December 19, 2013

Why people wait 5 years for a dinner at this restaurant

Meet The Restaurant With The Five-Year Waiting List 

It's not Spago, nor Per Se. It isn't located on Rodeo Drive or in Columbus Circle. The restaurant with the longest waiting list, five-years to be precise, is a small, nondescript, 12-table basement located in Earlton, N.Y., named simply enough Damon Baehrel after its owner and chef.  Its guests come from 48 countries and include such celebrities as Jerry Seinfeld, Martha Stewart and Barack Obama himself.  However what makes Baehrel's restaurant the most exclusive restaurant in the world is not the decor, nor the patrons, some who fly overnight from Manhattan to pay $255 for dinner (before wine and tip), nor the hype (although all the advertising is through word-of-mouth), but the food, which is all cultivated, grown, prepared, cooked and served from and on the property, and where Baehrel is literally the only employee. "I’m the chef, the waiter, the grower, the forager, the gardener, the cheesemaker, the cured-meat maker, and, as I will explain, everything comes from this 12-acre property."

He has no staff, unless you count his wife and a tech-savvy friend, who help him manage the reservation e-mail address posted on his website. He spends no money on marketing and doesn’t have a business manager cultivating endorsement deals.  There have been no profiles of him in major food magazines nor write-ups of his restaurant in any newspapers.  In spite of this, or possibly because of it, the wait time just keeps getting longer.
This hyperlocal, hyperunderground strategy is paying off. Baehrel won’t provide exact numbers but says he serves a few thousand guests each year and generates annual revenue of at least $750,000.  By contrast, a successful restaurant in Manhattan’s crowded West Village might break the $1 million mark, though the business model is much different. Baehrel’s expenses are less predictable each season; they can include one-off big-ticket items such as a $5,000 trailer or a $10,000 hauling cart.  But with no payroll or mortgage, and no food vendors except for his wine, seafood, and meat, which is from a local farm stand, he can stay both small and successful. “The biggest risk,” he says, “is that it’s just me there.”
Perhaps that’s why the mainstream food world has finally started to take notice. Earlier this year, Damon Baehrel earned one of the country’s highest Zagat ratings: 29 for food and 28 for service, out of a possible 30. Baehrel also won his first James Beard nomination, as best chef in the Northeast in 2013. As it stands, the wait list for dinner stretches well into the back half of this decade. As the once-secret restaurant becomes less so, a new puzzle emerges: How does one score a table before Baehrel retires?
Baehrel's example shows that one can lead a self-contained life of near gastronomical perfection with zero needs for 99 cent meals, and merely a few acres in which to grow and raise one's food. All it takes, of course, is a lot of work...
Posted by Jill Fallon at December 19, 2013 9:17 AM | Permalink