Exactly a year ago to the day, former Burritt Room compadres Matthew Meidinger and bartender Kevin Diedrich opened a new concept at Kimpton's Serrano Hotel, called Jasper's Corner Tap. Chef Adam Carpenter had spent the final months at former concept, Ponzu test driving menu items for Jasper's, hitting the target for an American and British restaurant with a great bar. Now that chef, barman and GM are one year older and wiser, it's a good time to look back at the year, including a two-star Bauer review, and one very public, very disturbing Louboutin stiletto heel attack. Eater sat down with the team to hash out the past, and get excited about the future.
How's Jasper's developed over the past year?
Matthew Meidinger: I think we've gained a few identities. Early out of the gate it was the cocktail program taking the majority of the press and developing a chunk of the reputation. We've become a place people in the downtown environment can count on for good drinks and comfort food. We're not intended to be a fancy environment.
How's the clientele?
MM: Locals are by far and away what keep the property moving. It's very self-regulating because during the high compression, big convention periods, it seems like our local crowd takes a few days off and hands the property off to the Hilton, the Serrano and the Clift. And it's like clockwork the day they leave, all the locals come back in. It's a nice mix.
Adam Carpenter: The corner is open and appealing to a lot of people.
Kevin Diedrich: I see people come by that know the name, but don't realize it's on this corner. They walk in because they saw the sign.
How's the reception been with the bar community?
KD: It's awesome. It's a tribute to the bar community and the camaraderie we have. They jump on board and they're 100% supportive, sending us people constantly. I cut my teeth at The [Bourbon &] Branch and so they send people here who start there. Erik Adkins at Slanted Door is always sending people to us. Bar Agricole, Nopa, The Alembic, they send people our way too.
It's fun to do a crawl over here.
KD: Yeah, you've got Comstock Saloon, Rickhouse, Clock Bar, Rye, Bourbon and Branch, Cantina. Bartenders are coming in here for 30 minutes for a quick break.
MM: It's expanding too, the umbrella of the downtown area. I think we're still a couple years away from compression, and there's still plenty to go around for everyone. It's pretty much nightly that someone says I was at Cantina or Tradition and the bartender said to come check it out.
Adam, you were here when the space was Ponzu. I'm interested in your perspective.
AC: We started the project almost four years ago. We're open for 19 hours of serving meals. Before it was breakfast and dinner. Now it's like one continuous flow—like a four hour window we're not open.
How did the concept come about? Were you all involved in its evolution?
AC: It was an idea had been sparked in the company before: that it would be a great corner to have a restaurant that would make everyone happy, that you could walk into and have a meal with your family in the back dining room, or come back for a casual bite with a friend in the bar area, or grab a late night drink on another night. It's morphed tenfold from the original concept.
MM: The first three to six months were a lot of us trying to stick to ideas that had been jotted down on paper a year before it opened. Then we figured out what worked with the people coming in here. Definitely a lot of business tweakings, but we never once had to go back to the drawing board. On the weekend we either have staff here from 5 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. and have guests from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Seven days a week.
How do you cater to so many different types of people?
AC: We focus on what we can do to make guest happy vs. building one item. We do the best we can to help everyone.
MM: I think it comes down to service and attitude. We don't try and be everything to everyone. We set out to do well-made classic American food with British and Scottish nods. To make the best drinks we knew how to make. We tried to put together a fun beer list. Despite the fact that we're in the middle of the city, there's still a huge chunk of the city that doesn't know about us. I think we still have a lot of growing to do.
Tell me about the evolutions.
KD: The draft cocktails were the most famous risk. It came on after we opened. I came on and had an idea of the spirit list. We wanted eight to 12 cocktails, and a small back bar, and it grew to a huge back bar and 18 cocktails.
MM: That was probably the most funny. Being a part of a company this large, we had some relationships and agreements. I really think you did your whole kid in a candy store thing. On the kitchen end a lot of things we thought would be successful have been: the pretzel, burgers.
AC: Yeah I mean we tried 50 different kinds of fish and chips. At Ponzu, we had staff meal of fish and chips for months to dial it in. Now we to 40 or 50 a day, make sure they stay crispy at the bar for 20 minutes. We also go through 400 burgers a week.
KD: Remember the one time you went through 60 fish and chips at one table?
AC: Yeah (laughing), people also come back for grilled cheese, deviled eggs.
MM: At first we didn't think lunch was going to work and now we do a pretty solid crowd. We were a little concerned with how it was going to play out, also with late night because it's a market none of us have spent a lot of time in. But I think we've pretty successful.
KD: At first they sold us on closing at 10 p.m. I was like that sounds cool.
MM: Then we went through the first couple of days and there were still 60 people in here at 11 o'clock at night and we were like scrap that. Now we close somewhere between 12:30 and 2 a.m. seven nights a week.
What's the latest with the whole stiletto attacker thing?
MM: The city is handling it, and we'll see where the chips fall. It's still underway.
Did it impact your business at all?
MM: I think a lot of the people who already knew us had questions. It definitely increased our Twitter followings, but I think it was a lot of people wanting to gossip. I don't know if any of it correlated to business for the restaurant.
Well I'm glad you're all right.
KD: He's not walking around with a heel sticking out of his head.
MM: Whenever it closes, I'll let you know.
How did the critic process go?
MM: The only one we directly knew was happening was Bauer, and you know I mean we just tried to do what we would do with anybody, to make sure he gets a great experience.
AC: He came in within the first three months, kind of standard. I felt his review was nice. He had great things to say. I thought it was very well-written, and I would definitely invite him in to have a burger. He didn't have one on his visit.
He didn't have one?
AC: He had the sliders. He mentioned it online. Keeping people happy day to day is really what makes it all much better.
MM: I don't think any of the critics have been harsh or unfair. I know some restaurants don't always feel that way.
What are most excited about right now?
KD: I change the cocktail menu every three months, rotating seven to eight cocktails. Everyone is always excited for it. People are asking what I'm working on next. Fall and winter are coming on. We have a huge following for the darker spirits. Everyone loves rye, and dark rum, and whiskey in San Francisco.
MM: My favorite part is watching the bar guys geek out with the carbonated bottles. It's fun watching Kevin carbonate the world, you know bottled, carbonated Hanky Pankys.
Are you the only one doing that?
KD: Right now I'm the only one who is doing it to anything on the menu. I had a drink ticket the other month that was like carbonated Manhattan, carbonated Aviation, carbonated Sazerac.
Does it affect the proportions of the cocktail?
KD: I find sugar cocktails you have to watch because the carbonation definitely cuts down on sweetness.
AC: Foodwise we've gone from just grilling our chicken breast to sous vide. It's for our salads.
KD: Best chicken in the city.
AC: We just added a salt cod corn dog. We're doing caramel popcorn for dessert and we throw a little Jasper's tattoo in there for fun, kind of like Cracker Jacks. Our main goal is to have fun on the menu.
What else is on tap?
KD: I actually just took the rest of our Hanky Panky that was on tap and shoved it in a rye barrel. In about two months it'll be our first barrel-aged cocktail, just in time for the fall menu.
You all seem super to work well together. What's the key?
MM: We take everything we do seriously, including having fun. If a new idea doesn't work, at least we have fun screwing around with it, and if it does work we may stumble on something really cool.
· All Jasper's Corner Tap Coverage [~ ESF ~]