Home Raise a Glass Brandon Ford, Beverage Director, Hyde Park Restaurant Group

Brandon Ford, Beverage Director, Hyde Park Restaurant Group

When Rick Hauck and Joe Saccone saw a defunct restaurant building on Coventry Road in Cleveland back in the 80s, they had an idea – remodel the building and open a steakhouse. With no extra money to advertise, they relied on word of mouth, and it worked. In 1988, the first Hyde Park Steakhouse opened with 9 more to follow. The New York chophouse atmosphere proved a successful format. Zagat has regaled them as “Ohio’s Top Steakhouse.”

The Hyde Park Restaurant Group now has 18 upscale establishments across the country in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida. In addition to Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse, the company operates Jekyll’s Kitchen, eleven at Hyde Park, ML Tavern and Black Point Prime Steak & Seafood.

Brandon Ford, Corporate Beverage Director, Hyde Park Restaurant Group

We talked with Brandon Ford, Corporate Beverage Director for Hyde Park Restaurant Group about everything from his love of Champagne (something we totally get), to the professor track, to the very successful wine program he has built for the restaurant group.

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    The Mark Wine Group

    Please tell us a little about yourself and how you got to Hyde Park?

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    Brandon Ford

    I’ve been with the company three years. I had been in the hospitality industry for 15 years prior to that. I had done every position front-of-house, ultimately spending the last 10 years in Buffalo, New York as a Beverage Director for a local fine dining group.

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    The Mark Wine Group

    Did you always want to work in the hospitality industry?

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    Brandon Ford

    I actually went to school to be an English professor. I received my master’s degree in Post Modern Literary Theory in 2008.  The economy went south really quick so at that point I made a decision to so something I also loved, and that wouldn’t take an additional seven years more of graduate school. And the other thing I loved was hiring. And here we are.

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    The Mark Wine Group

    Were wine and cocktails part of the Ford family household growing up??

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    Brandon Ford

    Alcohol wasn’t a part of my household.  My dad had maybe a beer if we went out to celebrate something – Miller Lite – in the bottle. So, my first memory of anything other than that is when I started in fine dining and finding wine just utterly fascinating; it was subjective, like literature, but also objective in that there was rules, places, geology, and climate that went into making it. It appealed to me intellectually very early.

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    The Mark Wine Group

    That makes complete sense. Kind of like an “Aha” moment?

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    Brandon Ford

    Exactly. I remember when I won my first wine contest at my first fine dining job and I won a bottle of wine. I took it home and thought it was just the coolest thing. I gave it its own little blanket to protect it from light—I had no concern that it was in the top of the closet getting blasted by the heating vent—and I treated it like it was a bottle of DRC.

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    The Mark Wine Group

    Hahaha. Guessing the whole culinary thing was also an eye-opener?

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    Brandon Ford

    I clearly remember my first “nice” restaurant experience when I graduated high school. It was revelatory.  People ate like this, had this quality of food and drink, and were served by professionals who “knew” things and made you feel special. It was incredible.

ML Tavern is a high-end ‘Gastro-Tavern’ in the Hyde Park Restaurant Group portfolio.
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    The Mark Wine Group

    We would love to hear about what you do for your guests?

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    Brandon Ford

    We only exist for our guests. Our clientele tends to run the gamut from millennial to boomers, from celebrations to corporate outings, and each seem to have different beverage wants and needs. Our younger clientele is more on trend and willing to try new wines and spirits from up-and-coming regions, while our more established clientele may be more interested in established brands and cult wines. So, we do a little bit of all: classics, trends, and under the radar. We take both points of view into account when making our decisions.

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    The Mark Wine Group

    How do you pick your wines?

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    Brandon Ford

    We live by the 75/25 rule: 75% of our beverage list should be accessible and somewhat familiar.  This doesn’t mean that we won’t explore new producers, but maybe the guest is familiar with the region or grape, and vice versa. Twenty-five percent of our list we push the envelope somewhat and try to stay on trend with newer regions, varietals, spirits, or producers.

    I’m always looking for value at every price point.  We blind [taste} every wine without knowing the price, and if we would pay more for the wine than what we’d have to list it for, then it’s a winner for us.  At the same time, we’re looking to have depth in regions our guests expect a great steakhouse to have depth in, especially Napa Cabernet, while at the same time giving our adventurous guests an opportunity to try some new and trending regions. For example, we’ll be pouring an Etna Rosso by the glass with our new program.

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    The Mark Wine Group

    How often do you change your wine list?

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    Brandon Ford

    We redo wine lists holistically, once a year.  We analyze sales, categories, and market segment and then decide where we might be falling short or have an opportunity and then request proposals from our suppliers. We then dig through those asking for samples, and next we blind taste the like categories of wine against one another. When we’re blind tasting we decide what we’d be willing to pay for the wine on a list; if it’s more than what we’d have to charge that wine is a winner and we make a place for it in our program.

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    The Mark Wine Group

    Folks seem to be more adventurous today. How has this affected your wine program?

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    Brandon Ford

    This seems to be a generational thing, but overall yes, much more adventurous.  Sometimes I question whether it’s adventurous or just much more knowledgeable about the beverage world in general, and thus more willing to try the wines that they have read about on blogs, in Wine Spectator, seen on IG, or anything similar.

This ML Tavern plays upon the local polo and hunting traditions of the community, such as the Chagrin Valley Hunt.
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    The Mark Wine Group

    Has this, shall we say wine savvy-ness, affected how you choose wines?

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    Brandon Ford

    It’s certainly become harder. Training and education have become the single most important aspect of our program. We don’t have to have exactly what the guest is looking for from a producer or regional standpoint, but we do need to know analogues and how to get the guest what they’re looking for from a flavor standpoint. This is where knowledge and hospitality come in.

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    The Mark Wine Group

    And with that in mind, how do you prepare your staff?

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    Brandon Ford

    We do weekly educational topics with the entire management teams at the locations once week. We also have a Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory and Certified program that we invite our management team to take part in. We run them through 12 weeks of webinars and quizzes and then if they pass a final exam, we pay for them to take—and hopefully pass—their intro or certified exam.

    We also have trainings which are “from the box” if you will, that our beverage managers can run on site on a monthly basis when they see areas of opportunity: upselling, Old World Wine knowledge, Scotch, etc.

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    The Mark Wine Group

    What percentage of your sales are wine sales?

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    Brandon Ford

    Wine accounts for 52% of beverage sales. Beverage sales are 33% of total sales.

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    The Mark Wine Group

    What prices seem to work best?

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    Brandon Ford

    $75-$125 seems to be the sweet spot.

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    The Mark Wine Group

    How about your sweet spot? What’s your favorite wine and food pairing?

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    Brandon Ford

    Champagne with anything. Literally anything.  Actually, just pour me champagne.

In complete agreement on that one. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

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