6 Questions with Ferrell Alvarez

Your Tampa love seems to exceed the normal hometown pride. Why is Tampa so awesome?

I think Tampa is so great for multiple facets. In terms of a place to live, we’re close to the ocean, we have the bay and the river. For business, it’s still very affordable and there’s a lot of bloom. It provides a lot of opportunities for young businesspeople to exercise their passions and maybe take a bit more of a risk from a product perspective. And, more than likely succeed, if the product is there. Not to mention, the Latin community really speaks to me and my family, and have really embraced me as a chef and a business owner. I’ve been here for 30 years, and Tampa is definitely my home.

Why do you think Tampa’s food scene has so much potential?

We have a very diverse culture. People are very hungry—literally and figuratively—for new things. They’re very welcoming. It’s not so cutthroat as you might see in a larger city, where you’re a number, and you open up and close maybe in months. Here, people want to see you succeed. It’s the land of opportunity in that regard.

From a more traditional restaurant concept, where did you get the idea to branch off into Gallito Taqueria and Nebraska Mini-Mart?

I’m not a one-trick pony. I love to do so many things and wanted to expose Tampa to new concepts. For Nebraska Mini-Mart, I was just having lunch with my partner and it was a vacant building. It really spoke to us. We love taking areas and properties that are under the weather, if you will, and need a little more love and community support and invest in them. And now that we have experience and proof of concept, people are more apt to support us. It really builds a community in these areas that need love so they can flourish. With Gallito, we had an opportunity to help anchor a new park in downtown, which was kind of a dilapidated area. Looking at what they were doing and seeing their concept, I thought filling the void with a cool taqueria with them would be a great fit.

Is there a Ferrell signature at all of these disparate places you’ve created?

I think mostly because of the culture we’ve instilled in our employees and how that transcends to the customer. At any one of our spots, if you go and ask anyone about food and beverage, they know it in and out. But more importantly, they provided hospitality and it’s genuine. It’s not forced. They know that what we do is long days and hard work, but we’ve all chosen that. At my places, you feel welcomed, everyone’s there to make you feel comfortable. Whether you’re spending a hundred bucks a head at Rooster or buying a three-dollar taco at Gallito, I always want it to be super positive energy coming from great human beings. And then, I want to feel alive when I go to restaurants, so we dial in on all the details, whether it be the color palette we do, the floorplan, to the music and the color of purse hooks. I really care about all that.

What is your approach to making food you can play shuffleboard or ping-pong with?

Well, making foie gras and all that is great, and it’s perceived one way. But the truth is, you’re going to get more people interested if you make, you know, a really cool cheesesteak. We really try to think about what we want to eat in that environment. So, at the Mini-Mart, we try to make it a little more approachable. Our demographic is not only the customer at Rooster, but also the one from Gallito that just wants a taco, and everybody in between. We try to have fun and have it be a little more creative. If we do that cheesesteak, for example, we get ribeye and do a bulgogi marinade, cooked to order. The cheese sauce is straight-up so it’s still familiar, and then we implement a gochujang mayonnaise on it and then house-fermented kimchi with a local bun. We try to please our creative minds with it and try to make it not so scary and unapproachable for the average consumer where someone’s going to be like, ‘Damn, I really want to eat that,’ and make it super crave-able.

Your food mixes some high-concept stuff with kind-of low-brow fun. How do you think these complement each other?

The ideas complement each other because it’s on each side of the spectrum. I capture the Rooster & the Till palate or mentality through offering really cool wines by the glass, and then I still capture it when I offer a 40-ounce of rosé. So the other person who doesn’t care about the quality of wine, whether it’s old-world, new-world, what barrels it was aged in, they just want something really cool and fun. They get the 40-oz because it looks really cool on Instagram, but they’re drinking really great quality product. So, you’re actually educating them on something they don’t even realize they’re getting an education on, and our team is really great at doing that subtly. They can talk to you about varietals of the grape or French wines, and if you don’t care, they’re just taking pictures of a cool can, or a frozen piña colada made with two different sherries. We’re just trying to make it approachable and fun from those two ends of the spectrum.