Evan Hansen is a partner at Detroit’s Selden Standard, a New-American restaurant that serves shareable, farm-fresh cuisine by partner/chef Andy Hollyday. Hansen also runs the wine list and, having been with the company since its opening in 2014, has noticed a new trend in restaurants as a source of entertainment, along with a rise in cocktail sales, and guests’ willingness to be more adventurous with their wine selections.
Have there been any big changes in your business model over the past year?
Before the pandemic, we were open seven days a week, two services a day, either lunch or brunch and then dinner every night. Right now, we’re [only] open five nights a week. It took a while to ramp back up to a certain comfort level and be able to restaff and retool the way that we wanted. We never wanted people to come in and feel like they were getting a different experience just because of the pandemic. Obviously, there were some cases where that was unavoidable, but our goal was to make it feel “normal.”
Have you noticed a change in what guests are drinking?
I think people’s buying habits have shifted. We used to gross substantially more with wine than with cocktails or spirits. Now, if you add cocktails and spirits together, it takes over as our number one category. I don’t know if that’s just a comfort thing, or a slightly younger demographic, but there’s definitely been a shift in what people are drinking. 2018/2019 we were selling a ton of wine, and then the pandemic hit, and wine sales were really low last year. This year they have rebounded slightly but still not anywhere near the pre-pandemic numbers.
Have restaurants played a larger role in people’s lives this year than in years prior?
During the pandemic, with so few activities open, you couldn’t go to a sporting event or a concert, so there was a whole new group of people coming in [to the restaurant] for the very first time. When you’ve been open for seven years, you see a lot of familiar faces, so it was interesting to see different folks, especially last summer. Obviously, there’s been a lot of work from home, so we’re seeing less business lunches and dinners and more folks coming out and using restaurants as their entertainment. Which, I think, must be partly responsible for the shift from wine to cocktails.
You have an interesting wine list with a lot of off-the-beaten path varieties like aligoté and verdicchio. In fact, Benito Ferrara Greco di Tufo Vigna Cicogna was your number one selling wine by both the glass and bottle. Are you drawn to lesser-known grapes?
From the day that we opened, we wanted to give people an experience that they couldn’t necessarily get somewhere else, but we didn’t want it to be weird for weird’s sake. I think someone who likes an unoaked chardonnay or a richer-style sauvignon blanc would really like that aligoté. In the seven years we’ve been open, I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve had an American cabernet by the glass. There’s a lot of values to be had in other parts of the world. We are a shared-plates restaurant, so I always think its good to have versatile, high-acid wines on the list. Sometimes that means looking at France vs. Napa, and greco di tufo vs. chardonnay.
Are people more willing to try something new than in previous years?
Yes, I think so. Just like people are willing to let their bartender take them on a ride and do a dealer’s choice cocktail, I think more and more people are excited to know what wine is about. I’ve noticed it across the board in all demographics. There are a lot of people who are curious, and they want to try something new. For instance, when we first opened, the servers were saying we should put Port on because people know Port and they don’t know Pineau des Charentes or Rivesaltes; so, we put Port on and nobody bought it. It just sat there. Since then, we’ve always tried to do something a little fun and a conversation starter, like Macvin du Jura.
Have you had any issues with the supply chain or shipping this past year?
Yes. It’s unpredictable. We ordered chairs for the dining room eons ago, and they’re just now showing up next week. For a while we couldn’t get one of our sparkling wines because the producer was having a hard time sourcing boxes. The wine vanished from the market for three months. There have been shipping delays, and when orders do show up, we thought something was going to be included, but it wasn’t, and it’s coming a couple weeks later. Like everything during the pandemic, you just gotta roll with the punches.
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