Buddakan, one of Starr Restaurants’ first forays into the New York dining scene, is a Meatpacking District hot spot that has effectively brought their elaborate decor and Asian Fusion style to their lantern-lit outdoor streetery. Beverage Purchasing Director Kevin O’Rourke continues to have an optimistic outlook on New York’s dining scene.
How has the pandemic changed your role at the restaurant?
Buddakan previously had many management roles with very specific responsibilities. There is typically a Bar Manager and a Wine Manager who I oversee, but currently there is just one other manager I’m working with, so our team has really downsized. Now, everybody’s had to learn how to manage multiple responsibilities because there are a lot fewer of us. It’s been a good experience, in that I have had to learn about different areas of the restaurant I never had to deal with before. Going forward, being able to pitch in and contribute in those areas is invaluable.
How does wine fit into your outdoor dining program?
Wine sales have definitely taken a bit of a dip. It just seems that people aren’t drinking as much wine sitting outdoors. It’s a little more of a casual dining experience than what we are used to inside the restaurant, so we are not seeing the normal higher-end sales we are used to. That has a lot to do with the fact that business dinners and tourist revenue are both way down, and everyday diners are looking for more value usually.
In 2019 our top-selling wine was Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir, and this year it was Avaraen Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, which is a new selection as we try to feature things in that more value-oriented price realm. There is a significant price difference between those two. Generally speaking, the average price point this year is about $20-$30 less per bottle vs. last year. Our most successful wines at this time are by the glass, and are in a lower price point.
Are you confident that your restaurant will survive through the pandemic so you can reopen for indoor dining later this year, if that becomes a possibility?
There’s definitely optimism here in New York. We are on the other side of people not knowing what the future will hold. Now with vaccinations starting to go around and the government easing restrictions just a little bit, I think we’ll be in a good position moving forward. Even if we only go up to 50 percent capacity for indoor dining, that, in addition to the outdoor seats, puts us almost back to our previous number of covers. I am looking forward to more table-side conversations about wine and beverage in general. For us, the big thing will be when the early evening curfew is lifted. Being in the Meatpacking District, we cater to sort of a later, nightlife-oriented crowd.
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