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[00:00:03] Laura D’Alessandro Welcome to the Worth Your Salt podcast from FSR magazine about the people driving America’s restaurant industry. I’m Laura D’Alessandro, editor of FSR magazine and your host for the journey. In our second episode, I sat down with Ryan Ratino and Maru Valdez at Bresca in Washington, D. C. Bresca is an 18-month-old restaurant that received its Michelin star within 11 months of opening. Twenty-eight-year-old chef Ryan Ratino told me all about how it’s really been much of his life’s work to achieve that star after spending a lot of time working and staging in Michelin-starred kitchens. So, without further ado, here is how to get a Michelin star in 11 months with the folks from Bresca.
Q&A in Bresca
Laura D’Alessandro Okay, so we’re here in Bresca, and I wanted to start off with getting the story from you two of how this restaurant came to be.
[00:01:23] Ryan Ratino Yeah, I think the idea was, I was working at Ripple in Cleveland Park prior to this before it closed. We were just kind of like making our first legitimate entry into the D. C. dining scene. And so one of our current partners used to come and eat there and see what we were doing and kind of, like, have dinner. I said years ago that a job would be my last time before I work for myself, but that never really came through. So then that was like when that timeline came for that to close, I was searching for, like, an opportunity to kind of, like, venture out and do something with, like, less restrictions, if you will. And from there I mean, the idea was like a culmination of, like, my experience in my staging and all of those things have kind of been a little bit high end, if you will and kind of been like other Michelin star restaurants. But to bring that down into a more approachable, like real-life scenario where you could, like, come here, sit and have great food and listen to Biggie or like Led Zeppelin and just, like, really enjoy yourself and have a great experience without feeling like it has to be like your birthday or this is my anniversary, one of those things. So and then the process kind of started once I met our current partners and then kind of evolved from their to where we are today.
[00:02:50] Laura D’Alessandro Yeah, so how did you go about crafting a menu that has led to Michelin stars? And then it sounds like you also really wanted it to still be casual and fun. So really, how did you do that?
[00:03:06] Ryan Ratin Yeah, I think for me it was about approachability, and I think like as much as I like continue to like really go for the accolades if you will, and like it’s all about, like self-perseverance to a point and like doing it for us and like supporting the team that we’ve created and so like, the menu is like a balance of things because this is still a business, right? So, like, we want to have things there that kind of draw people in who are walking on the street because we have so much like street frontage and people, this is a very busy area on 14th. Then the other half of it is like to balance the ego, right? So you want to, like, be able to balance your talents with things that, like, still make it approachable enough that people can come in and have dinner and feel comfortable? And not every dish is one that people have never heard of anything like that, though. That’s great but only suits a small percentage of restaurants. So like for this, it was just kind of like how can we create a menu that suits like the public but also ourselves and satiating?
And I think at the end of the day, the idea was just to cook really good food. Yeah, the balance is an idea, but also just like taste, and we taste everything way. Try some dishes so many times before they hit the menu. But like we try and have like a really good menu balance. We always kind of talk about that here. Do we have enough vegetable options? Do we have enough dishes that’s like—we’re French cooks, like I’m a French cook. I’ve trained in a lot of French kitchens, so like that’s an inspiration, the inspiration behind a lot of what we do, when you have grassfed beef, is there dry-aged quails, all of that stuff, which is kind of like that’s appealing to me and we will never be a like a vegan or vegetarian restaurant ever, right? Because it just would be like too far off the path of like who I am, as a person and a cook. But for creating the menu, it’s just always been about finding that balance and then kind of slowly as we’ve seen the trust of our peers and the public for dining, we’ve got we’ve gotten more and more adventurous, if you will, with the flavor combinations, introducing fermentation, just random things like that. And even this last like what? Ten days ago, we decided to introduce a small tasting menu to the restaurant like our offering of—it’s a six-course in total tasting menu here for $64. I mean, it’s a very like at the end of the day, I always wanted to be a place where, like, don’t it’s not ‘Oh, it’s an anniversary spot,’ like it could just be like an everyday dining spot, where people can have a good time, have fun, be social and like hang out, be educated while enjoying good wine and, like just eat food that, like, feels satiating not only to like, make you full, but to your mind as well.
[00:05:48] Laura D’Alessandro Yeah, totally. So besides the food and creating sort of more of a relaxed atmosphere, what else goes into the level of service you provide, right and just the whole experience?
