First-time restaurateur Jordan Stahl says she did plenty of research before jumping into the local hospitality scene last spring. One thing she definitely did not anticipate: how much she would come to rely on Mother Nature.
“I never knew owning a restaurant with a patio would make me such a weather stalker. I have six weather apps on my phone,” Stahl says with a laugh on a sunny afternoon in May.
No wonder: Stahl and her husband Jonathan own Tyber Creek, a Bloomingdale wine bar with a very inviting patio that happens to make up half of the neighborhood restaurant’s seating. This is where locals stop by for stuffed piquillo peppers and other dishes prepared in the wood-fired oven left behind by the building’s previous occupant, Rustik Tavern. Oh yeah, and there’s also lots of rosé.
The rosé on tap at Tyber Creek’s bar is its number one seller out of everything on the menu, both food and drink. “Rosé I think is not going anywhere anytime soon,” Stahl says. Her background is in wine, having worked at a winery while at graduate school in Charlottesville, Virginia, followed by a job at chain retailer Total Wine & More. That’s where she worked alongside Tyber Creek’s general manager, Leah Glantz. Stahl also did a stint at Living Social.
Eater recently caught up with Stahl to talk about D.C.’s wine bar trend, the importance of separating work and home life, and how her love of big data is making her even more excited for Tyber Creek’s second year in business.
What do you think of D.C.’s wine bar trend?
Jordan Stahl: It’s wonderful. When we first opened, we put together this wine list, Leah and I, that a had a lot of wacky stuff on it, stuff that we loved. We were surprised that the neighborhood was like, ‘We want sauvignon blanc, we want cabernet sauvignon.” We had to tone it down a little bit, and build it back up as we developed more trust. They [Tyber Creek’s customers] started to trust our recommendations to try new things.
I think the growing wine bar scene helps that even more. People are getting out there, trying new wines, helping to create more of an educated consumer base on the wine front in D.C. So then when someone comes in and says, “Oh, orange wine, I had one of those at Red Hen or Maxwell or whatever it is. They’re more open to trying something new, which makes it way more fun for us.
A lot of people dream about quitting their jobs and opening a restaurant, and I was wondering if you could talk about the dream of that versus the reality?
JS: It has been a dream for me for a long time, and I think for my husband as well, to own our own restaurant. If I had had my way, probably a little tiny pocket wine bar; for him, a huge restaurant. We met in the middle. I’m not a risk taker by nature — people will probably laugh at that, because a restaurant is a very risky business — and I’m lucky to have a husband and a family that was very supportive and pushed me to get outside of my comfort zone and take the leap.
I don’t think I went into it with too many blinders on. I spent a year working with a couple of restaurants in town to get a little more experience and see what it takes day to day. I bartended a bit. I knew it was going to be extremely hard work.
What surprised you the most this year?
JS: I think what surprised me most about this year is the seasonality of Tyber Creek. The patio is half of our seating, so it’s seeing that difference between our busy season of spring/summer and the winter. Restaurants probably see that all over the city, just because during the winter, people hibernate a little bit. But when half your seating is patio, that gets amplified.
How did the neighborhood accept you?
JS: I live in Petworth. Originally I had looked in Petworth as a location. In retrospect, I’m very glad that I don’t live in the neighborhood where the restaurant is because I can not walk down the street without running into so many regulars. It is wonderful! It’s a heartwarming feeling to walk down in the street and have someone yell out to you and say, “I was in last Tuesday! The Brussel sprouts were amazing.” But at the same time, it’s also really nice to walk my dog in my neighborhood and not have that.
JS: I consider myself a data-driven person, and to have a year of data now, I’m thrilled. In the first year, you’re really throwing darts at the wall and hoping it works out. Even though obviously things change and there are a lot of factors that go into how busy you’re going to be, and what the weather is going to be, what’s going to be popular, at least having one data set to work from, I’m just really excited about that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.