Dean Fuerth of Sushi Nakazawa on Pandemic Playgrounds - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Dean Fuerth of Sushi Nakazawa on
Pandemic Playgrounds

Has the pandemic changed the size or composition of your list? Or has it impacted your buying habits?

It hasn’t. It’s been bizarre for us as well. We were expecting a rough year, and, towards the end of the summer, we saw an insane jump in beverage sales and covers. Our fourth quarter started halfway through the summer. I was keeping up with demand and buying for people coming in for blue-chip bottles. Keeping the sake program going. I’ve been buying for six months straight, basically.

You reported a pretty sharp increase in wine sales. Why do you think it climbed so high?

We’re lucky at this point that we’ve cultivated a strong regular pool of regulars who come in for spendy Bordeaux or Burgundy or sake. Through the pandemic, there’s an upper echelon of wealth that’s created more wealth for themselves. Those people are celebrating more often. We had people jump into three-, four-digit bottle sales.

You’ve got a big list, so the best-selling wines included a few white whales. 2007 Pétrus, 1993 Engel Grands Echézeaux, 2017 DRC La Tâche. Besides the infanticide of the last bottle, who’s selling these? Who’s ordering them? Is this normal, or “Pandemic Playground” for the rich?

There’s definitely a divide there. It’s not everyone coming in. We have people that have been coming in for years now. And they’ve elevated what they’re drinking. It’s come from continually good experiences with us and trusting us. We for sure have a couple guys up in the stratosphere, in once or twice a week and just going for it and not batting an eye at what we recommend.

This guy who had never come in before saw our Rhône section and got excited about it. He came in four times over a two-week period and cleaned out all my Jamet, and we haven’t seen him since. It’s been all sorts of wonky stuff where someone gets super-excited and torches a whole section of our list. We have a captive audience at that price point.

Why did you consider Red Bordeaux a surprising category?

We had a guy that would jump back and forth. He was interested in mature wines, Huet from the early 20th century. He’s interested in a lot of things, but he started getting into red Bordeaux consistently, and he drank all those expensive wines. We have regulars who come back and are consistent. I’ll put a little bait out and see how it goes, and he started drinking Mouton and Latour, I offered Pétrus and he asked if I could get more. I started building out our Bordeaux section for this guy and now it’s a full page.

Have you noticed a change in the dynamic between the guest and the restaurant? Have people been nicer? Meaner? Better tippers?

They’ve been nicer. When we reopened and came back from Aspen last year, everyone was so happy to be back in restaurants. Sushi, especially, has been a particular boom category. It’s a restaurant where people come to celebrate. It’s felt more jovial, haven’t had any weird pushback [in New York] with mask policies or checking vax cards. In New York, we’re levitating through some of these problems.

You’ve also worked in a number of cities this year. Is there a marked difference between the three, or does your clientele stay pretty similar?

New York, DC, Aspen and Miami. We’re doing a back-and-forth pop-up. I’ve been down to DC a couple times. In DC, there was a residual Trump Hotel association. We were consistently busy before, saw an uptick in DC. Aspen and Miami were pandemic playgrounds. We crushed in both of those cities. I didn’t expect it to be going this well, knock on wood it’ll keep going.

Corey Warren is the Tastings Editor in addition to covering the wines of the Loire, Southern France, Argentina and South Africa.

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