[00:06:03] Ryan Ratino 2018 was like our first full year of service, and then with the star, it created like an influx, like at the last quarter of the year, that was very aggressive in business levels. So we were like learning how to, like keep up and kind of work with what we had. And then now we’ve started to develop into like a more mature restaurant, if you will, with staffing and service. Piece in everything that we now know, like our capabilities of, like business levels, and then it’s like attention to detail. So birthdays, anniversaries, congrats like a celebratory events, even girls night out like everyone lets us know, right? Like on the reservation system. It’s kind of, ‘This is what we’re doing,’ and we make it like a point to just acknowledge everything. It’s a girl’s night out, like maybe you don’t get out often. Maybe you have three kids and even story. We’re dropping like, you know, champagne at the start of dinner and just making sure that everybody that at least is celebrating something like, feels some sort of special at the time that they’re here. And then from there. It’s kind of like the service aspect has been huge, with the addition of like Will at the bar, and then Lisa in the front of the house who is the general manager and Melissa the bar manager. And they’re just like—Will is very creative from a cocktail dynamic and takes like all of the kitchen waste all of our like fermentation experiments with like, orange peels that we would not like pits that we would throw away and like turns them into cocktails. And just like all of this, like certain pieces become very educational in my opinion, to the diner, which could be a lot of fun, like when you’re dining out and you’re also like experiencing something new. That’s like teaching you about what somebody else is doing, especially if you’re in the industry.
It’s great to go eat at a place like that where you can have, like, such an engaging experience, you know, and then that that goes with the wine programs here, like places approach a lot of like natural wines. But still, like not everyone is natural and, like still respects, like the old world, like great regions of the wine like world and just like overall, like with staff education. And then from that at the table, like talking about everything that we do every step of the way and but not over killing it to where it just feels like you’re getting a spiel all night long, right? We try to like find that balance that you can read people. Not everyone is here for the same reason. So, which is fine, you know, like we’re here for everybody. So yeah, but like the attention to detail has been a big focus for us this year, all the way through. Not just from service and food. And just even, like with the doorway, the windows, the bathrooms —
Laura D’Alessandro Bathrooms are so important.
Ryan Ratino Like every single thing that’s, like, really important. Exactly. Bathrooms. Yeah, right. Like so many people are like taking selfies in our bathroom all the time and like—
[00:08:46] Laura D’Alessandro That’s a very good sign.
[00:08:49] Ryan Ratino Yeah! So it’s like all those little things that, like everything’s like none of the pictures there crooked tonight. You know, we’re just trying to, like, refine ourselves along the way as we kind of keep pushing to do better and introduce more things to the restaurant that make us like that kind of unforgettable experience for the diner.
[00:09:04] Laura D’Alessandro Yeah. So you mentioned that you sort of have to read the guests to see sort of how much they’re willing to learn from the experience. What else goes into… how do you make that part of your training? Or how does the educating the guest piece fit into the puzzle?
[00:09:22] Ryan Ratino Yeah, I think like the staff education, like is the first thing. So we always like we have a pretty, like line up every day to appreciate it and talk about food and beverage. What’s going on, where things are coming from, because the sourcing is a huge thing for us from food, especially and just like how things are raised, how they’re grown. What’s the process of white asparagus? Why’s white asparagus white? What is black garlic? What’s the process? Like all of those things we kind of like, see through and let people know, like where it’s coming from, how it’s done. We educate the staff on that, you know. And then from there they gain confidence, right? I think that’s like what it takes like overtime of people eating, dining here, like having our own team dining here and like the experience of the tasting menu. Then you gain confidence in selling a tasting menu, in providing the proper experience. So, like with all that, like education, that we try and provide like beforehand that before we were open for service, then leads to like confidence building in staff. And then from there, the team is then able to kind of like relay that to the guest and then they use their best judgment. As is like if people want to know are some people. I mean, we do a duck press here. Some people are super, like, engaged, and want to see everything you’re doing and ask a hundred questions. And some people just want the duck, which, hey, that’s okay, you know, as long as you’re enjoying yourself. That’s what we’re here for.
[00:10:46] Laura D’Alessandro Yeah. So was it always a goal for you to have a Michelin star? How do you set out with that goal in mind? What is the strategy?
