It’s a quiet January at Selden Standard, where the team is taking the month off. Since co-owners Evan Hansen and chef Andy Hollyday opened the restaurant in 2014, they have been recognized with four James Beard Award nominations and, locally, for the dynamic wine selections on a short, creative list. In 2020, after closing due to the pandemic from March through June, the restaurant opened for indoor and outdoor dining until November. Then remained open for outdoor dining and takeout through Christmas.
“We were making a go for a while doing carryout and frozen patio service,” says Hansen. “For everyone’s mental health and wellbeing we decided to take January off. The governor anticipates opening indoor dining again as of February first, so we anticipate opening a week or two after that.”
Whether serving in their dining room or outdoors, on the patio, Hansen has noted some shifts in the preferences of their guests. “Since we first reopened our doors in June, cocktails have been substantially more popular than wine,” he says. “Historically, while many of the Detroit restaurants in our orbit do quite well with cocktails, we’ve been a wine-first restaurant. That inverted for the first time ever, and it’s been true throughout the rest of the year. I suspect it will be true when we reopen.
“We have two theories as to why that might be. One is that some of our older wine-drinking clientele have been staying home, not coming out as much, and so we have, overall, a younger crowd than in the past. Also, there’s not a whole heck of a lot to do anymore. Restaurants became a source of entertainment. So, we saw a surprising number of first-time guests, and many of them have been younger. Perhaps there’s a generational divide. Or, we suspected it might be that when people were locked in their house for three months, it was easier for them to pull corks than to make cocktails at home.”
Hansen lists 42 wines, including a short reserve list, and though the size of the list has remained constant, the wines on it change—“At least one or two wines come on and off every couple of weeks. We’ve always tried to keep prices on our wine list low—not retail, but closer to retail than to traditional restaurant prices. That’s done quite well and we’ve sold quite a bit of wine. But one of the downsides of a list on the low end of the price scale is that you can’t really do any discounts.”
So, Hansen has been experimenting with other ways to draw attention to his wine selections. “On the patio, we settled into four courses for $44, taking some items from the à la carte menu and repurposing them into a tasting menu.” Working with limited staff, the tasting menu helped streamline service as they knew what their guests’ choices would be. It also encouraged guests to order wine. “We offered some pairings with the tasting menu. Rather than adding new wines, we were working with the inventory we had on hand when we had to close our dining room. The tasting menu seemed like an opportunity to sell wine. And it also helped take pressure off bartenders, not to have to make cocktails constantly. Into the fall, it was gratifying to see regulars and just people who love food coming out and sitting with patio heaters, just embracing it.
“We had never really done carryout unless people asked; we never attempted to make it particularly easy. During the summer, we got the technology in place with our point of sale to do things online. We started pushing wine online for carryout and people dabbled with it but it wasn’t tremendously successful. Later, when we did some pre-packaged Christmas dinners and holiday meals, a higher percentage of people purchased wine in that context.”
Hansen structures his wine list by weight and texture, and when he added the Remelluri 2012 Rioja Reserva in the fourth quarter of the year, it was part of a shift from an Italian-heavy list in the summer to a Spanish influence in the fall. “If people come in and ask, ‘Do you have a cab?’ maybe there isn’t one on the list. Rather than go to a lean, minerally Bordeaux, the server may suggest the Remelluri, as that may be closer to what the guests are looking for. That’s probably why it did so well.”
Rosé is also an important part of Hansen’s list: An Etna Rosato topped his bottle sales in the fourth quarter of 2020 (the 2019 Tenuta delle Terre Nere at $44). In years past, it’s been the Clos Cibonne Rosé from Côtes de Provence. “Every summer I would put on Clos Cibonne by the glass,” Hansen says. “This year, because of the tariffs, it would have been the most expensive wine on the list of whites and rosés. So, I decided to break it up and do a couple different rosés. The plan was in April we would roll out one rosé, then, in June, another one, and then in August, another. We were supposed to roll into Clos Cibonne in the Fall. Then all those plans got screwed up. I had visited Terre Nere and was delighted to have it on, we were pushing outdoor seating, it was unseasonably warm throughout the fall in Detroit, so that worked out for us.
“Because I’m an owner—along with the executive chef—the wine program has been the one thing on the floor I really want to have my hands in and that I really enjoy. My role has changed in the same way that it’s changed for everyone else: Sales and buying patterns are different. The tough thing about the pandemic is making sure your team and your guests are well cared for in ways you really couldn’t have fathomed 18 months ago. Dealing with the unemployment office 20 times more than you would have before, making sure staff on leave are taken care of. All the paperwork, filing for grants and PPP loans, the additional paperwork and office work that go into a given day to keep muddling through is weird—a strange sensation, I suppose.”
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