Naseem Rafiei of P.S. Steak in Minneapolis, MN on Supply Chains and Customer Connections - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Naseem Rafiei of P.S. Steak in Minneapolis, MN on Supply Chains and Customer Connections

P.S. Steak, a modern steakhouse with a seasonal menu, opened its doors in 2019. Naseem Rafiei, sommelier, has been a member of the team since its founding. 

On Supply Chain Challenges

I think anyone would say the challenge is supply chain problems. That’s definitely been a big thorn in my side, but you know, I can’t rest my laurels on that and fault the people in that chain, because it’s all out of our control, but product availability has been challenging. Even prior to COVID, we were all getting worried about tariffs and what that would look like. 

So, there were just lots of concerns from not only product acquisition and consistency in the availability of those products, but the pricing as well, and making sure that those prices were manageable and reasonable and that there would be good continuity in product availability.  When we reopened, we scaled back our wine list pretty significantly, as I’m sure many other places did. We did that also with our food menu as well.  

Have you experienced any unexpected shortage on any particular items due to supply chain issues? 

Oh yes, many shortages. Bordeaux, Barolo, New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Champagnes and some unavailability on newer vintages due to California/Oregon fires. The biggest issue has been imported wines held up in cargo containers somewhere. We’re no stranger to the shortages in labor seen on ports, docks and in trucking companies, but we’ve had supportive vendors who helped us navigate product replacement.

How have the customers responded and adapted to the dining experience this year? Do you have any particularly memorable interactions with any customers?

My favorite types of interactions with guests that are always really memorable are people who are trusting us to be the host for their first time eating out since COVID. So many people for all the myriad of reasons in the world chose to reenter the fabrics of society at their own time and pace. For those people who maybe stayed at home a little bit longer for their personal reasons, they were coming back into the fold a little bit later. 

Even though we’re now in season three of COVID, people are coming out, and they’re here at P.S. Steak for the first time in a year or six months, or the reason they didn’t come out was because they were the caretaker for their immuno-compromised dying parent or spouse. So, this is like a really welcome retreat for them and [it’s special] to just be able to give them warm, welcoming service that meets them where they are. I would say that, not only myself, but my colleagues at P.S. are very well-attuned to reading those emotional rooms in just providing that authentic welcoming atmosphere.  

You almost see this sense of relief wash over the guests because they feel relaxed where they are, they feel welcome, and they’re able to indulge in this forgotten privilege of dining out. It just becomes so much more joyful. I served a couple very similar to this descriptor maybe in early December. We just really connected on a super deep level. I gave them my card, and we maintained regular contact, and they were just raving about everything and so thankful for the experience that they had. 

Are there any particular wines that have found more success in the past year than in the previous years?  

Not especially. I would say, that, in sort of slowly expanding the list in that first initial wave of creativity that kind of came back to restaurants, at least at P.S., it was really important for me to put more wines on the menu in what I think is a very approachable price range. We all know steak houses, you know, you can really throw down, and you can really ball out. But I also want to be able to welcome an average guest with an average budget and really respect the fact that COVID compromised a lot of people’s incomes. Despite that, people still want to go out and have a good time. What can we give them that’s a really good value? That’s something that I believe in anyway, as far as menu development, and so I was looking for wines that really overdelivered for what they were.

It’s a fine line for me as a buyer because, in a steakhouse, red wine is king, and it’s usually California reds that are king. I mean, Napa gets asked about all the time. Cab is the number one grape that people ask for. I have to make sure that the list represents those things, but also represents things that wine nerds might really be into, or people who think they want cab, but it’s actually petite sirah or a zinfandel, and they just are using cab as a way to describe big, bold red. There are other grapes from other regions that can fit that bill. So, I am always aiming to diversify the menu with options from those places that are in a really affordable wheelhouse.

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