We all have our respective ideas of translating a life-long dream into a reality. For Tracy and Jamie Kennard, this manifested itself in the form of a wine bar. The fashion and lifestyle consultant and graphic designer, gave up a piece of their busy lives in NYC for a more low key gig in the Hudson Valley- the duo still runs their respective businesses in the city, full-time! What started as a justification to move Upstate, transformed into a blooming wine bar and eatery, which is now known for its understated aesthetic with graphic pops of color and a meticulous attention to decorative detail. We caught up with Tracy to get the scoop on Brunette, and everything she learned when it came to opening up a restaurant.
Jamie and Tracy Kennard at Brunette, in Kingston, NY.
Tell us about your foray into the restaurant industry from graphic design. What inspired this?
We weren’t looking to open a bar, specifically. Really, we were looking for a way to justify moving upstate, so we started looking at spaces and toyed with a few different options. For a bit, we thought we were going to open a co-working space with a retail space in front, but we really wanted to do something that we both had equal interest in. Wine bar was not initially at the top of the list – mainly because neither of us had much experience with wine, beyond casual consumption.
Did your design experience help you in opening up Brunette, if so, how?
More than our design experience, I think it was our experience running our own businesses for years that helped us. So much of building and running a business is about organization, realistic expectations (for yourself and others), and the ability to make big decisions that are often based on strategic guesses and hypothetical situations.
Brunette’s menu changes on the daily! Don’t miss Tracy’s witty captions for every single one the natural wines on the menu.
What was the hardest thing about opening a restaurant?
The most difficult thing about opening a restaurant is actually opening! When we were building out the space and getting all our permits and licenses, we thought that was the hard work: the finite tasks with deadlines and rules. Turns out, that was the easy part. Our first week, we looked at each other and realized we were kind of bad at running the front of house. I think it took us about a month before we felt super comfortable behind the bar. Two people running FOH and BOH after never having done either can be pretty overwhelming.
The most rewarding?
Most rewarding is definitely the customers. When someone comes in and notices all the little details and seems to enjoy them as much as you do, it feels really nice. It’s easy to dismiss the little things. To say, “Oh, it’s just soap. Or just water glasses. Or just a pen.” But to us, they are equally important. We sweat the details every day, so it feels good when people notice them.
What advice would you give to someone looking to open a place of their own?
Take things slowly and be realistic about what you can handle. When we first opened, we had about five food items on our menu – mostly things that could be prepared before service and just required a dish, like olives, bar nuts, that sort of thing. We didn’t even offer cheese because we wanted to take our time, to figure out all the other details of service before adding another focus. A year and half in, we have a much more comprehensive food menu. We knew we would get there, but we didn’t want to move too quickly and sacrifice something else in the meantime.
What is one thing you learned about the restaurant industry that surprised you?
Because we didn’t come from the industry, we really didn’t have any specific expectations. But I will say that everyone we’ve met within the industry has been so accepting and generous with their time and advice.
We’ve met some people who own or run some of our favorite wine bars in Brooklyn and they have been so welcoming, or gone out of their way to come and visit us in Kingston. I think at first we felt we were doing this thing out on our own, but now we know there is a network of colleagues we can always reach out to to ask questions, get advice, be inspired.
If you could go back to the beginning of the process and change one thing, what would it be?
There’s not much I would really change. I mean, there are little things – I would make our tiny tables 2 inches larger. There are some things we would have done sooner, if we had ever worked even a day in a kitchen such as; install a magnetic knife rack, a ticket rail, put sauces in squeeze bottles. But all of these things are the things you learn as you go.
What is the most valuable lesson learned throughout the entire process?
Always eat a big breakfast, because you never know when you’re going to be able to eat, again.
Psst! We’re obsessed with Tracy’s knack for pairing wine with music (yep, it’s a thing). Check out a few of her delectable recommendations here!