They were on a mission from the food gods.
All you had to do was look at their voting numbers to know it was going to be hard for any other restaurant in the Miami Herald’s Munch Madness bracket challenge to beat the South Florida-born Flanigan’s Seafood Bar and Grill.
And no one did.
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Flanigan’s garnered more than 10,000 votes from loyal diners on Monday alone to defeat the upstart Cinderella, Mignonette. They earned the honor of being the inaugural winner and retiring as an undefeated champion, making way for a new king of the Miami dining scene next year.
“Somebody came up with the expression, ‘Number two just won’t do,’ ” Flanigan’s chief operating officer Augie Bucci said. “We were shaking in our boots the first few rounds. But then our staff and customers got involved.”
Flanigan’s drew the most votes on any day they competed, thanks in no small part to their 23 locations up the east coast of Florida, with legions clicking to get them past Andiamo Pizza, Captain’s Tavern, Shorty’s Bar-B-Q, Garcia’s Seafood, South Beach Thai spot NaiYaRa, and, finally, the seafood and raw bar indie restaurant Mignonette, headed by chef Danny Serfer.
Flanigan’s was started in Hialeah in 1959 when the late Joseph “Papa Joe” Flanigan founded the first Big Daddy’s liquor store with his smiling image on the sign. It later grew into lounges attached to the liquor stores, and, in the 1980s, when most of the lounges had grown into restaurants, the family re-branded them all Flanigan’s.
Today, all the restaurants are owned by family members or family friends. Joe Flanigan’s youngest son, Jim, is the company’s CEO and president. All the restaurants bear his father’s smiling black-and-white mug.
What was Flanigan’s secret to winning? The same thing that has been their restaurants formula to success: They offer quality ingredients at affordable prices, making small margins (between 10 and 12 percent), but making it up with the crowds they draw, Bucci said.
“We want people to get that ‘Wow’ feeling. We want them to walk out with the check and say, ‘That’s all it was?’” Bucci said.
Even Serfer and his Mignonette co-owner Ryan Roman, Miami natives and Flanigan’s fans, decided if they couldn’t beat them, they would join them: They went on a 13 1/2-hour road trip on April 1 to visit every Flanigan’s restaurant in a single day, posting pictures on Mignonette’s Instagram and Twitter accounts. They hash tagged their photos, #YourBiggestFlans.
It became a friendly social media contest, where the two restaurants shot memes back and forth at one another, with legions of fans sharing and commenting on them. The show-stopper came when Flanigan’s posted a photo of Papa Joe’s face super imposed on Jon Snow from “Game of Thrones,” sitting on the Iron Throne with the line, “The rightful heir to the #MunchMadness throne.”
Bucci was accepting the Munch Madness trophy, a brass commemorative plate, when he received a phone call from Jim Flanigan in celebration.
He praised Mignonette’s Odyssian effort (carried out in Serfer’s aptly named Honda Odyssey) and promised to stop by the MiMo district Mignonette to meet his competitors face to face and shake their hands.
“I’m a fan of Mignonette,” he said. “I’ll probably take the plate to Mignonette, pile some oysters on it and share it with those guys.”