FIU alumni make New York Times’s Top 50 restaurants

FIU and student media alumni Harry and Michelle Coleman’s restaurant made the NYT’s Top 50 Restaurants of 2023 | Photo courtesy of Harry Coleman

Elise Gregg | Editor-in-Chief

Its barbeque has been lauded by the Miami Herald and PBS’s Check, Please!. Now, this local restaurant run by FIU alumni has reached national acclaim. 

Couple Harry and Michelle Coleman made the New York Times’s 2023 Restaurant List, with their barbeque and empanada spot ranking among the top 50 restaurants in the nation.

One of three Florida restaurants selected, the Colemans’ Smoke and Dough is a 20-minute drive southwest of FIU’s Modesto Maidique Campus, nestled in West Kendall. 

The New York Times’s review lists out a variety of the exceptional South Florida flavors that the Colemans dish up: “ribs glossed with guava-ancho barbeque sauce, brisket rubbed with Cuban coffee, housemade pastrami tequeños, black beans baked with pineapple.” 

“We love Carolina barbeque, Kansas City, but we wanted to create Miami-style barbeque which didn’t exist,” said Harry. 

Their flavors are just as unique as their location: admittedly, West Kendall is not an iconic barbeque spot like Austin or Memphis. However, the Colemans described it as home.

“We worked in South Beach for 10 years before opening up,” said Michelle. “The beach is awesome but opening this here has been excellent for us.” 

“It takes out a little bit of all of that stress of not liking the beach or in Coconut Grove or in the Gables where it’s all about status – here we’re really able to be ourselves.” 

The Colemans graduated from FIU in 2008, both studying journalism. Both also worked for what was then The Beacon, now PantherNOW: Harry was editor-in-chief and Michelle was the paper’s entertainment director between 2005 and 2006. 

And, it was where they met and fell in love. 

“We got married like a week after we both graduated from FIU,” Harry recalled. “We got married at the Key Biscayne Lighthouse because it’s a beacon.” 

Courtesy of Harry Coleman

Jumping into the job market in 2008 was not an easy task, however, and journalism didn’t quite pan out. So, they got into the food industry. 

“First it was gonna be temporary until we got back in journalism, but we ended up succeeding and doing well and we stayed,” Harry said. 

The couple ran Harry’s family’s bakery for some time, later opening up an empanada shop in 2017 – Empanada Harry’s.

It was the pandemic that put the smoke in Smoke and Dough. The Colemans were already barbeque fans and felt like there weren’t any good spots in Miami. So, they decided they’d see if they could make it work at their restaurant. 

It turned out to be a great idea. 

“During the pandemic, barbeque kept us alive,” said Harry. “People weren’t spending or people were afraid to eat out so it was a lot of takeout and doing so well during the pandemic, barbeque gave us the confidence to open a brick and mortar barbeque joint.” 

They’re still doing well – Harry said that they’d been slammed with customers since the New York Times’s review.

In the middle of all the restaurant rush though, their background in journalism and student media still serves them well. 

Harry paralleled his roles of editor and chef, saying that the leadership skills he learned in student media have served him well in leading a restaurant. 

Michelle, who works with customers, has the same extroversion needed to run an entertainment section and interview sources. 

“The beautiful part about that is that when you are studying journalism and you’re in that world, I think that our goal is always to take a closer look,” said Michelle. “That has helped in this industry as well.” 

“You want to be able to communicate with people…not only enjoy your food but enjoy your conversation and your company: I think that really creates a total experience versus just the food being good. You want the food to be good. You want the service to be good, and you want it to be sincere.” 

And the perks of knowing newspaper design transfer over to menu design: not a small thing for the Colemans. 

“It gives us some flexibility: if we want to change certain items in the menu because of seasonal products we don’t have every day, without having to worry about contacting a company or a designer,” said Harry. 

From covering FIU’s Food and Wine Festival to being a part of it, the Colemans continue dishing up award-winning food that reflects the uniqueness of South Florida. At the end of the day though, they’re here for Kendall. 

“We’re just so happy to be able to provide this food for the area,” said Harry. “We’re very proud to always give back to FIU.” 

The Colemans at South Beach Food and Wine Festival | Courtesy of Harry Coleman

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