Welcome back to One Year In, a feature in which Eater chats with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.
It’s been one year since the Snug settled into its large, handsome space at the edge of Fillmore Street’s upper retail corridor. And despite the occasional hiccup — an exploding keg, or losing power during an extremely busy night of service last week — first-time bar owners Jacob Racusin, Zack Schwab, Shane Matthews, and Brian Shin couldn’t have hoped for a better start. Put simply: It’s a hit.
From the jump, the Snug has attracted a lively crowd from the neighborhood (and far beyond) on the promise of elegant bar food from Shin (Benu, In Situ), great cocktails from Racusin (the Alembic), and quality beer selected by Schwab and Matthews (the Monk’s Kettle). The crowd volume has been strong and steady, with a healthy mix of regulars and newcomers. Schwab even met his now-girlfriend at the bar, so top that.
To reflect on a very busy — but never easy — first year in business, the Snug team recently sat down at the bar for a chat.
On the neighborhood
Schwab: When we were first pitching this spot to investors, some folks said, you’re too far up [Fillmore], we’re sorry. That was scary. Now we feel like that was completely wrong.
Matthews: I don’t know if the neighborhood’s changed — maybe what’s changed is we’ve been catching up with who lives here, to reflect the tastes of the neighborhood...
On the crowd
Matthews: I think it’s the crowd we’d hoped for: It’s super balanced — there’s younger more affluent people, but across the week, we’ll see everybody, young kids, young families, on Sundays some older people you’ll see come in… everybody who lives in this neighborhood, whatever age you are, at some time in the week, you maybe find a time to come in.
Schwab: When we first opened you could tell there was a crowd that was the foodies — like, this is the new hot spot… and then you have those dishes that maybe are hitting with those folks, but your bread and butter is always gonna be the neighborhood, and at a certain point, we need to cater to the people who are gonna sustain this business, versus getting too caught up in, “is this is Instagrammable?” I think everyone is trying to strike that balance.
On the food and beverage
Shin: There was definitely a period where I had to reformat the [food] menu a bit… there was a lot of stuff we opened with that had a lot of labor involved. The hot dog [made from trotter] was a lot of work. [Despite food media acclaim, it’s been nixed]. Some diners weren’t necessarily as adventurous. At a certain point we took off the house made spam... but the naan has been a top seller.
Matthews: Certain nights, we became really popular date spot, and it was a little awkward to be chewing on this exploding hot dog on a date.
Racusin: We were definitely a lot busier than we originally thought, which changed what I thought the cocktails were going to be — but it’s really settled into a good place. It went from, in the very beginning, I was talking about doing a 100 cocktail book, but now I know that’s not what I want this place to be, and we’ve focused on a much smaller list, figuring out how to make [that one cocktail] 200 times a night, quickly. Now we’re kinda in our groove.
Schwab: We know as the owners that [the Prickly Pear cocktail, with mezcal, amaro, nopales, prickly pear, habanero, lime] is the best-selling drink, but sometimes you have guests that say, “this is the worst cocktail I’ve ever had”. Wow. That’s a bold way to say you don’t like something. You can’t please everybody. It’s all subjective. In your head, you think, “if you knew this were the top seller…”
On finding balance together
Schwab: It’s so crazy how it’s smoothed out. Every night in the middle of dinner for the first few weeks, we were down in the basement doing [napkin and silverware] roll-ups, because we were just turning tables so much faster than we expected. All those little things we look back on now, and think, that was insane. At 8 p.m. all the owners downstairs in the basement doing roll ups? Now we wonder, were we that much busier, or were we just not that smoothed out? And it’s a combination of both, there are nights now we’re as busy as we ever were, and it’s no problem.
Shin: We had never actually worked together, so it was a bit of a learning curve.
Racusin: There’ve been arguments, but that’s why the team’s so good. If we’re not fighting, it shows we don’t care.
Schwab: These chef-owners, that are all by themselves, it’s madness.
Matthews: Every decision we make is very well thought out together... even if it’s completely wrong.