[00:11:01] Ryan Ratino I think I mean, from when I was in culinary school, they used to, like, make fun of me for just discussing starred restaurants, right? I would always be in school, and the teachers would be like, you know, there’s more out there than Michelin-starred restaurants. And it was like, ‘Not for me,’ you know, like and it was just always like that was my top. I just loved the attention to detail, the focus, the kind of like, I don’t know, like the relentless pursuit of trying to be, like, really good at something, right, Like I was an athlete for, like, through high school and into college and like it feels like good to be a part of, like a team. Always that’s like pushing to, for lack of a better term win, right? You want to be the best at what you’re doing. And I think like I always saw that like starred restaurants and that kind of like hunger for knowledge and like, greatness from their teams and pushing each other to be better. It’s not like a solo—it’s not just Ryan Ratino, you know, there’s the Maru and it’s Brendan and Liz and Tim, and it’s like all of us pushing each other. It’s just, like, really kind of like, grown and evolved and become a better restaurant. That stuff takes like, so long sometimes, right. We’re going to get to here by this time, and then two months later, we’re like, ‘We did it, finally,’ you know, And I think from the beginning, though, I set out to like working like. Wherever I was living, even though if it didn’t always have a Michelin guide or something of that nature, I always wanted to be in the best restaurant, you know, wherever I was at. and tried to seek out like the talent like work for chefs, when I was at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel, my boss used to stage in a lot of starred restaurants. And then our boss of the whole hotel was at the French Laundry for years. And like all of those things, so, like, I sought out that experience because I knew the pedigree of who is going to be like educating me was that level that I wanted. And then I would take all my vacation time and go to New York and stage at wd~50 for every minute— I flew in, went to work, flew out and went back to work at home.
[00:12:59] Laura D’Alessandro Serious dedication.
[00:13:01] Ryan Ratino Yeah, it’s like that time frame of my life I spent, like, trying to get as many places I could, you know. When I moved to New York, I was executive sous at Caviar Russe, Michelin star. And then I would take my days off there and one day a week kind of just like, go around and stage at other, like, starred restaurants in the city. And then, like, I don’t know, I always like—Never once that I have, I mean, I had a lot of staging experiences that were tough, don’t get me wrong, like peeling—I’ll never forget how many edamame I peeled at wd~50 it was my like fifth day there was painstaking back, but, like it was incredible still to, like, be in the presence of, like, all those people pushing to be great and, like, do something special and then, like, you’re just a sponge, right? You’re in there listening, watching, and enga— And then when you’re asked to engage your like fully thrilled to be like a part of what they’re doing, right? And I think like I—Then when we went to open this, it was kind of like, I mean, earning it in 11 months was amazing. Yeah, it was. Yeah, that was the reaction, too, like, I cried like a baby. But, like the I mean, the idea was we wanted to star, you know, and pushing and push the team and kept going and we were relentless. I mean, we worked like the first eight months, I mean, I think maybe longer of this opening, even before the opening, right? Every single day, like we didn’t take days off. We didn’t take a vacation. And so we were, like, almost a year in like, we took, like, a week off for the first time and kind of just like, you know, but I think that helped to contribute to the fact that we were able to do it so quickly because we’re here and watching and constantly like pushing each other and pushing like ourselves to just, like do the best that we possibly could do. And I don’t think in your first year are you like on one hundred percent all the time, no way, right, staff turnover, all of those things. But like being present has a huge impact on kind of what’s going on, and what’s happening in the restaurant, especially in that, like first couple of years, it’s and since we’ve gotten the star we’ve pretty much worked every day since then, too. So, you know, because you want retention now, right? You want retention. People say like, ‘Wow, you earned a star, what do you do now?’ And it’s like, what? This doesn’t mean it’s over. It’s renewed every year. So you want to push and like, be that like, you know, excellent, like that level of excellence, keep it going and constantly like push the new team members to like, help achieve those things and from there. I mean, like, who’s to say there’s how many Michelin stars. There’s, like, fifteen one stars in the city. So that’s the goal next, it’s to be the best one star, right? Like, I mean, you can always, like there’s never like a real ceiling. You can always just keep pushing to be better in your category.
[00:15:48] Laura D’Alessandro Yeah, for sure. I mean, do you take vacation now? It sounds like no.
[00:15:57] Ryan Ratino So no, I’m trying. So in March I’m going to Japan, so that’s great. Yeah. I’m excited for that. Exactly. Yeah, it doesn’t, since September we haven’t really done much to get out of the out of space besides trying to keep up. I mean, that’s what you did. You know, like you sought out to be busy, right? Like not to be, like, quiet, but you’re never like, Oh, we get a break all the time. Like you know?
[00:16:22] Laura D’Alessandro Yeah. Yeah. So how does having partners support you and allow you to do this?
[00:16:31] Ryan Ratino So I think it’s like it’s I mean the biggest, the contribution, right? Like we run the daily service every day but there’s so much more that happens behind that in order to make like service successful. And I think, like for like with Maru, for example, like it allows you to like, if you’re a single owner and this, and you want the whole pie, right? You have to do everything, right, and then you lose the focus of being able to cook and to be a part of your services every night. And because you’re worried about, like, I mean, yeah, you still worry about, like, if bills are being paid, but I don’t have to write the checks because we’ve built that, like, ecosystem around us. That, like kind of if we all stay in our lane, we can be successful. And I think like it takes it takes a lot off your plate. Now, you get to focus on the part that you started doing this for, right? And I think that’s where maybe some people can get lost. You know, it’s like, why did you even want open a restaurant in the first place? Hospitality and cooking and being part of, like, a great experience, right? And if you have to like worry about, I don’t know, like—
[00:17:42] Laura D’Alessandro Anything else!
