Few partnerships are as enduring as food and wine, so Tom Nye figured that the wines his customers make at the Grape Escape in Dayton would be welcome companions to any dining adventure.
But that’s not necessarily true for a restaurant with a bar. Bar sales make up a nice portion of a check, and the last thing an elegant restaurant with a full bar wants to see is a tableful of customers pouring their own bottles of wine. At least this is what someone might assume.
Nye, however, thought the question was worth asking, so he asked it of Ruth’s Chris Steak House. To his astonishment, the Forrestal Village restaurant said yes.
The Grape Escape, on Stults Road, is a different sort of vineyard. Rather than bottling and selling wine itself, customers buy shares of a barrel and make their own. Last year Grape Escape produced 45,000 bottles, which have made the rounds in private homes and in the area’s bevy of BYO restaurants — of which Ruth’s Chris is not. But would it not be a great idea to have designated BYO nights at Ruth’s Chris? BYO nights exclusively for customers bearing a bottle of wine made at the Grape Escape, that is?
In retrospect the partnership seems destined. Nye believes “wine is nothing without food,” while Kyle Melick, general manager at Ruth’s Chris, says “wine is a very big part of our business.” But when Nye first came up with the idea at 1 a.m., he wasn’t so sure a posh place like Ruth’s Chris — known for its spirits as well as its food — would go along with him. Ruth’s Chris, after all, is a fancy place, and it makes good money selling drinks with meals.
But in the interest of good relations, particularly in a time when businesses need all the good will they can get, Ruth’s Chris embraced Nye’s idea. On the restaurant’s slower nights (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday) customers coming in bearing bottles from Grape Escape are allowed to drink without paying a corking fee. “Essentially, the best steakhouse in New Jersey has become a BYO for Grape Escape customers,” Nye says.
So far, Nye and Melick say, the plan is working out well for everyone. Nye says Grape Escape’s labels are getting seen and his customers are getting a chance to dine out at a restaurant they otherwise feel they might not be able to afford, should they indulge in food and wine there. It is not, after all, difficult to pay more than $100 for a dinner for two, including drinks, at Ruth’s Chris.
On the restaurant side, Melick says he has seen Grape Escape customers come in to take advantage of the deal. a group came in on a Sunday in mid-December, he says, livening up an otherwise quiet night. As a chain, Melick says, other Ruth’s Chris locations offer similar deals to local vintners and their customers. This is the only such deal for Princeton’s location, however, and the restaurant embarked on it because “it just seemed right,” and because Grape Escape is local, and local businesses do well to support each other, Melick Says.
Grape Escape had a similar deal with Mediterra, in Palmer Square, but the partnership only ran for the month of December. Nye says he and his wife and partner, Nancy, have been talking about approaching other non-BYOs that they like, but so far Ruth’s Chris is their only one.
Contact Grape Escape at 609-409-9463; and Ruth’s Chris at 609-452-0041.