ve tried the food in most of the restaurants you’ve designed. Which would be your absolute go-to cuisine at the moment?
Sean: They are all really amazing. I am not saying that because they are our clients, but they truly know what they are doing. Beaker and Gray, Suviche, Chicken Grill, Paris 6 and all of the 22 new ones we are working on are all great.
KP: Do you have favorite spots or up-and-coming places in Miami – or even other cities around the world – which you’d like to share with us?
Michael: We are big fans of hole-in-the-wall places that have been put together on shoestring budgets by the owners. We love seeing how creative people can be when money is tight. That is what makes cool spots and unique design. Anyone can spend a million dollars and make a place look somewhat cool.
Sean: Two of our most favourite projects that we are launching soon are the Tower Hotel on Calle Ocho, and Xanders Dispensary in Washington State. Both projects have been well thought out by the group and the design is pretty amazing.
KP: As you’re currently branching out to other US states as well, such as Tennessee and California, which of Miami’s cultural and design features will you be taking with you to your new endeavors?
Michael: We are trying to influence out-of-state design with the deco vibe. We have always loved that style of design, and with everyone coming off of that vintage industrial rustic look, we want to take it into a light and airy style.
Sean: Not too dark, but very tropical; bring a little of the South Florida colours to other cities.
KP: What’s your biggest dream for the Saladino Design Studios?
Sean: We want to be able to compete on a national level with the other major hospitality firms out there. We want to be known for our unique style and imagination, with innovative and fashion-forward design.
Michael: We just want to be able to create forever and make our clients happy. That’s all! ■