[00:17:44] Ryan Ratino Any of the millions of things behind the scenes then, like it’s taking away time from the part that, like, made you you and unique as an individual in the first place. And like Maru fields, and carries so much weight of like everything that happens from a PR and communications and marketing standpoint and social media and all of those things that, like now, like I don’t have to be concerned with like Instagram for which is a huge thing right now is stay relevant and to be like having like a solid story on Instagram and telling like you’re portraying who you are to public and like just that, like time slot has allotted us more time to focus on being a better restaurant. I have always like a firm believer in just having a slice. I always say that like, I don’t need the whole pie. I just want to slice. And then we can all be successful together rather than trying to like hoard, be a hoarder. And then all of a sudden you don’t want to, you know, like biggest fears failure, right? But, I mean, I know you have to fail in some aspects in order to be successful. But still, like, kind of like building that ecosystem around us, if you will, helps us with our successes. Yeah. And you have more people to celebrate those successes with.
[00:18:52] Laura D’Alessandro Yes, it’s true. You can have a bigger party so that it’s not just you. So how did how did you two come together as partners? And how do you support each other now?
Maru Valdez We were both working about five-six years ago at Think Food Group. And I think that that was like the first time that we came in contact with each other. But then a current partner of ours re-introduced us. And that’s how we got the conversation started again. And I think to Ryan’s point, about working with partners, I think that that it does contribute to the success in a way that we see each other as a family. And it doesn’t mean that we agree with each other all the time, but we’re super respectful of each other’s thoughts and opinions. And we just keep learning from each other, right? So, for example, with Ryan, I see him as a mentor. You know, like when people talk about a mentor, they think about this older 90-year-old guy, you know? But to me, he he’s like 14 years younger than me, and I still look up to him so much because he is a great leader. He’s always supporting the staff and always making sure that we all have what we need to do a good job. He’s always setting us up for success, so and that to me it just it has no price, right? So it goes both ways. You know, like you work well as a community. But then you have a great leader that, you know, is spearheading the whole machinery behind the restaurant. But yea but I think that, yeah, just constant communication too as well. I think I talked more to you than I do to my husband, I call him like two, three times a day. So we’re always like updating each other on stuff. And so I think that also contributes to a solid relationship and taking care of the business and each other.
Laura D’Alessandro And then, with your sort of slice of the pie, so to speak, you bring your marketing background. How do you think that has impacted the restaurant’s success?
Ryan Ratino Big.Maru Valdez Good question. I remember at the beginning when we started just thinking about the concept and he wasn’t too sure about public relations. And he’s like but, like people will just hear, you know, and they’ll come, and it’s like, Yes, they will. But they’ll hear more, you know, reach out to the key audiences and the right outlets. And it didn’t take me too much to convince him.
[00:21:49] Ryan Ratino Yeah, it’s like when you’re a cook, like as a chef, if you will, you’re a cook right and you think about cooking, and cooking, and cooking, and cooking, and you see these restaurants that have succeeded that are like in the middle of nowhere. So if you just do something, like awesome all the time or try to be like as great as you can be all the time in pursuit of like, perfection people will come. But then you, like, surely realize that like that nowadays in the competition set, that’s present and everything. That’s just not enough. Right?
[00:22:20] Maru Valdez Yes. Oh, yeah. Like the competitive landscape, particularly in D.C. I can’t keep track of all those restaurant openings. I think that you have to be on top of your marketing and communications strategies to make sure that you know you’re carrying on your message and making sure that, you know, people notice you.
[00:22:40] Ryan Ratino Yeah, we’ve introduced, like so many things to the restaurant, like Zero Foodprint, for example, that, like, if I would have had to go ahead and, like, pursue that on my own, it probably would still be the because I’m like running the restaurant and cooking and every night and service, then trying to, like, set up these other things that, like, represent who we are like with Maru able to like kind of take charge of those things too. And like really like feeling we’ve been able to, like, kind of, like, grow as a restaurant and, like, introduced, like, more things that we like our vision, right? Like for the environment and all of those things, they happen quicker and like are like done right, if you will, because you have somebody who’s like, dedicated their times making sure, like we’re set up successfully.
