Ones to Watch | By Sabrina Davis
Michael Curcio fell in love with his restaurant’s specialty on a team bus traveling to play basketball for the University of Miami in the 1990s. The meal of yellow rice and grilled chicken with curried mustard sauce came from a local family restaurant and was a ritual for his team in route to the airport to fly to away games. Curcio loved the meal so much he decided it would make a great start for his own restaurant, which he recently renamed Pyrogrill.
Curcio opened his restaurant in Gaines-ville, Florida, in 2001 as Grill Works and renamed it Pyro’s Grill in late 2002 after discovering Grill Works was trademarked. “Pyro’s Grill seemed like the perfect name for us,” Curcio says. “‘Pyro’ is the Greek word for ‘fire,’ and we specialize in fire-grilled food, not to mention we had a few kitchen fires in the early days,” he says with a laugh. But as some customers associated Pyro’s with gyros and with the Greek-style typeface used in the logo, the restaurant was often misconstrued as a Greek concept. Others interpreted the grimace-faced, flame-haired character in the logo as a symbol of spicy food.
“It was just a little too ethnic,” Curcio says. “We’re not Greek by any stretch. We have burritos, rice bowls, and salads, but we’re not Mexican either. We didn’t want to be pigeon-holed to any one ethnicity, we’re about offering a mix.”
Curcio considers his brand a potential leader in an emerging category he calls “fast-casual mixes.” Pyrogrill serves fresh, fire-grilled meats and fish with rice and lettuce, or wrapped in a tortilla and topped with a choice of fresh toppings and any of 10 different sauces, dressings, and salsas. Meats are marinated overnight: the steak in a garlic mixture, the chicken in a lemon-pepper marinade, and the pork in a honey-cilantro brine. Sauces include Secret Mustard (still Curcio’s favorite and the best-seller), Chipotle, Frank’s Red Hot® Buffalo, Pico Salsa, Cilantro Ranch, and others.
While Curcio’s lone Mexican-style burrito offering is a top-seller and the Fresh-Mex concepts are among his competition, he believes the non-traditional offerings in a burrito-style wrap are his main draw. “We’re about offering the highest quality food and the best mix of ingredients to our customers. We recently added a build-your-own meal option, which is very popular.”