MIAMI LAKES, Fla .– It’s an 88 degree wet day and the queue outside La Traila Barbeque is over a hundred people an hour after the doors first opened on Saturday preceding Memorial Day.
People happily waited (about two hours) with anticipation of something many had never tasted before. South Florida specializes in a variety of dishes, but the first barbecue isn’t one of them.
“What is the chest?” A customer asked aloud, reading the digital menu on her phone. After ordering it, she fell in love. Another man came out with a take out plate, calling it the best barbecue he has ever had.
Parked by the door, wiping sweat from his brow and handing out free beers and cups of water to waiting patrons Bison Tickets Handyman and Return Man Isaiah McKenzie. For much of the spring, he spent his days catching passes from the Bills quarterback. Josh Allen. This Saturday, McKenzie is a BBQ customer service rep trying to keep people happy on her restaurant’s opening day.
Standing at 5’8 ” and weighing 170 pounds, he doesn’t give off the vibe of a football player and he prefers it that way. The 2017 fifth-round pick of the Denver Broncos tells clients that he “works right here”.
“I just want to be normal,” McKenzie said. “It’s barbecue and beer, you can’t beat it. Miami is great for Latin food, but not for barbecue. Definitely not like Texas. Living here, I would go to the Outback Steakhouse or at the Flanagan for ribs – I thought it was a barbecue. I didn’t know the brisket or the pulled pork. But I know him well now. “
This turning point came in early 2020 when McKenzie met his potential tag team business partner, Austin, Texas-born pitman Mel Rodriguez, who educated the fifth-year NFL player. on the food game. For NFL fans, McKenzie is the restaurant’s spokesperson, football celebrity and recognizable face as a native of Miami.
McKenzie, 26, provided much of the start-up money for La Traila while Rodriguez manages everything in the field full-time – the cuisine, the culture and the management. Together, McKenzie and Rodriguez bring a real Texan barbecue to South Florida.
The hometown player hurt the hearts of home fans when he recorded three career-best touchdowns in the 2020 Bills regular season final victory against the Miami dolphins that ended the team’s playoff dreams. But, he hopes that one day his barbecue finds its way to the Dolphins via post-game meals.
A month later, on a return trip to La Traila, customers were still lining up an hour before the doors opened to get a taste of their barbecue.
“Isaiah and I are a great mix,” Rodriguez said. “We both know our strengths. When he’s here he’s great with customers. He’s humble. He takes photos with customers if they ask. But he will work at the cash desk. He will serve as the checkout. food in pop-ups. He loves it. People come to see him. I’m behind the scenes handling the day-to-day and of course cooking.
It’s a story of barbecue, football and a chance meeting with the family.
McKenzie and Rodriguez were two guys from different backgrounds. At the time, Rodriguez was dating the sister of McKenzie’s close childhood friend. They all met one day in 2020, just on the cusp of the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down the country, at a family reception. Rodriguez cooked for them. McKenzie loved it and shared his vision of wanting to invest some of his football money in a food truck.
Starting a business during a pandemic wasn’t the smartest of games, so they decided to run a few pop-ups, which are temporary outlets where they could sell their barbecue. They did a free pop-up in Hialeah, Florida where 350 people showed up. This participation allowed McKenzie and Rodriguez to rent a weekend in a Miami fresh produce market. A few months later, another pop-up made them adjust better to Unbranded Brewery in Hialeah. They loved the cut; what better than barbecue and beer?
But Rodriguez, who ran everything while McKenzie played football in Buffalo in the fall of 2020, was still considering having his own brick-and-mortar restaurant. This spring, as the world began to open up with vaccinations, the couple hopped on a permanent store in a location that previously belonged to a barbecue shop that failed during the pandemic.
“It will take a team”
A month later, at La Traila, Rodriguez increased his daily meat order to 2,000 pounds to satisfy the long lines of customers. Food is prepared as it’s ordered, like a Texas-style barbecue. They open at noon and sell out at 5 pm (or earlier) most days; the breast usually sells first.
Rodriguez, 40, learned barbecue from his family in Austin, especially his father. He has been in the pit since he was a teenager.
Everything about their restaurant feels like Texas, from the brick walls to the breakfast tacos for two hours in the morning before the main menu is served.
“When I moved to Miami, I realized the barbecue here wasn’t very good,” said Rodriguez, who moved to the Austin area four years ago. “We’re ahead of what people expect, so we have some leeway, but I’ve told my staff that I don’t just want to do good barbecues. I want to do good barbecues.”
McKenzie added, “We didn’t know we would have long lines. We didn’t know we were going to sell. We just wanted to open up and cook some food. We’re still learning on the fly, but it’s been good. . “
Locals aren’t the only ones trying La Traila; a few NFL players also took advantage of the stage and the food. McKenzie’s Bills teammate, offensive lineman Dion Dawkins, showed up on opening day, just like New England Patriots return Sony michel. Former Denver Broncos corner half Kayvon webster, who owns a Miami-based soul and Cajun food truck, showed a little love by stopping in and buying a big order in late June.
McKenzie and Rodriguez made their restaurant a dining experience. All the meat is smoked and Rodriguez cuts it in front of you. Many dishes on the menu are specialized, such as brisket and queso empanadas, or McKenzie’s favorite, brisket sundae – a mix of macaroni and cheese, baked beans, beef brisket, cream, queso fresco, creamed corn and house sauce.
There is much more to owning a business than investing money in it. McKenzie was shocked to learn that restaurants have to pay taxes on the 20th of every month and that there is a lot of paperwork involved in doing business the right way. It is important for McKenzie to be a “hands-on” owner when he can be present outside of football.
McKenzie’s goal when he heads to Bills training camp on July 28 is to bring the restaurant workers up to speed so they can take some of the pressure off Rodriguez.
“I want everyone to speak the whole language,” McKenzie said. “I want it to be a well-oiled machine. Mel is the perfect guy to handle the day-to-day business. But the little things make a good restaurant, and he shouldn’t have to worry about the storefront or the restaurant. back of the store. We have big goals here. It’s going to take a team. “
McKenzie now has two teams: the Bills, who aim to repeat as AFC East champions, and La Traila, who aim to make the best barbecue in South Florida.