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Standing the test of time

Since serving its first customer in 1951, Shorty’s Bar-B-Q has become a landmark for generations of Miami residents and visitors alike. They flock to the South Florida restaurant for nationally renowned barbeque amid a nostalgic log cabin atmosphere that reflects old Miami.


Miami, FL – On a weekday afternoon, Shorty’s BBQ stirs with a crowded restaurant of lunchtime guests engaged in conversation. Men and women in business attire sit next to construction workers and seniors share the same table as college students. They are people from different ages and backgrounds all drawn to this South Florida landmark for one reason – barbeque cuisine like pulled pork and beef brisket that has lured generations of Miami residents and visitors here since the restaurant opened in 1951.


Fancy is something Shorty’s is not. At the original location on U.S. 1 in Kendall, guests dine “lunch room style” on long, wooden picnic tables on concrete floors with plastic utensils and paper napkins. Nostalgic photographs from the restaurant’s early days adorn the walls. The log cabin building – which is reminiscent of a summer camp mess hall – seems out of place in an area landscaped with shiny new office buildings and shopping malls. Yet the place that E.L. “Shorty” Allen opened 53 years ago is still a destination for couples, families and solo diners who savor smoked and slow-cooked ribs and chicken soaked in homemade barbeque sauce that the restaurant is now bottling and selling on its web site.


In the restaurant industry, Shorty’s is truly unique – not for its menu, but for the demographics of the guests who eat there.


“Shorty’s is a place where you will find a judge sitting next to a Fed Ex delivery person, and a college professor sitting next to a mechanic,” said Mark Vasturo, president and CEO of the chain, which has four locations in Miami. “We get frequent e-mails and comments from people who say they ate here when they were children, and now they take their families here every week.”


Steve Richards and Eve Valentine are two of these longtime admirers of Shorty’s cuisine and ambiance. As the lunch rush continues, they sit down at the end of a table and relish the smells wafting from the kitchen.


“If you’ve lived in Miami, even for a short time, you have at least heard of Shorty’s,” Valentine said. “And likely you’ve been here.”


Richards developed a fondness for Shorty’s barbeque at an early age. “I remember Sunday afternoons as a kid when my family would come here for big slabs of ribs,” he said. “I like this place so much that this is where we celebrated my daughter’s first birthday.


“This is a place that you miss if you move away from Miami,” he added. “There will be a lot of Miami natives who now live elsewhere who will be ecstatic about ordering the sauce online. It’s a taste that, once you have it once, you crave.”


Many guests enjoy the atmosphere as much as the barbeque. In some cases, new friendships are formed along the long, wooden tables. Vasturo admits that sharing space with strangers is not for everyone. That is why the chain added booths and private tables at their other locations, but they also incorporated the familiar picnic tables.


“The first time I walked into the original Shorty’s as a customer, I wanted to leave because I didn’t like the idea of sitting at a long table with people I didn’t know,” Vasturo explained. “Fortunately, my friend encouraged me to give it a chance. I liked it so much that here I am running the company.


“At our other locations, there are still people who like to eat at the long tables,” he added. “They are accustomed to the way things are at the original restaurant, and they prefer that style of seating.”


Shorty’s is so beloved in Miami that many longtime residents remember where they were when the original restaurant caught fire in 1972 like they recall the day when President John F. Kennedy was shot. The event is illustrated on the labels of Shorty’s barbeque sauce.


Shorty Allen is no longer involved in the restaurant operations, but the chain retains the original charm and cuisine that he instilled. Mark Vasturo, Shorty’s president and CEO, joined the chain in 1999 after a distinguished career at another Miami restaurant landmark – Rascal House. Vasturo worked at that restaurant in high school and eventually became partner at the age of 24. Under his guidance, Rascal House grew to one of the top 30 independent restaurants in the nation.


Vasturo is now applying his growth strategies at Shorty’s, which has expanded to four locations in Miami. The newest restaurant opened in Doral in 2002. There are plans for more Shorty’s locations in South Florida.


“We believe in careful and controlled growth,” Vasturo said. “We make sure each new location develops a strong record of sales and growth before opening another location.”


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Media Contact:

Pete Garcia
Quantified Marketing Group
(301) 332-9296