A food truck flip from a music career leads to brick-and-mortar success, and a local's perspective on Miami's pandemic renaissance.
By Derrick Turton as told to Natasha Bazika
Derrick “Chef Teach” Turton is the former music manager of Pitbull who was inspired to open a food truck in Miami after his father passed away. House Of Mac now has two brick-and-mortar locations serving locals, including die-hard fans Dwayne Wade and Anthony Hamilton among others. During COVID, Chef Teach provided food for first responders and began shipping nationwide.
My father passed away in 2013, and I remember seeing him lying there at the funeral—it was quite morbid—but it also got me thinking about my life, and the legacy I would leave for my family. At the time, my legacy was building other people’s legacies, which I realized wasn’t what I wanted.
I was Pitbull’s manager for 13 years, but before getting into the music business, I went to culinary school. I loved to cook, so I thought I would turn that into a career. But when I started my first job at a restaurant, I hated it and left. I got into club promotions, which led to record label promotions, which is where I met Pitt. One thing led to another, and I ended up his manager. But I still flexed my culinary muscle every now and then, cooking barbecues at my house, and for events—it was my therapy.
Soon my therapy turned into a passion, then a want. A good friend of mine pushed me to get a food truck, so I did, but I still had one foot in the music industry. Until one day I decided to jump all in one direction—the food truck business, which became the House of Mac.
Five years later, House of Mac has been a food truck success, and then COVID hit. I don’t think anyone in our lifetime can say they have experienced anything like this. We were lucky we could stay open in Miami, unlike other cities in America. New York and Los Angeles shut down completely, and for much longer than Miami. It was a ghost town here for a while. While everyone was scared to leave their homes, we noticed people were finding us online and ordering. But the thing with that is, a certain percentage was taken out of a sale. We slim-lined the business and started shipping nationwide with at-home baking instructions available on our site.
It was a bad situation for everyone, and it still is. But it made us realize a lot of things we wouldn’t have, if it had not been for the pandemic.
My wife is a retired firefighter, and we both have so much respect for the people who are serving the community, which is why we wanted to do our part to support them. We couldn’t do much, but we knew we could feed them. We fed first responders and firefighters. We went to testing sites and hospitals to feed the workers. We provided hot meals because it was something we could do.
I’m big on food presentation. I like food to be presented in a way that looks good, and with the restrictions, it was a hassle. So we started using to-go containers. It was easier, and it’s safe, but this whole process has been trial and error. We were just trying to figure out what made the most sense without cutting into the bottom line, because in the end, that’s how we would survive this.
The whole year 2020 was about survival, and now in 2021, we’re putting the pieces back together. I have plans to expand House of Mac. Since the start of the year, people are coming back. They’re going to restaurants and slowly starting to introduce some sort of normalcy in life. We’ve been trying to expand, but because most cities were in such a harsh lockdown, people are flooding into Miami. If you don’t put down an offer on a space, it’s gone in a week. There are people from all over, but especially New York and Los Angeles, as they are the worst off. They packed up their homes, loaded up the U-Hauls, and drove to Miami to open restaurants. They’re just coming and opening so rapidly. All different types of cuisines too. It’s not just the restaurateurs—the Silicon Valley tech people are here too.
A couple of months ago you could rent a space for $2,000. Today the same space is going for $6,000 or $8,000. Everything is in such high demand. Some things we would think of as expensive, but to the Silicon Valley guys, it’s cheap to them. So they’re buying up a bunch of places.
Others might be annoyed at the influx of people, but in my point of view, Miami still feels the same. The city has always been a melting pot. This pandemic affected the whole world at once, and people panicked. They’re leaving their homes and old lives behind in search of better ones. If you think about it, that’s the main reason people who already live in Miami moved here too.
We’re expanding as a city, and it’s great to see, especially during the current circumstances. I’ve had people approach me wanting to get involved with franchising House Of Mac. I’ve even had a few ghost kitchen offers, which is a big thing at the moment. I understand why—there’s no need to sign a big lease, and you don’t need to spend money building out storefronts. Ghost kitchens also allow you to test markets and different areas without committing to anything permanent, so I’m keeping that in mind.
Right now, I’m in talks with Hyatt Regency and some other hotels that want to carry my brand. I want to make sure it can be consistent across the board. I’ve seen places try to grow too fast, and they lose grasp of what the brand is known for and represents. I don’t want that to happen to House of Mac. Our customers’ experience and the ambiance is who we are, and it’s why people come back.