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Swine & Sons looks very different today than it did when it first opened in 2015.
“We opened up in April of 2015 and the thought was to be this provisions place and have this meat counter, and then do some sandwiches,” said chef Alexia “Lexi” Gawlak, the owner of Swine & Sons. “And we were thinking of this Bodega style — like grab and go — and that was the first day we were open and (by) about the third day, we were open, we had to completely change the concept because people were like, ‘What do you mean I can’t order a sandwich and have it be custom’ and people just didn’t share our vision.”
Gawlak originally opened Swine & Sons under the ownership of James and Julie Petrakis, who also own the Ravenous Pig. Gawlak had worked with them as the sous chef of Ravenous Pig when it first opened in 2007 but stepped back from the restaurant when she had her daughter.
When Swine & Sons was opening, James Petrakis pulled her back on board to help helm what was supposed to be a provisions shop.
“We overhauled the entire concept on about day three,” she said. “But that space that we were in — which is now the dentist’s office — in the parking lot of Ravenous, it was a retail space and it just was it was not built for restaurant use. The plumbing told us that story every day up until the end.”
Gawlak purchased the Swine & Sons brand from the Petrakis’ in 2019 and moved the restaurant into The Local Butcher and Market, just down the street from the original location — 669 N. Orange Ave. This ended up being a shrewd move as the pandemic swept across the country in 2020.
“That was a great move for the pandemic,” Gawlak said. “The butcher was so busy during the pandemic. They were breaking sales records, doing fantastic, and so that was great because we had a stream of people coming in and even when we had to close the dining room down, we had a healthy takeout business. I really think that that’s why we made it through the pandemic, truly.”
With the move, Swine & Sons also completely changed into a counter-service restaurant, specializing in Southern-inspired sandwiches and sides. The shift ultimately ended up earning Swine & Sons recognition from Michelin in the form of a Bib Gourmand award, which recognizes high-quality food at affordable prices. However, receiving the award did not go exactly as one might expect.
“(An email) came to my inbox and it kind of started off, like, ‘Hey, you know, we’re bringing Michelin to Central Florida. We’re gonna have this party. You should come to the party.’ And I was like, ‘Why?’”
Gawlak mulled whether to go to the event, but ultimately forgot about it.
“And then all the people start texting me, everyone’s texting me — ‘Oh, my God, congratulations. This is incredible,’” she said. “I’m like, ‘What did we do? Yeah. So we won a Bib Gourmand. I was at home on the couch with my kids in my pajamas.”
After that huge, if slightly anti-climactic, accomplishment under her belt, Gawlak moved her business one more time, but not very far.
“October of last year, we had the opportunity to partner with Foxtail (Coffee) and move it up yet again. So I just I always joke like we’re just gonna move a couple of blocks towards downtown Orlando every couple of years. We just keep going a couple more blocks,” she said.
The new location, which Gawlak believes will be the business’ forever home, sits at 1282 N. Orange Ave.
“I think that this new partnership with Foxtail — it’s been really, really good,” she said.
On the latest episode of Florida Foodie, Gawlak shares more of her career in fine dining before taking over Swine & Sons. She also talks about going to culinary school with her husband and the reason he had to fire her from a job.
Please follow our Florida Foodie hosts on social media. You can find Candace Campos on Twitter and Facebook. Lisa Bell is also on Facebook and Twitter and you can check out her children’s book, “Norman the Watchful Gnome.”
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