Sally Kim oversees the wine programs at Annie and Craig Stoll’s restaurant group in San Francisco, which includes Locanda, Delfina and five Pizzeria Delfina locations. At least, it did until last March, when Locanda closed for good and Delfina went on indefinite hiatus. Since then, Kim has worked with the owners and remaining staff to adapt to an all-delivery and takeout model for the pizzerias, where costs are lower and margins better. While Kim would typically have filled out a poll response for Delfina, in 2020 it was all about the pizzerias.
“It took us about a month to figure out how to pivot,” says Kim. The Locanda chef moved over to Delfina’s kitchen, which is right next door to Pizzeria Delfina’s 18th Street location, and they added some of Locanda’s dishes to the pizzeria menu. “We’ve had to figure out which items would generate the most interest and sales. The owners were good at being open and flexible, making the menu more approachable in terms of pricing and what people really want, pivoting to survive while still maintaining the concept.”
Retail sales had never been part of the Delfina concept, but that changed too. “We were sitting on this amazing inventory of wine from Locanda and Delfina, including wines that are usually only available at restaurants,” says Kim. “I pushed my teams to sell those wines at retail prices, and a lot of people took advantage of that, including some private collectors.”
When outdoor dining became possible, they opened the Palo Alto, Burlingame and Peninsula locations. “We did okay with the outdoor dining, but not great,” says Kim, noting that delivery and to-go were still accounting for at least half of their revenues. “But you know, people want to go out. That’s a little scary too, because some people are not great about wearing masks. Lots of other big restaurant groups had positive cases and had to shut down. One great thing is that our owners contracted with a private testing company, so we all get tested every two weeks. It’s mandatory, and we get results within 24 hours, so we can keep safety guidelines for everyone.”
The group is now shut down for in-person dining, but the pizzerias have been doing well. “Pacific Heights is already at 50 percent of pre-pandemic revenues just off delivery, but it’s more challenging for some locations that had been more dine-in,” says Kim. She’s had to simplify and streamline the wine lists to fit the needs of a take-out and delivery model. “We’ve noticed that people who order [ for takeout or delivery ] are not wine people, they’re probably a lot of tech people. I had to go very simple and familiar, but I wouldn’t compromise quality, so I went for the best wine I could get for the price. So, it was two rosés, two whites, two sparklings, a cab, a pinot and a couple of Italians. The pinot [ Brea Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, #4 in Q4 sales ] and cab [ Camp Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, #5 in Q4 sales ] are really great wines for the money, but I would never have had those wines as core items for all of our pizzerias.”
While Kim rode with the demand for familiar wines, she also felt the need to offer some wines that went to the heart of Delfina’s identity, like Zanasi Lambrusco di Sorbara. “It was a little soul-sucking. I was already making so many concessions on the shortened list that I wanted to have some wines that retained the spirit of who we are, so I kept the Lambrusco on the list. And we have a core of regular customers who love having Lambrusco with their pizza.” She also listed Folk Machine Clarksburg Chenin Blanc, a wine that is “so acid-driven that it’s a wine I would have chosen at any time. I just didn’t want to list a pinot grigio, which I’ve never had on our list the whole time I’ve been at Delfina, unless it was a ramato. So it was all about, how do we derive as much sales as we can without compromising too much?”
Like so many others in the midst of the pandemic, Kim thought about supporting people in the local wine community. Her best new success was Una Lou Pinot Noir California Rosé, a second label from Scribe that she sold in 375ml cans. “It’s 100% organic Pinot Noir from Sonoma, and a portion of profits go to The Edible Schoolyard and The Center for Land Based Learning, an organization promoting agricultural education. “It’s delicious, accessible and made for pizza, and it’s in a can. During the pandemic it became our best seller, because people would go get their pizza and go to Dolores Park with their canned wine. It was what people wanted and needed.”
Delfina [ the flagship restaurant ] remains closed, but Kim says that they hope to reopen it at some point. If they do, it may be with some changes that linger from the pandemic. “There’s talk of breaking down the wall between Delfina and the pizzeria [ on 18th Street ] and making it one larger restaurant. Our regulars have been wanting that for years, and we may end up doing it. We’re now living in a time where the customers can dictate so much, because you either survive or die right now. So many restaurants have shuttered. It’s about being more open-minded and relaxed about rules you’ve had in the past and giving people what they want. We’re just trying to survive every day and doing whatever we can do to stay ahead of the curve.”
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