Fins At Sharky's
Even as the designated successor to his father’s restaurant empire, Justin Pachota has never agreed with the concept of entitlement. He was 15 when he first worked for family business and Venice mainstay Sharky’s on the Pier. He then attended college in Orlando, and although he at first shied away from hospitality, he finally welcomed an opportunity to climb the ladder in the corporate restaurant industry.
Three years in, he became the youngest general manager in a chain of 150 restaurants. Ultimately, recognition of the fundamental distinctions between corporate and independent businesses guided him home.
“I realized the difference of [having an] independent restaurant and making your own decisions and standing behind them,” says Justin, who returned to Sharky’s first as a line cook in 2007.
“After doing that, it became really apparent how unimportant a title is.”
Now, with the support of his father, Mike Pachota, Justin is the driving force behind Fins. Originally envisioned as an extension of Sharky’s, Fins opened its doors three years ago with a much different—and more refined—concept.
“If you are not going to be the same then you really should make it as different as possible, to broaden your appeal,” says Justin.
“It’s funny,” says Mike, “because my personality isn’t the kind that would actually have a place like this. I’m just a little bit lower key and Justin had the corporate and personal structure to make this happen.”
Situated at a higher elevation on the same property as Sharky’s, Fins is the epitome of a true craft dining experience. But check any fine-dining snobbery at the door: The atmosphere is casual and serene with high tongue-and-groove ceilings, blue and green decor, and a large saltwater fish tank at the entrance. Large windows and a dining lanai overlook the crashing waves on Venice Beach.
Despite its beachfront location and name, Fins is not just a seafood-focused establishment. In fact, Justin’s seafood allergy was a consideration when he initially developed of the restaurant’s menu. And the state-of-the-art kitchen includes a Josper oven, which is a hybrid between an oven and a grill that cooks on 100% solid fuel and reaches temperatures of up to 1,000°. It is perfect for meat-cooking innovation such as the Smoked Rib Eye, which is jerk-rubbed then smoked and grilled in the Josper.
“The area doesn’t have a spot that’s known as ‘Venice’s best steak restaurant,’” says Justin. “So we decided we’d go heavy after the steak side yet still keep our seafood side of things available.”
Justin prints Fins menus daily, affording him and his chefs, Marc Alton and Josh Booze, carte blanche for creativity based on ingredient availability or simply because they want to try something new. Take french fries, for example.
“We didn’t have a bad french fry, before, but I just needed a change. Something different.”
So after testing a multitude of options, they landed on a salt, pepper, and garlic, gluten-free, battered fry made with rice flour instead of a wheat flour.
Though each of the Patchotas’ three locations (the third is Snook Haven) carries a unique history, menu, and atmosphere, the Pachotas’ continued attention to customer service and employee satisfaction remains a consistent thread. Fins is no exception.
Justin has created an education system for his servers including daily food lineups to discuss menu offerings and changes.
“I can’t expect them to go to the table and explain [a] change if they aren’t involved in the process,” he says.
“You really don’t want the customer knowing a lot more about what you are doing than you do,” adds Mike.
Justin also trusts his serving staff to provide constant feedback on what the customers are requesting and saying so he can cater to future requests.
In addition to steaks, fresh catches, and an extensive gluten-free menu, Fins also has a regular sushi menu, which includes rolls like the Fabio: tempura shrimp, cream cheese, and cucumber topped with pineapple chili hoisin, coconut crunch, scallion, sesame, strawberries, and yuzu tobiko. They also have a great selection of local beers, an extensive wine selection, and fun craft cocktails.
TOES IN THE SAND...
Sharky’s on the Pier offers a beach bistro experience with live music, a family-friendly environment, and an extensive menu featuring everything from fish and chips to custom-built salads and daily-caught fish. sharkysonthepier.com
DOWN AT THE SWAMP...
Located on Myakka River, Snook Haven is a different kind of waterfront dining experience: think bluegrass in the swamp. On the menu you’ll find “backwoods smokehouse” items like gator bites, iron-seared catfish, and smoked brisket and spicy slaw sandwiches, accompanied by housemade sauces. Choose from more than 30 different beers to sip as you sit outside and enjoy a vibrant music scene featuring blues, country, rock, and more. snookhaven.com