McCarthy’s Q&A with Tom Borger Sr.
I had the opportunity to sit down with McCarthy’s partner Tom Borger not long ago and discuss the restaurant and its wine program. What follows is the condensed version of that conversation.
When did the restaurant open?
Tom Borger (TB): The restaurant opened in October of 2009 after spending most of that year planning because we were starting from scratch.
What is the philosophy behind the restaurant?
TB: We were interested in establishing a restaurant that would be comfortable, casual and have a broad appeal in the Elkhart market. We didn’t want to have an exclusively fine dining restaurant but we want to give our clientele a great dining experience, which includes good food, service and ambiance. Of course good wine helps too. We chose an understated, sophisticated pub atmosphere.
Since 2009, have you accomplished your goal?
TB: That will always be our goal. Constant improvement is a carrot that’s always out there, but we have made excellent progress towards that goal. We are now in our fifth full year of operation, but constant improvement takes continued diligence by all of the staff.
What type of cuisine does the restaurant feature?
TB: It’s a good question. We wanted to have a broad appeal so I’d have to say whatever you find on our menu is first and foremost American, but we proudly have a special selection of Irish fare. We wanted people to feel comfortable. We serve seafood, steaks, sandwiches, salads and some pasta. Another thing that we are known for: we have a lot of specials.
Are there any signature dishes?
TB: I don’t think we can say there is one signature dish. If you ask our regulars, you will get a variety of answers. Our rack of lamb, homemade corned beef, special lake perch and burgers are all very popular. We have a varied menu, but just as importantly we try to stay fresh and seasonal by providing specials nightly. The popular specials often find their way onto the menu as we evaluate customer satisfaction.
Is the menu seasonal?
TB: We change the menu at least twice a year. Then there may be other times where we decide that there’s good availability of a product and put that on the menu. Again the specials really help keep us fresh throughout the year so the menu doesn’t have a chance to get stale; people know they can look to some creative dishes.
Is wine a primary component of the restaurant?
TB: Wine is very important to our restaurant. We had a rather pedestrian wine list when we opened, quite admittedly. We decided that we really needed to improve this area and it has become exponentially better both in quality and in variety so we can better pair the food and wine together. The payoff is evidenced by a healthy increase in wine sales.
What is the philosophy behind the wine list?
TB: We have found, both in wines by the glass and wines by the bottle, that our customers are requiring more and more complex and sophisticated wines. We are very lucky to have Carl and the Tiedemann Wines group helping us because the wines that they handle have already been vetted. Carl understands what our menu is about and brings us very good wines to pair with our food.
Are the wines on the wine list selected to compliment the food?
TB: The wines are selected from several criteria. Food is certainly important, but it’s also important to give people a variety because everyone’s palate is different. The old rules of thumb just do not hold anymore, so we are really trying to match our wines to our clientele. I’d like to think that we give them good wine options.
How often does the wine list change? What is the determining factor for change?
TB: Typically, the wine list changes twice a year. Some of that is driven by availability as vintages run out and we have to look at replacements. Sometimes we are adding completely new wines we have discovered.
When the menu changes, does the wine list change as well?
TB: The wine list changes at the same time the menu does. I cannot say they change on the very same day, but it’s within the same month. We consider the menu to be our foundation and work from there based on what people like. We look at our sale history and we take off things that aren’t selling and we feature the items that people request and are very popular.
How does the restaurant approach wine training for the staff?
TB: Wine training for the staff is very important yet very hard to accomplish. We really rely on the willingness of the distributors to help us train the staff. In that regard, Carl has been particularly helpful with his people coming in and teaching the staff, which of course helps them to advise the customers. We always have to work on training as staff turns over for a variety of reasons, but it’s very important in aiding our clients to enjoy a complete and satisfying dining experience. That is why we believe in describing the characteristics of the wines on the menu.
Does the staff taste all of the wines?
TB: Pretty much. We want the staff to be as familiar as possible with the wines so we encourage them to taste all the wines that we serve.
What role does price play in the selecting of the wines for the wine list?
TB: It’s an important question because there are invisible ceilings for customers who are paying retail for wine; but we feel the experience of accompanying the wine to the food is well worth the effort. We have tried to expand our wine list so that we can appeal to people’s sensitivities to what they are spending. One lesson we learned was when we expanded our old world wines. We reached beyond our customers’ price point for higher-end French wines. Now we are recalibrating to offer good wines at more comfortable pricing. Again, Carl is a valuable resource to help us meet our goals. We have a menu that allows our clientele to get sandwiches and inexpensive meals in the evening or they can get a very fine steak. The wine has to speak to their intentions. It’s interesting and I saw it just the other day. Someone came in and ordered a burger at the bar and a bottle of the Tiedemann Red wine, which is one of our better wines. So it’s not price to price; it’s those desires of our customers that we want to give them every chance to have the best dining experience possible.
It can be a real challenge for a restaurant to develop and manage a wine program. From personal experience, I know that McCarthy’s puts a good deal of effort into managing and maintaining its wine list for your enjoyment.
As always I appreciate your continued support of our wine blog and encourage you to share it with friends and family. Your comments on this blog or on any other topics are welcome below.
Until next Thursday,