Sans is Brooklyn checks some very trendy boxes in the restaurant industry, but that is not the point. There’s no meat or dairy on the menu, but don’t use the v-word. The founding team arrive with Michelin starred pedigree, but this project is cafe, not a fine dining destination. Molecular methods abound, but you won’t find any fried mayo lightning bolts here. And, the venue touts enough sustainability to make a GreenPeace volunteer blush—which is nice, but not the hook. Rather, at its core, Sans is a local cafe that serves as a workshop for both technique and operations.
Chef Champ Jones and sommelier cum operations maestro Daniel Beedle opened the small 26 seat cafe as a limited life (ten month) experiment to serve as a proof of concept of sorts. That goal was evident from the onset.
For starters, Sans opened on a virtually unheard of budget of $20,000. “I wanted to show that I can take something with a small amount of startup money, work on it, make it profitable from that,” Beedle told NP. “If you can do that, it means that you’ve eliminates a lot of areas of mistakes that people spend money on.”
Beedle cited advance costing, planning, and proper book-keeping from square one as key elements. “People will come into something and not know the vendors that they’re going to use; they don’t source that out before they start paying rent. That’s the dumbest thing you can do,” he explained. “Once you have your EIN, you can do all that work before rent begins, go to the showrooms, piece it out. I’ve rarely seen people do that. [Instead,] they try to figure it out on the spot, and there are a ton of redundancies.”
Sans’ exercise in exercise in efficiency only accelerated after the buildout. The tiny staff consists of two people in the kitchen, two people in the front of house, and one prep person who also handles dish.
“We’re utilizing our ability to streamline things and make them very simple, very easy,” said Beedle. “Doing these things takes a lot of very articulate management from how we start our day to how we end our day.”
For example, the drinks program is also designed to fuse quality with efficiency. “We pre-batch the alcohols if they don’t have an astringent or leaching agent to them that would denature over time,” Beedle noted. “For about half of them I can just pour three ounces and then one ounce of the citrus, shake, and done. So, they’re cocktails that you can do with a two person staff.”
The cocktail list also strives to keep an eye on the bottom line. Most of the offerings are well executed, yet straightforward riffs on classics like the Moscow Mule. As Beedle puts it, they’re “not reinventing the wheel.” Syrups and liqueurs are made in house. For base spirits, he opts for standards like Rittenhouse over exotic, aged spirits. The result is an impressive 19% drink cost.
An added benefit is the ability to keep prices low for the consumer. “Here in Brooklyn, they will run you out if it’s too high,” joked the co-owner.
The emphasis on cost also reaps benefits on the sustainability front. “Everything we purchase for the bar, we utilize,” reported Beedle. “The only thing I can’t figure out how to use is the pith of citrus, beyond that I literally utilize every single thing we purchase.”
Even items not purchased for the bar often contribute to the program. For example, the kitchen picks their herbs right at the pass and then the bar staff scoops up the leftovers herbs from the same spot.
“We’re trying not to waste any effort or resources. I’ll take all of the waste [from the herbs] and use them for a tincture,” said the bar chief. “We’ll make sure that they go directly into the alcohol so that there is no oxidation and it just tastes fresh.”
This practice of making their own modifiers in-house yields benefits beyond the ledger sheet. “I find that not only can you control every aspect of the flavor, but you wind up with a better product,” elaborated Beedle. “You also wind up with a staff that’s interested and engaged. One thing about this industry is that if you don’t have a staff that’s interested you lose half the battle. You want people that will stay with you for a while.”
Beedle’s philosophy also filters into Jones kitchen. Although the restaurant is not advertised as vegan, the dishes are entirely devoid of meat and dairy. Instead, showstoppers a black plum terrine and roasted sunchokes with parsnips, cashews, and dandelion pesto render the distinction moot while offering a low food cost, but easily prepped meal.
“The concept is a workshop. It’s the idea of utilizing plants to make a more hedonistic type of experience, to play with the fats, to use concepts that that we’ve experienced on the high end and apply them at a low cost, and also in an arena that it is very rarely used.”
Of course, workshops and costs are fine, but the proof is in the p̶u̶d̶d̶i̶n̶g̶ terrine… and, that terrine is delicious.