[00:23:24] Laura D’Alessandro Yeah, Yeah. Totally it’s a whole team effort. Speaking of teams, what else goes into training your team? And how do you do that in a way that it leads to an environment where everyone feels supported?
[00:23:46] Ryan Ratino I think like the biggest, like if you will like nowadays, the pool of talent like is is there but it’s difficult because there’s so many restaurants, right? So, like the quality and like of amount of like cooks and people available for restaurants is becoming like, more and more sparse. Like when you’re providing an environment of like, I don’t want to say, it’s not like so much nurturing, but you’re like incubating knowledge if you will and like you have this space, where you’re constantly, like, never complacent and trying to evolve yourself as a as a leadership team, then, like everybody on the team that, like fills in their roles, is constantly learning, too. ‘Cause if they come to work for you in seeking knowledge and then you’re never complacent with where you’re at with your knowledge, then they’re constantly able to evolve, which then leads to the longevity, less turn over all of those things that kind of are hard in this business, for sure. So, like for us, that’s one thing that we we never stop seeking, like new things and new ideas and reading. And I mean the age of, you can learn so much from even like Instagram nowadays, right? Like watching what’s going on at noma and Faviken and Kadeau. And like all these restaurants all over Scandinavia, for example, or even San Francisco like who’s doing what, like Laurent Gras is back in the food scene right like that took? How many years? But, like now, like I feel like just watching what’s happening at Saison you could learn so much from like a legend coming back into the kitchen, right and like. Then you pool those ideas with your own like creative, like mind set, and then you come up with something new, and then your team is just constantly evolving and constantly learning. And we’re able to then, like even from a front of the house perspective, right? People who do this for a career like they don’t want to, not, I don’t want to say they don’t want to be, but like a lot of people want to be in a place where they can keep—stagnant like is what kills you is like a restaurant and then, like, kills your talent pool as well in the restaurant. So there’s nowhere for them to evolve and grow. And the more and more we keep trying to like, evolves the restaurant in ourselves in knowledge were able to then, like keep like the training is almost like, inherently happening, right? Because, like, we’re constantly learning something new as ourselves. And then they’re there with us as a team to support and then in turn they’re learning something new as well. So, like there’s a difference between, I guess, like training and educating, as you work here and then, like, on-boarding, right? Like coming into this from the outside and working on your first day and learning like people, it’s gonna be like we have a 380-square-foot kitchen that does like 190 covers on Fridays and Saturdays, right? So it’s like a shock. People Holy, you know, like last Saturday, we sold 1080 items out of this one space. It was insane. So it’s like that is a different set of like training, if you will, then like the ongoing training that’s happening for ourselves, as it is, just like cooks that want to keep evolving. And then everybody else that’s part of the team just inherently learns from that. I think so, it’s been great, like we definitely have when people see you working hard like I think that’s one thing we’ve always had in our favor is we have no lack of effort here. From a, from a leadership standpoint, when people see you working hard in committing time and committing effort in part of your life to theirs in their career, then they’re willing to, like, give you something back. Like right now, the strongest team by far that we’ve ever had, and obviously the star helps with that hiring, people coming from other restaurants. But like it’s the most like, dedicated and like kind—key word—kind, right there. Like kitchens can’t, aren’t always kind, if you will, but I like the most dedicated and kind like staff that I’ve ever had the privileged definitely to work with, for sure. So it’s been it makes it that much easier for you, right? As a leader, to be a part of a group like that and good hiring, right? I saw that article recently by Boca and they were like, good hiring, right like that Eater article that came out in Chicago is like, you know, you try and field as much as you can in order to make the right decisions. And then when you do like, it can pay off immensely with the right, you know, and kind, it’s like we’ve been talking about. It’s insane, but we have definitely have, like kind of like most disciplined and dedicated staff have ever seen in a kitchen before period like, no arguments, no backhanded like compliments. Now it’s just like, What do you need? We’re here for, like, the one team, one dream cliché. But like, we are like, you know, everyone wants to just be a part of, like, something special. So we’re trying to just creating that.
[00:28:22] Laura D’Alessandro Yeah, it sounds like you really sort of set the stage for that and have led the way for that. But do you also feel like kitchen culture overall is just changing?
