Nearly 30 years after opening the first Graziano’s in Miami, Mario and Leo Graziano – the company’s founder and his grillmaster son – reflect on a lifetime of fine Argentine food and wine.
Mario Graziano, 73, and Leo Graziano, 45. Owners of Graziano’s, the Miami-based Argentine market and restaurant empire. Mario Graziano was 8 when his family fled Italy after the war and settled in Argentina. His parents opened a convenience store and butcher shop. Mario studied mechanical design in the mornings and worked at the shop in the afternoons. By the time he left Argentina in 1989 to avoid its financial crisis, he owned six butcher shops and a meat distribution business. Then he started all over again in Miami.
Mario bought a small market on Coral Way, where he worked alongside his wife and three children: Leo, Cecilia and Carolina. On the weekends they would set up tables in the parking lot, and Leo would grill meats over Quebracho wood imported from Argentina while his sisters waited tables. This was the birthplace of the now-famous Graziano asado. Over the years, Graziano’s has expanded from that shop and pop-up asado into an enterprise of Argentine markets and restaurants from West Miami to Weston.
Reigning Kings of Argentine Food
The family has four restaurants (Brickell, Bird Road, Coral Gables and Hialeah) and five markets (Bird Road, Coral Gables, Doral, Hialeah and Weston). Two restaurants are set to open this year, in Aventura and Doral.
Graziano’s is Bringing a Pizza Party
Graziano’s also is opening a pizza parlor on Sunset Drive in South Miami. The family’s first foray into pizza opened on Bird Road in 2003 and closed after five years. Now, they are ready for a second helping of pie. The restaurant will be called Lucia, after Mario’s mother.
Who Does What
Mario still cuts meat at the Coral Gables market every morning. “It’s like therapy for me,” he said.” Leo is the one in charge of operating all the businesses and overseeing more than 350 employees. He said he enjoys creating new menus and selecting the wines for the restaurants.
Graziano’s five Miami-area markets sold more than 1 million empanadas in 2017.
Provoleta is So Cheesy
Everyone loves fried cheese, but the way Argentineans make it will change your life. Provoleta starts with aged provolone cheese imported from Argentina, which is lightly floured and grilled until the outside is golden and the inside melts into gooey deliciousness. Topped with beefsteak tomatoes and a hit of oregano, it’s one of the best ways to start any meal. “It’s simple and basic but so tasty,” Leo said. “It’s because of the quality of the ingredients.”
Eaters at Heart
“I don’t cook,” Mario said. But his emerald-green eyes light up when talking about his wife’s homemade pastas. Leo, on the other hand, is the grillmaster of the family.
A Whole New World
“When I opened my first shop, I was speaking Spanish to customers but charging them in U.S. dollars,” Mario said with a chuckle. “It was something new to me, and it was amusing.”
“I’m very proud of my family and that everyone works together,” Mario said. Graziano’s currently employs five family members.
A once-a-year tradition: closing all of the locations for an employee-appreciation barbecue and soccer tournament at Tropical Park.
Hard Work Pays Off
“I work hard, like my dad did,” Mario said. “People now want to have everything without working hard.”
It’s All About the Food
Leo: “When I eat the Milanesa at Graziano’s, it’s the same one my mom makes at home. Most of our recipes are from my mom or grandmother.”
Mario: “We are teaching people about our food and opening them up to our culture. We’ve been lucky that people like what we like.”