Call Me Pardner
Retooling Your Menu with Maximum Cred Starts with the Right Distributor
Collaboration is king of this era, and likely to reign for many millenniums hereafter because the truth is … it works. The concept of the whole being more than the sum of its parts has been solidly proven in almost every arena, with the creative culinary craft ranking high on the list. So when you find a foodservice distributor who combines the artistic sensibility of a gastronome with the exacting eye of an accountant, savor your victory. It’s precisely what you need to thrive.
Restaurant Inc shares the stories of a small town bar and grill operator and a chef at a little-known suburban gem whose partnerships with their distributor meant much more than getting cases delivered on time — although that happened without fail. The connection clicked, ideas flowed and menu magic was made.
Hydeout Bar & Grill, Poplar Grove, IL
A bar and grill operator in rural northern Illinois turns to his long time distributor for help with a menu overhaul.
Nick Nebiu, his brother and three cousins teamed up to open the Hydeout in April 2011, building on the family’s outstanding local reputation — just a mile down the road, his father and uncle had been serving up hearty meals at their Boone County Family Restaurant since 1982. The community had grown, says Nick, and a bar and grill was a logical dining evolution. From the start, Hydeout’s signature burgers (“everyone loves them” proudly maintains Nick), pizza and Friday night fish fries were hits at the pub, comfortably housing 110 diners when fully packed.
The mix of customers, throughout the age demographic, was an ideal ‘problem’ for a restaurateur, yet appealing to all age groups posed its own set of issues. Jalapeno poppers for the restless youngling? Pastrami sandwiches for the lunchtime crowd? Different types of burgers for everyone else? “Customers made suggestions, and it was time to make a change to the menu,” reveals Nick. In the four years since opening, a few new offerings had been added, but this time, more of a major redo was in order, with reboots needed on appetizers, sandwiches and dinner items. Business was good, but Nick knew fresh new items would make it even better. “We met with Chef Paul several times and he picked our minds to see what we were looking for before we had actual product tastings,” says Nick.
“They wanted to differentiate themselves, and I brought a slew of fresh new choices to the tasting, well beyond hamburger.” Mussels, prepared in multiple ways, were among the novel items that intrigued the group of chief tasters and decision makers, while the calamari needed an extra bit of crunch (Panko breadcrumbs made it happen). “Their price point was also very low and I advised them not to be worried about charging more and still remaining competitive.”
“We’ve been with Reinhart® a long time because of their commitment to helping us improve our business. Chef Paul listens, discusses and creates dishes that work.”
Martini’s on Main, Algonquin, IL
A trusted collaboration and friendship with their distributor helps put this small suburban steakhouse and bar on the Chicago area dining map.
Martini’s on Main, an American steakhouse featuring chef Matt Lucas’ unique, eclectic offerings, has been making a name for itself out in the far-flung suburb of Algonquin, located 40 miles northwest of Chicago’s heated dining scene. The restaurant, affectionately shortened to the acronym MOM’s by regulars, does brisk, reservations-only business Thursday through Saturday nights, and has become a destination eatery known for out-of-the-box gourmet food you’d expect to find downtown, not in a cozy 60-seater (in summer months, the outdoor patio doubles the patron count).
How does a former furniture salesman with no formal culinary training, working in a kitchen so small he literally stands in one spot and turns in circles, turn out 300 incredibly inventive dinner and appetizer specials each year? Matt’s unshakeable commitment to constantly learning and trying new things is unquestionably the main reason. But his collaborative friendship with Chef Paul has also helped fuel Matt’s culinary adventures, from molecular cooking to grilled melons to kangaroo steaks … yes, kangaroo from Australia, sourced by Reinhart Direct’s gourmet foodservice group. “It was pretty popular,” says Matt, “especially when I explained to customers that it tasted like venison.”
On the Menu
Over the three years since Matt and Paul became culinary kindred spirits, Martini’s on Main has offered wild boar ribs and shanks, wagyu beef, finger limes (also from Australia), kalettes, and fiddleheads on flatbread. One of Matt’s favorites finds was tapioca maltodextrin, the molecular cooking ingredient that allows him to play alchemist in the kitchen, transforming fatty ingredients into powders. He’s used it for powdered olive oil and in a rockin’ caramel apple martini, but arguably his best play was last January for the cheeky “Fat Elvis” dessert prepared in honor of the legendary rocker’s birthday. Made from a peanut butter torte, caramelized bananas and Matt’s powdered peanut butter, it was a bona fide hit.
“Other distributors just sell cases. Paul will advise me as to what to buy, but what’s highly unusual is he’ll also tell me what not to buy. I can’t call other salesman and ask if they have any recommendations as to how to prepare snapper that I’m putting on special tonight. With Paul, that’s exactly what I’ll do and he’ll always have some great ideas to try.”
Collaborator, distribution partner, friend. For Reinhart®’s Chef Paul, the sales follow.
Paul Young arrived at Reinhart in 2012 armed with years of experience in the culinary trenches, and a uniquely helpful stint as an improv comedian at Chicago’s Second City.
A Le Cordon Bleu-Orlando graduate, he worked as cooking instructor, sauté cook and executive sous chef in Chicago and Milwaukee, and spent some time in the spotlight as a contestant on season 6 of "The Next Food Network Star". Hired as part of Reinhart’s sales force, Paul’s consultative style and passion for all things culinary made him a natural member of the team at his customers’ kitchens, revamping menus, advising on specials, rolling up his sleeves and preparing recipes. That last piece is what really makes a distributor valuable.
“Other distributors bring customers into their fully decked out test kitchens and demo recipes on very sophisticated, high-tech equipment,” he says. “Nothing wrong with that, and it can definitely result in some great recipes. Our concept, though, is to develop new menu ideas with customers at their site, using their own equipment, so they’ll know exactly how to prepare it and how it will turn out.” And if something needs to be improvised on the spot … let’s just call that Paul’s specialty of the house.