When The Ravenous Pig opened in Winter Park in 2007, the Orlando area really knew nothing of the gastropub phenomenon that already swept through England. In fact, when owners James and Julie Petrakis settled on this pub’s grub-meets-gourmand restaurant concept, the first thing they did was travel to London on a research trip to visit as many gastropubs as they could fit into one vacation. Sitting inside The Greyhound, a Kensington Square pub serving bangers and mash and fish and chips, their dream started to take shape.
Three years later, they opened Ravenous, arguably one of Orlando’s most successful restaurants in decades. “We’re themed as an American gastropub, and what that entails is craft cocktails, wine and artisan food but in a casual pub setting,” James says while lounging in Ravenous Pig’s cozy, amber-hued bar.
From the beginning, The Ravenous Pig has been a husband and wife affair that started when James and Julie met and began dating while attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. In fact, it’s such a true joint effort that when the James Beard Foundation judges first considered their nomination in 2011, they couldn’t separate them. As a result, James and Julie Petrakis became the first chef couple ever to be jointly nominated for a Best Chef award. And they were semifinalists in 2012 and 2013.
Last year, the Petrakis team opened a second restaurant, Cask & Larder, which presents southern comfort food perfectly paired with amazing beer that’s brewed onsite. In the process, they began handing over the culinary reigns at Ravenous to Joseph Burnett, who is now executive chef. “We were head down in here every day for the first three years,” James says. “But as I step back I can see more clearly. I know what my idea for a dish would be and then I see Joe take it in a different direction. Honestly, it’s almost more rewarding. All this talent around me gets my creative juices going and it’s easier for me to come up with new food. But the trick is to surround yourself with really great people.”
What’s the focus of The Ravenous Pig’s menu right now?
With us opening Cask & Larder and it becoming more of our whimsical, southern comfort food concept, we wanted to move Ravenous to something a little more refined. This restaurant was so ingrained with Julie and I and what we started, it’s been hard for us all to accept change, right down to the servers, but it’s coming together and everyone is getting our philosophy. I don’t know if I have ever been so excited about the direction of this restaurant. There is so much talent back in the kitchen and it’s so exciting to see where this food is going.
Why start Cask & Larder?
I’m still searching for that answer. Partly it was that we knew that this place was maxed out, that there was nowhere else for it to go. The brewery really intrigued us and we really wanted to showcase more of our cooking. We wanted to get whimsical and create great food to go with great beer. Really, we just had all of these ideas in our heads and needed a place to put them.
You grew up in Orlando. Is that what motivated you to start Ravenous here?
Both of our families, live within two miles of our restaurants. Not to mention that everyone we grew up with is here. We would rather show Orlando this and do it with our friends than be another team in a big city opening another restaurant. And I love Florida. It’s been satisfying being a pioneer, and to see where it has come feels good because we put a lot into this place. It gives Orlando something to believe in. We have cool stuff here, we have good restaurants and we have culture.
What was it like being jointly nominated for the James Beard Award?
It was an honor because we really did do it together from start to finish. We were in school together and talked about everything from day one. Every step of the way we really did build this together from ground zero.
Photos courtesy of Gary Bogdon and Ravenous Pig