[00:28:35] Ryan Ratino For sure. Yeah. I mean, I’ve worked in places where, like, gearedons are thrown at across the kitchen and china’s broken in your face and all of those things I mean, and like, physical contact that you know what I mean, everything that happens and that’s like that. I’m only 28 years old, and even now that’s like old school. That was, like, 8 years ago. You know, it’s not like 35 years ago, 8 years ago. So I mean, yeah, kitchen cultures changing immensely. And I feel like with there’s always a time and place for discipline and how you but you also have to realize that like everyone still human, right and deserves respect. And with that, I think that’s the biggest part of the culture change. Like people are seeing that while disciplining and being diligent with, like your work and your efforts and focused you’re but also being respectful to your team like them, they’re in turn like respectful to you. They stay longer like a lot of people I know would go work for, like, the meanest, angriest but best cook. But they would only be like, ‘All right, I’m going here for six months.’ They like amp themselves up for that, like six months, you know, because they know it’s going to be tortured, and it’s like you don’t have to if you don’t carry that environment you could still be a great cook without , you know, I don’t want to curse but being—
Laura D’Alessandro The attitude.
Ryan Ratino Yeah exactly like, you know, like from there then, like, you get more from your team, they push harder, they give you more effort. They give you more of their time and, like, effort and constant like dedication to doing things the way that you want him done rather than like anything. And there’s nothing in spite anymore. There’s nothing. There’s no like feeling of, like, disrespect or doing something because you did you did them wrong. You know, you don’t have to deal with that kind of, like poor kitchen culture as much, you know, there’s still out there, you know, it’s it’s. But I mean, even my to this day, I would still go stage in one of those kitchens to see. Like, you know, it’s an educational thing. You got to see. Like what? What? Is it worth it for you? What can you get out of it? You know, at the same time, it’s definitely going away quickly.
[00:30:38] Laura D’Alessandro Yeah. So you’re 28. That’s like pretty amazing that you are where you are. Did you see yourself here at, at just some point near life for where you just like—
[00:30:53] Ryan Ratino Yeah, I never, I’m not one for, like, timelines really? Like, I don’t set like, oh, but I mean like I have goals, right? Like I always have goals, but I never like, you know, by 30 I need to be an entrepreneur, by this age, you need to be married, like none of that kind of like stuff. Like I never, I did have goals and like I was. I mean, I thought by 30 if I could being an entrepreneur, I would be, like, happy right as an individual of my career, like with my trajectory of if you will. And then we just happened. I mean, there’s a little bit of there’s luck involved in all of it, right? Timing, luck. All plays into everyone’s like path. If you, however, you wanna put that, but, you know, and it just happened to work out, right? And then, I mean, if we’re gonna have this opportunity, we opened and I was 27, right? Yeah. Yeah. 27. So, like we opened. And if you’re going to have that opportunity in your hands at 27, it’s like, well, let’s not try and let go of it. And just like, run and push, push, push, kind of just try and get the most out of it. And I always wanted to earn a star like I said, you know, that it happened so quickly is amazing, you know? But now it’s like, what else can we do? You know, I don’t know. I just keep pushing. And now hopefully we open another restaurant that can earn a star—or two!
[00:32:13] Laura D’Alessandro Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about what’s next for you. So you’re opening another space?
[00:32:19] Ryan Ratino Yeah. So in the same building here, we’ll be upstairs. We’re going to do it’s ah one floor, right. So, second floor. In the front half, you kind of enter into this very like, industry bar style where you can just really like this side of town, in my opinion, you know where do the cooks go after work? You know, a lot of go to H street. They go out to like, Copycat or down to like Service Bar. It’s like, up here we can do something that’s like appealing, serving like great curated like food and cocktails late. You know that and like all the things that I love to eat, but like wouldn’t necessarily serve in the restaurant, you know? And I think that’s like appealing to people like I love tater tots and caviar. So, like, let’s do it right and like not make it two hundred dollars. Forty dollars, right? And then like I love hot dogs. So we’re going to make, like our own, like cured and smoked hot dog for that space, the bar side up there. But then contained inside of there we’re going to have a small room that seats 18 to 20 and wrapped around the kitchen counter seating where we’re cooking like a 10 to 13 course progressive tasting menu of like all of the things that with Bresca, it’s an amazing opportunity to try new things, but you could work on a project for a year and sell it all in one night, right? So up there, we’re going to be open Wednesday through Saturday, serving 40 covers, hopefully every all four nights. And that one project and then last you weeks, because that’s 160 covers a week versus a night. And yeah, we have that opportunity like our experiments to go further and try new things and then constantly evolve with that too, you know, and try a lot of new things because you’re only batching them in small quantities and different vinegars. And we are playing a lot with fermentation and miso making and all of those things. So they take time and to just go through it in, like, two nights. It’s it’s like, Oh boy, yeah, there goes six months of patience right, which I have a very lack. So yeah, it’s like yeah, so we’re going for just like a really like great experience where you’re involved in the kitchen the whole time, kind of like our laboratory. We’re experimenting ferments in the jars on the shelves in the wall cookbooks. there just very like, kind of involved all the way through from the guests standpoint. No, no barriers at all um and then also, it creates a really nice dynamic for the kitchen culture, if you will, with four nights a week, you know off on Sundays and Monday. Sorry. And then there our service team is going to be very limited in that back space is only going to be like whoever’s managing the the floor and then a somm. So then you have the kitchen on a tip pool because they’ll be serving and clearing. So it’s a totally different approach from a pay scale from everything that you know. You can work there as a cook and make like what you would consider probably sous chef salary at most places, and work four nights of service, one prep day, two days off guaranteed every week never any lunches or brunches. I mean, like, that’s like the job I always dreamed of finding when I was a cook. So now that we can create that space and try and be like at the forefront of just like great cooking and knowledge and trying to like keep pushing like DC food scene as well as just the United States in general, just like very underrated, that’s for real in the cooking world on constantly, just be like evolving, constantly evolving. I have no idea on in that space, though, and that’s going to create an environment for people hopefully like work for three to five years and feel valued and kind of like, which then creates a very stable restaurant to write. So it’s exciting. I’m very excited about that. Just opportunity, you know, nerd out well on food and really, like, be involved, engaged with the guests right there and kind of just like gauge people’s feelings about new things that we’re doing and all of that, you know.
