Two For the Price of One
Washington, D.C.’s mini bar is such a popular concept that it’s become nearly impossible to snag a reservation.
Fortunately, dejected potential diners are referred to a restaurant under the same roof: America Eats Tavern.
Not just a benefit for customers, the dual dining space is a boon for Think Food Group, which owns both mini bar and America Eats Tavern. Instead of paying two rents each month, there is just one check for the owners to write.
Tucked off into a corner of the second floor, mini bar has celebrity chef José Andrés at the helm,and seats just 12 people each night for an innovative multi-course menu. Seats are released a month out and booked within a few minutes, says manager Brian Zaslavsky.
“We share a phone number and an address so there’s definitely room for confusion but it’s worth it because they feed off of each other,” Zaslavsky says.
Tucking a food-centric bar (or another restaurant) into a restaurant—while maintaining separate identities, including name, manager, or owner—is a trend that’s growing.
Even with reduced overhead costs—mini bar and America Eats Tavern also share a website and a chef—Zaslavsky has to continually train staff to stress it’s a different menu at America Eats Tavern.
That extra training has been the only downside, however. Between the two eateries they can capture many more customers than if there were just one option.
For Jason MacKenzie, co-owner of Bohemian Pizza and Ditto’s Bar in Litchfield, Connecticut, having two operations under the same roof has allowed him to keep the restaurant profitable.
MacKenzie manages the pizza side while his business partner, Gary Copeland, handles the bar.
“It’s kind of a yin-yang balance. Our advertising budget (including a TV ad mentioning both businesses) is one in the same,” he says.
Bohemian Pizza is popular with families and couples alike who yearn for upscale pizzas. Ditto’s Bar is a dive bar.
A huge fish tank separates the two businesses, ensuring they retain their different feels.
“We cross the entire spectrum. The bar side attracts the blue-collar, working sort of man,” MacKenzie points out. “In the parking lot, you’ve got old beat-up pick-up trucks next to Mercedes on a Friday night.”
Offering customers a polar opposite vibe is what makes these partnerships work. Another great example is Double A and Mercadito in Chicago. Well-known cocktail consultants Tippling Bros. are partners in both.
“It’s not necessarily about the benefits of splitting rents. It’s more about capturing the same audience by offering a different experience under the same roof,” explains Paul Tanguay, a partner in Tippling Bros. and a beverage consultant.
“You could be having dinner upstairs at Mercadito and decide to continue the night by walking downstairs to the lounge instead of leaving the establishment to go somewhere else.”
“Obviously we can cross-promote in both spaces,” Tanguay adds. “Very beneficial.” Even so, he says they are careful when executing marketing plans so that there is not confusion about each venue’s selling points.
Upstairs at Mercadito, there’s a loud and vibrant environment where Latin American cuisine is served with margaritas and cocktails.
Double A is directly below it and conversely, “it’s like you’re in someone’s basement,” Tanguay says. “It’s a little more cerebral.” There are no windows, the bar is in the middle of the space, and much of the seating consists of low-to-the-floor booths.
Different food and beverage menus are served in each.
“I believe the only way to stay successful in this business is to offer the best possible experience in terms of food and beverage—with genuine hospitality in a cool setting,” Tanguay says.
Even if that means offering a second option under the same roof.
By Kristine Hansen