Eliminate the Negatives
What do you do when opening a restaurant in a space where two restaurants failed before you?
Look at everything the other two restaurants did wrong and ensure you don’t do it.
At least that’s what Brian Piccini did before he opened Deuxave with a partner (Christopher Coombes, his executive chef) in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston in September 2010.
Deuxave is a fine dining restaurant serving “contemporary French cuisine, married with the splendor of American ingredients” and Back Bay is one of the top two wealthiest neighborhoods in Boston.
The previous two restaurants failed, believes Piccini, because they had no liquor license, and their price points were too low for the high rents in the neighborhood.
He decided to open a fine dining restaurant to buck the trend of both failing restaurants in this spot, and restaurants in this neighborhood geared towards tourists.
“We started off catering to the residents who felt they had to go to other neighborhoods to find the mom and pop restaurants, not the chain restaurants.”
The biggest problem, he explains, was licensing. He knew he couldn’t open without a liquor license both because guests at a fine dining restaurant expect to be able to order spirits, and because liquor boosts check averages enough for a restaurant to survive.
But liquor licenses are the sticking point in Boston, Piccini explains. The easiest and fastest way to obtain a license is to acquire a location that has one. A new restaurant can also purchase one and transfer it, but that’s a very expensive proposition—plus, sometimes there are none for sale. If a space is not zoned for restaurant use, it can be almost impossible to be granted a license.
As soon as Piccini had signed the lease for Deuxave in 2008, he “dove into the diligence of getting that liquor license,” he says. Essential was support from the neighborhood.
“We spent time going to meetings, saying this space is an eyesore in your neighborhood, that we didn’t want to make another turn-and-burn location for the tourists (we’re one block behind the main tourist area). We had to take a lot of time to let them know we were opening the restaurant for them, to be a service for the neighborhood.”
Four long months later, Deuxave was finally approved with a liquor license. “We wouldn’t have opened if we hadn’t got that approval,” Piccini says. “We would have walked away. The only way to make the space work was to get the liquor license.”
The restaurant serves dishes such as Olive Oil Poached Wild Cod with braised black kale, crispy chorizo, fingerlings, romesco sauce, and gremolata of almond, orange and pickled shallot; and A Duet of All Natural Strauss Veal—roasted tenderloin and braised cheek, black eyed peas, celeriac puree, roasted carrot, parsnip and local Hen of the Woods mushrooms, with veal jus.
Piccini brought Coombes, his executive chef, from his other restaurant, dbar, to run the kitchen at Deuxave.
“He always wanted to serve food that was too high end at the other place. At Deuxave we’re testing the limit of fine dining—we’re high end but casual enough that you can come in with jeans and a shirt. There are no linen table cloths; severs have shirts and vests but jeans. It’s high end but not stuffy.”
Per-person check averages run $70 to $80. “People want to know before they walk in the door that they’re going to have a good meal. They want to know what they’re going to get and consistency is important,” Piccini explains.
And after a year of business, annual sales are twice what was projected in order to break even, he says. “We’ve been very busy, booking out two to three weeks in advance for weekends. We thought we’d have more walk-in business but people are planning in advance because they really want to dine here.”
The average spend is high due largely to wine, Piccini explains.
“We hired a very talented sommelier who has made an incredible wine list that’s 17 pages long. And we train the staff daily and do tastings weekly. Customers are buying really nice wine—I never anticipated selling $1,000 bottles of wine on a regular basis but we do. We keep track of guests’ preferences and spending habits so on their return visits we can offer similar wines at the point of sale."
It’s also a practice at Deuxave to lower mark-ups on more expensive bottles of wine.
“The normal markup is four times on a bottle of wine but once we get into the $1,000 price range, we drop that. So people realize ‘wow, they’re not trying to rape us on this bottle of wine.’ And that’s because we know that our clientele will spend that and they’re going to keep coming back.”