[00:36:26] Laura D’Alessandro Right like a little bit of a test kitchen atmosphere.
Ryan Ratino Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Laura D’Alessandro And so I’m always so curious about these, like, sort of limited hours modes, limited staffing models. How do you decide that that is a good business move, like it sounds like you’re very confident in it, and I think it’s probably going to do really well. But people are usually really afraid to limit anything. So how did you feel comfortable?
[00:36:48] Ryan Ratino Yeah, I think with that, like, the caveat is that we have the bar. So, like while the restaurant, like the intimate like restaurant side, will only be open four nights a week, the bar’s still there to help support which that’ll be open six days a week. So that’s there to like, help, support whatever. And everyone’s scared, obviously, financially, right? So, like it’s like, how do you maintain the finances? And like a price point, is the one thing like we’re going to keep the price point super reasonable, but enough to where we can support the restaurant and then also then the bar side is there to kind of like a be that, like, you know, it’s open later. It draws in like the industry. And if we can, if you can create a place that’s like supported by the industry, I feel like it, it’ll, it’s a great business move. And just like and I mean everyone is saying these days, like the biggest contributing factor is labor, right? Like labor is what it is. You can easy, easy, subjective, but to control like beverage costs and food costs. But people need a living wage. So now, by providing opportunity for this. The team to be like part of a tip pool, then helps the restaurant kind of like balance. It’s cost a little bit better and also is better for the team, because then they get to make more money than they were just as a regular hourly cook, you know? So yeah, like we think it’s going to work. I mean, it’s starting to pop up more. I would say like, you know, what I want is my buddy’s become friends with, like some of the people at Bastion in Nashville and like one of my good friends is the chef de cuisine there. And I was there this summer and saw how their model work. And it’s always something. I’ve had a business plan for a restaurant like this for, like, six years, even before Bresca and like, it’s just it’s harder to find investors for projects like that. Let’s be really tasting menu projects are more volatile than great full service restaurants. But, yeah, it was like I saw their model and how they did it. It worked really well, works well for them and the way they do it. And it’s great for the team to and I was like, you know, maybe now that we’re starting to earn the confidence of like our peers and like that people in DC we can venture into something like that and, like, make it work for us too, and like um yeah that’s exciting. It’s not like it’s starting to like, over like Momofuku Ko, Bastion, like there are these, like Brooklyn Fare, countertop experiences that are, like, very limited on service aspect. You know, I wouldn’t say that Brooklyn Far is limited on the service aspect there very much involved from three Michelin star aspect. But, like, you know, like where you can, like, create a good business model but also a good model for your team to be like successful and live like a normal, not low-wage life style. So yeah.
[00:39:37] Laura D’Alessandro Yeah and then from a marketing perspective, is that sort of little bit of like exclusivity very appealing to people who want, like a different experience in the restaurant these days?
Maru Valdez Like the marketing for—
[00:39:58] Ryan Ratino For Jonte. Yeah, yeah. Like being that there’s only 160 available reservations for week,
[00:40:03] Maru Valdez And yeah, and I think that for Washingtonians, they are very eclectic crowd and they’re looking for something different like this. And although it’s going to be a tasting menu, I think it’s going to be completely different than the options that we have here. So I think that there are a lot of marketing opportunities, a lot of potential partnerships that we could also explored to promote this. Yeah, we’re very excited about the whole concept.
