Dean Fuerth is the Beverage Director for Sushi Nakazawa, with two locations in New York and DC. Fuerth decamped to Aspen in December of 2020 to oversee a pop-up, and the DC location reopened at the end of January, with the NYC location following suit in mid-February. Fuerth was in Aspen when we spoke with him, and our talk mostly focused on that location.
On opening in Aspen:
Our Aspen location is operating as a pop-up as of right now [February 1]. We opened on December 2nd, and it will go until April 1st. We’re looking at sticking around for the summer, even potentially staying permanently. [That decision is] contingent on how it goes for a formative period. It’s been on fire since we opened the doors.
We were supposed to open in LA, had a space and were ready to go when the pandemic hit and that went off the table. In September, hearing Cuomo and De Blasio waffle about indoor dining, that’s when the conversation started [about Aspen]. The space we’re operating in is owned by one of the part owners of Nakazawa, so it was a quick conversation between the owners. We didn’t have any space to work [in New York or DC], and there was a space [in Aspen] that wasn’t being used. Within a month, we put a restaurant together. It’s keeping West Coast momentum going, and it wasn’t planned before then.
Did you notice any changes in the kinds of wine that people were ordering during the time you were open in the fall?
We’re lucky that we have a niche between sake and serving our regulars and people that are reverent of Nakazawa, it really felt like fourth quarter as soon as we opened the doors and people were spending on the same range of bottles. DC opened at 50% this July and beat their sales from the year before at 100%. Everyone was pent up and as soon as they got released, they were more inclined to celebrate and go for it. The first week of December was business as usual. Spending in the higher range to try and support us and show they were doing their part as well. It helped with the same atmosphere, coming to Aspen. Everyone was yearning to wild out and have a sense of celebration.. People were drinking more Champagne, more in a celebratory mood.
On 75% fewer covers, I was only seeing about 15% less for sales.
How are you managing inventory during this time?
I was speaking to somebody earlier in the fall about strategizing for reopening [the NYC and DC locations] at the end of September. I’m lucky that I have a large cellar to draw from and a lot of selections across the board. I wanted to keep the size and the shape of the list intact through all of this. We were able to just work around it and not buckle down too badly.
Your biggest new success was the Quinta do Perdigão Dão Encruzado. What makes that wine work so well for guests? Or does it work well for somms, who make it work for guests?
I think that there are people who come to Nakazawa looking to spend, but definitely many more who are not looking to spend crazy. As much fun as it is to sell blue-chip bottles, it’s fun to have a conversation. That encruzado is great if someone wants a dry white bottle and they don’t want to spend a lot of money. It drinks like premier cru Chablis. If [our guests] want something to drink, it can be interesting, eccentric, delicious and affordable. You can compare it to more prestigious regions at a fraction of the price and equal quality.
You have 16 BTG selections at the moment (or did when you were open). A lot of the people I’ve spoken to scaled down their BTG lists by a lot when volumes went down, or because guests wanted their own bottle rather than having something that has been handled by a number of people. How did you keep your selection that wide?
No one wants to downsize the program and make those decisions. Circumstance is circumstance, but we had enough to draw from the cellar at BTG price points that we could make it make sense for the restaurant. It gave us an opportunity to pop some things in the cellar that hadn’t been selling out consistently. We could trim inventory without sacrificing selections. A couple of those are coravin pours for red wine. That way we don’t have to worry about waste and spoilage. At the capacity we were operating under, we were able to move by-the-bottle whites and champagnes by the glass and didn’t have to trim [the number of BTG options].
Was there any element of rushing, either from you or from the guest, when it came down to the after-dinner thing? Or were people still eating/drinking pretty leisurely?
To begin with, the pace of the restaurant and the style of the menu…it doesn’t lend itself to hanging out after dinner and sticking around. Before the pandemic, our turns were controlled and we had things pretty rhythmic. I feel guilty saying it, but with the whole curfew thing in the city and out here in Aspen, turn times were even shorter but people were understanding if we had to move through the last few courses more quickly. You’re reading all over the country about backlash, but our guests were really understanding and empathetic. I would say [the pace of the meal moved] a little bit quicker than normal.
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