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Where there’s smoke, there's flavor: alumni barbecue joint earns New York Times Top 50

Where there’s smoke, there's flavor: alumni barbecue joint earns New York Times Top 50

November 14, 2023 at 12:00pm

Nestled in the heart of West Kendall, adjacent to a residential area, lies one of America's best-kept culinary secrets – at least until now. Barbecue restaurant Smoke & Dough recently earned a spot in the New York Times list of Top 50 restaurants in the country. And a pair of FIU alumni are behind it.

While places like Kansas City, Missouri, and Austin, Texas, are renowned for their barbecue, Miami isn't typically associated with this culinary tradition. So, what led two former journalism majors to try their hand at the grill? It all traces back to their shared passion for storytelling, say the duo, and their unique ability to convey stories through the medium of food.

“Everything we learned from journalism - how to speak to people, how to interact, how to market - we applied that [to the restaurant]," says Harry Coleman '08, one half of the power couple that includes his wife Michelle Coleman '08.

“We tell our stories through our food," he explains. "Miami is a melting pot, so we want to make sure our dishes incorporate the many cultures of Miami. I’m from Venezuela, so we have some Venezuelan items on the menu. Michelle is Puerto Rican, so we have mofongo on the menu. We have a large Jewish community here in Miami, so we humbly serve the best pastrami in town.”

The couple met while working on the FIU student newspaper. Harry was editor-in-chief, and Michelle was the entertainment and campus life editor. Michelle often covered food-related stories as well as designed and edited various sections of the paper. It was while working on the publication that their sizzle started.

Skip to 2008, when the two earned their degrees and exchanged vows within a week. “We graduated during the recession, so journalism jobs were tough [to find],” says Harry.  So he assumed responsibility for his family's bakery on South Beach and become a third-generation baker. 

“Harry had always loved the kitchen," Michelle says of this unexpectd foray, which eventually impacted her as well. "He pulled me in there."

Together, the couple proceeded to modernize the bakery. They installed new furnishings and display shelves and refreshed the marketing. At a time when many businesses and families across the country were facing hardships, they and the bakery found success. That triumph convinced them several years later to venture into "Empanada Harry's Bakery & Cafe" in West Kendall. 

Fast forward to the present, and the couple has once again found success, this time amidst another time of national difficulty. Harry and Michelle opened the 80-seat Smoke and Dough in 2017, next to their empanda bakery, and were still getting their feet wet when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. While the world experienced shutdown and countless businesses closed their doors, their eatery thrived as takeout boomed.

Today, the couple actively engages in the daily operations of the restaurant. Michelle greets customers and frequently assists at the register, while Harry typically works in the kitchen with the chefs.

“One of our secrets is that we are here. We are very hands on. Our motto is that we haven't made it yet. Our whole thing is that if we don’t do well today, tomorrow nobody's going to walk through the door. We don’t let success get to our head,” Michelle says.

The couple says they could’ve never anticipated the national rating.

“When we started, the goal wasn’t to be featured in the New York Times, it was to be a part of the South Beach Food and Wine Festival, because it was something I covered as a journalism student at FIU,” Harry says. Their annual participation in the festival - a nationally recognized, four-day blockbuster event operated by student volunteers and benefitting FIU's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management -  is a “full circle” moment, he adds.

No longer reporting on the South Beach Food and Wine festival as students, the Colemans now actively contribute to it, offering award-winning cuisine that beautifully captures the distinct culture of Miami.

Smoke & Dough is located at 4013 SW 152nd Ave, Miami, and operates Wednesday-Sunday.