Ben Dale of Minneapolis’ Spoon & Stable on Moving Wine with Live-Stream Cooking Class Meal Kits - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Ben Dale of Minneapolis’ Spoon & Stable on Moving Wine with Live-Stream Cooking Class Meal Kits

Spoon and Stable is Chef Gavin Kaysen’s French-inspired restaurant in Minneapolis’s warehouse district. When Ben Dale became wine director in 2018, he and his team restructured the restaurant’s 150-selection list, grouping the wines under creative and sometimes whimsical themes. That spirit of innovation served Dale and his team well when everything changed last March.

“We all got together and brainstormed like crazy, and came up with a plan to launch a takeout business,” Dale says. After taking a few weeks to get organized, they offered an abbreviated menu and wine list with the goal of depleting the product on hand. They also offered guests the option of talking directly to Ben and having him select a bottle from the cellar to go with their dinner. “We didn’t get a lot of hits on that, but the ones we did were so fun. I’m an Italian wine junkie, and I was talking to this fellow who loved Barolo and Chianti Classico Riserva. We playfully landed on a Sagrantino di Montefalco, which he’d never had before. It kind of blew his mind and he called to thank me. Now, he’s a big fan.” 

By summertime, Spoon and Stable was open for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, but Dale says people were still reluctant to dine indoors. The restaurant opened for outdoor dining for the first time, tidying up the front sidewalk and adjacent parking and using patio tables from Bellecour, Kaysen’s second restaurant in the western suburb of Wayzata that had closed due to the pandemic. “I started buying some wine again but was still passing on a lot of allocations I normally would have taken, because who knows what’s going to happen?” But eventually, the restaurant closed again for in-person dining, and Dale says the takeout program had been helping them barely squeak by, especially after creating themes for the to-go menu, like an Italian pasta theme for which he decided to feature Guido Marsella’s Fiano di Avellino (#6 on his top ten list). He had been pouring it by the glass during the summer and his servers fell in love with it. 

Then the management team came up with GK at Home, a livestream cooking class. “We started it mid- to late-summer and it was just okay at first. Then we figured out a system, got it dialed in by autumn, and now we’re seeing some great results.” Customers pay $30 to sign in and see Chef Gavin Kaysen explaining how to make dishes like coq au vin or mango-glazed pork short loin. Ticketholders can also buy an ingredient kit and wine pairing (local pickup only). “We had learned at Bellecour that people love buying holiday packages, like all the ingredients to make Thanksgiving at home, so we had the model.” 

Dale also learned that sometimes, a label can actually sell a bottle of wine. He paired the GK at Home pork loin class with Clos Cibonne Côtes du Provence Rosé, but it was an option, not an automatic part of the ingredient kit. On the designated pickup day, the weather was nice enough that the restaurant opened its garage door and set up some bottles of the Clos Cibonne on the tables next to the ingredient kits. “When people picked up their bags, they saw the wine with this beautiful label, and a bunch of people decided to buy it. We ripped through about 13 cases.” Clos Cibonne ended up as his second-best-selling wine by the bottle.

The team has had to make adjustments on the fly under this new model. “This year has been so difficult, but also an intense learning and adapting experience,” says Dale. He gets together with the private dining director, she gives him the recipes and descriptions, and he works on wine pairings. “I just poke around and see what sounds fun. For the first one, I had about seven days to find something, but now I have much more time. The more planning ahead we do, the better we do, so right now we’ve got it planned out through the end of March.” He’s started buying some wines specifically for the GK at Home program. “We learned that it seems like about 150 bottles is enough for each menu. We kind of capped it off at about 200 kits for each event. It takes a lot of space, and we’ve changed over most of our space to organize it.” 

While the GK at Home program grew out of necessity, Dale says it is now what’s carrying the restaurant. He believes its success lies in the fact that it met the moment. “People really needed something special to do. And who doesn’t have time right now to learn how to cook something?” They’re now talking about what the demand will be for GK at Home after the pandemic, and what they can do to keep it fun and interesting. “It’s all been such a blur. At first, we were asking, can we survive? Then it was, okay we’re surviving, but can we thrive?” The answer, so far, seems to be yes.  

Spoon and Stable will reopen for indoor dining on February 11, at 50 percent capacity. “We won’t be doing the usual coursed menu for Valentine’s Day,” says Dale. “We’re opening, but carefully.”

is the Italian wine editor at Wine & Spirits magazine.

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