Ignite Restaurant Group is a Texas-based company that owns and operates well-known chains such as Joe's Crab Shack, Romano's Macaroni Grill and Brick House Tavern + Tap. It acquired Macaroni Grill in February 2013, taking on 179 units and five domestic franchise locations across 36 states.
Shortly after the acquisition, Macaroni Grill set about revamping the chain's wine list. The company brought on Megan Wiig, a former beverage consultant working in New York City, as the senior manager of beverage innovation. WSD recently sat down with Megan to discuss her strategy for creating the new wine list that debuted last August. See below for a glimpse of our conversation:
Wine & Spirits Daily: Can you give us a brief overview of the type of consumers that come into Macaroni Grill?
Megan Wiig: Our restaurants are in the outskirts of metropolitan areas, somewhat suburban, but there are also some smaller cities like Nashville or Tulsa where Macaroni Grill might be the closest that [residents] can get to authentic Italian food.
Our target audience is typically 30-50 years of age, double-income families and may or may not have traveled to Europe, but definitely appreciate discovering new trends. We try to provide that opportunity for them to explore through food and wine.
WSD: How do you create a wine list for them?
Wiig: I tend to be really focused when I write a wine list. I want it to be extremely relevant to wherever you are. When I travel and go to a restaurant, I want to walk in and have everything make sense. For example, if you were to go to a modern art museum and all they had was Egyptian art,you'd be thrown off. I don't want that to happen to someone.
[Before Ignite bought the chain,] there were some very nice wines on the list. It was eclectic, international - from every country you could imagine making wines. It was confusing and not laid out well, making it hard to understand where to find what I wanted.
I needed to take that all away. I streamlined it by creating simpler categories that had a flow. Number one, that's called a progressive wine list where you start at the beginning and it flows through to the end. It makes sense because the first wines that you read about are the lightest in style, the most easy-drinking, the most neutral. Usually you start with bubbly and then move into still wines. At the end of the list, you get to your heavy-weight wines. And then there's everything in between.
WSD: How did you pick what went on the list?
Wiig: I thought when Ignite bought Macaroni Grill that their intent was to bring Macaroni Grill back to its original inception and to drive home that family-style dining and its true Italian character. So I said, "Why do we have Australian wines? Why do we have New Zealand wines? Why do we have South African wines? It's a distraction. Let's focus on who we are."
I just crossed out all the wines that weren't from Italy or America because, obviously, we're in America and we are Italian-American in that sense.
After that, I want our list be teachable, memorable and serve as an educational tool. We have all of the main wine regions in Italy represented, and there is no competition for any wine on the list either. We have one Valpolicella, one Brunello di Montalcino, one Soave and one Chianti. That way I can really use it as a teaching method.
We did the same thing with American wines. We picked the wines that America is known for doing best, and we picked it from the regions that do it best. I have a great Washington cabernet sauvignon as well as a Washington State riesling because I love the styles coming out of that state.
All the material that we create internally allows our servers to greet Macaroni Grill tables by saying, "We have a progressive wine list, and it offers all of the most famous, classic, iconic wines from Italy and the US."
Stay tuned. Part II of our interview with Megan will be out later this week.
PA DISTILLERS COULD GAIN ABILITY TO SELL DTC
Pennsylvania's Liquor Control Board (PLCB) and Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRCC) are considering allowing small distilleries in the state to ship direct to consumers, reports the Post-Gazette. The agency is looking into the change because of Act 113, which gives the state's small distilleries "the same privileges enjoyed by licensed limited wineries."
There have been a host of changes in Pennsylvania in recent years - with more than a few stemming from Act 113, a rule passed in 2011.The passage of act 113 has resulted in rules allowing distillers to sell their product on site and ship their products directly to licensed bars and restaurants, a rule that began last November.
The IRCC will meet February 27 to decide on the policy change. If they pass it the rule will go to the attorney general for approval. Pending the attorney general's approval, the regulations would take effect as soon as they are published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, the state's weekly list of department rule changes and public notices. PLCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman estimates this could be as soon as mid-April.
THE KANSAS HOUSE COMMERCE COMMITTEE will hold a hearing over the bill (HB2556) that would allow beer, wine and spirits sales in grocery stores and c-stores today, reports the Wichita Business Journal. You may recall, the bill, proposed by a coalition of retailers called Uncork Kansas, proposes to legalize beer sales in grocery and c-stores in 2017, wine in 2020 and spirits in 2024. The bill requires a 10-year license freeze, but Liquor stores would have the option of selling their licenses during the 10-year period.
CORRECTION: Yesterday WSD erroneously reported that Delicato Family Vineyards' new wine brand Belle Ambiance would sell for a srp of $20. In fact, it will retail for approximately $10.
Until tomorrow, Emily
"At the core of criticism, there should always be an intent to assist."
- Sean Minogue
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