Sam Bogue of SF’s Central Kitchen on Labor Costs and Zin by the Glass.

Sam Bogue grew up in Boulder, Colorado, where he had an early brush with wine at Bobby Stuckey’s Frasca Food & Wine. He started, as he says all the newcomers do, in the glass-polishing room. He went from server to bartender to manager, and began studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Bogue headed to San Francisco in 2013 and landed at Quince for a few months, until a friend at Flour & Water brought him into the Ne Timeas Restaurant Group. Since 2015, Bogue has served as wine director for all the group’s restaurants.

You noted that prices rose on the dinner menu as well as on the wine list—all except for the least expensive wine, which held steady.
In San Francisco, we’re in a really difficult market in terms of profitability for most restaurants. With the increase in the minimum wage, labor is going through the roof, as are the costs of benefits. So, you’re seeing a slight increase in prices on many menus.

For us, we’re seeking to drop our wine costs to stay in line with labor costs. There was a slight increase in wine prices this year. And for a couple of years, we’ve decided we really do need to give a slight increase where we can. Typically, we’re making most of our margins from our by-the-glass program—a lot of these wines are discounted at our purchase price, but we are gradually increasing our price on them. We’re also increasing the price on wines that are higher in demand. So, if someone is looking for value, you can have that conversation and find something that’s distinct and unique—we can get you drinking a bottle that’s a little cheaper, more esoteric, fun or exciting, and totally the style of wine you’re looking for.

Domaine Eden Pinot Noir was your biggest new success. At $65, it was also the top-selling wine at Central Kitchen.
For us, it was somewhat by design. When structuring our list, in particular the section veering toward light-to-medium-bodied reds, Domaine Eden is a desired producer and something with a lot of brand recognition. You’re spending a little bit more than the lowest bar to entry on the list, up by 15 bucks. It’s inherently crowd pleasing and delicious, a style that has people going back for more by the glass. In our list, where we can get esoteric with schiava or pelaverga, or other less-recognizable wines, that pinot noir is something people can sink their teeth into.

Is it typical for you to have a zinfandel—Bedrock’s 2018 California—selling well by the glass?
The Bedrock is the longest running placement of any bottle we’ve had on there. I love what they’re doing, in particular with zin. Bedrock pulls off a fresh style. It’s also because we have two event spaces and a lot of private dining. The Bedrock seems to be a perfect wine for the California wine drinker, and is a less-expensive wine on the list. If you just want to offer one red wine, it’s an appealing selection, fruit-driven yet fresh, an acid-retaining style of zin. People across the board enjoy it.

Tags  31st Annual Restaurant Poll  2020 Restaurant Poll  San Francisco  Sam Bogue  Central Kitchen  Zinfandel