Laura D’Alessandro Yeah. Yeah. And it’s so interesting that there’s going to be this focus on the bar being an industry bar. Where did that idea spring from?
[00:40:43] Ryan Ratino So we as, like, cooks. If you will ,never get to, like, cook with our friends, go. You know, you rarely get to like, cook with your friends when they’re in their restaurant. You’re in your restaurant. So the idea is to like, a place that you can have, like the community of, like cooks and chefs. And all of them come together at the end of the night and just, like, hang out and, like be in one place, right and share ideas, talk about food like we even now like me with what Adam opened up in in union market The Coconut I love what he’s doing is like inviting so many people to like, share their ideas and like talk and all this in like even since he’s open, that we’ve communicated, like, 20 times more than he did in the last year in like, a literal three week span, you know. And it’s like once you open up that like space where people could come and feel comfortable and just like, engage and talking like share, ideas and things like that, I mean, like, it’s exciting because you don’t get to do that often with them. And that was like my whole thought behind it is just a place where we can hang out and, like, get together as a group and like not travel like across the city.
[00:41:50] Laura D’Alessandro Like in your neighborhood.
[00:41:53] Ryan Ratino Yeah exactly like a little incubator here, exactly in Northwest that we can just, like, have fun with, so and then the other style, too is like with Will being, he’s got a lot of friends in the cocktail world, you know and like being able to do like bar pop ups and cocktail pop ups in the space. Like here we’re like bar restaurant Bresca, one space, no division, right. So, like there will have, the space as to where it’s like, Hey, like so and so’s coming from out of town to do a pop-up upstairs. We’re going to set it up and like you have the spaces to work with, like your friends and like the rest of the community outside of D.C. as well and like really then and then that brings me to D.C. community to them to write. So, like when you do those collaborations, they come here. You get to like, experience with them what they’re doing, and they get to experience what you’re doing. Then the community and the team of, like cooks, bartenders, everything in D.C. then gets to come see what they’re doing, too. So we want to be able to use it as, like that, like that, like incubators space where it’s just like really, like, driven on like that like open social environment.
[00:42:59] Laura D’Alessandro Very cool. I think I have nearly come to the end of my time, I just want to ask you one more question for our readers who probably want to be like you and get a Michelin starred in 11 months. What’s your advice to other restaurateurs? Or maybe what you know what are the biggest lessons you learned just in opening Bresca?
[00:43:21] Ryan Ratino I would, I think, like time commit commitment is a huge factor. Personally, I think that like creating a work-life balance is super important. But I do think like in the first, like 18, 24 months of the restaurant being open, it so volatile, it’s, it’s so many people have never experienced your experience yet. Even now, we’re 18 months old, like literally right now today, and, like so many people have yet to experience, our like experience because there’s so many people here. But you only have sixty chairs right in like kind of being there and being present that beginning time and just really like engaging with your team and trying to create like that environment where your team, like a lot of restaurants like flip their team like three times in the first year, right? And I mean not that we didn’t have any turnover. But like some of these guys have worked. We’ve worked together for years now. Sous chef, four years, Like our new chef, my last chef de cuisine. We’re eight years together working, and he just left to go to L.A. Like building that like, team that, like, environment where they feel like, appreciated and like, everyone feels like they’re part of the vision. It’s not just like yours, your way or the highway, you know. That that kind of like, like using it as an incubator. You know, to like, for everyone’s ideas in listening has been huge for us because, like, it’s evolved us as a restaurant, but I think dedicating time and, like, if you’re dedicating time, everything else comes along with it. Effort, you know, discipline, all of that becomes, like, inherent. So yeah.
Laura D’Alessandro So, just like go all in.
Ryan Ratino Yeah, if you’re going to do it. Especially now. I mean, everyone’s so, a lot of restaurants, right? A lot of restaurants opening everywhere. No matter what city you’re in, I feel like it’s like, man, we’re opening, everywhere you go, we’re opening so many restaurants so rapidly everywhere you go. So it’s like, if you want to like you could be one of, you know, one of the 10 million or one of 400. So in order to be one of 400, you have to definitely dedicate the time in the passion that you have. So that way people can see it come through, yeah.
Laura D’Alessandro Well thank you guys so much, it’s been so great chatting with you.
Maru Valdez No, thank you!
[00:45:37] Laura D’Alessandro That’s it for this month’s episode of Worth Your Salt with FSR magazine. I’m your host, Laura D’Alessandro, thanking you for tuning in with us. We’ll be back next month with another story from behind the scenes in one of America’s top restaurants. In the meantime, you can get more from us at foodnewsfeed.com or find us on Instagram at @FSRmagazine. Cheers!