When Tom Kaufman opened The Living Room at DC Ranch in 2014, he knew he wanted his business to stand out from other Valley wine bars and restaurants.
He decked out his dining room with plush chairs, offered countless wine options, and exploited every inch of a kitchen that he describes as smaller than his bathroom.
However, Kaufman still felt there was an element missing to elevate The Living Room from a neighborhood wine lounge into a well-known restaurant.
“When I wrote the business plan, I said to myself and the potential investor, ‘I don’t want to be one of 10,000 restaurants in Arizona and I don’t want to be one of six or seven lounges. Kaufman remembers this place for more than just the resort’s lobby.
“I am a wine man and have always wanted to do a wine bar that wasn’t Cork Dorky. I wanted it to be a place to come and hang out that still had great wine options.”
Kaufman also became upset when he learned of statewide standards that an establishment must meet in order to be defined as a restaurant.
“Arizona has certain standards for licensing certain liquors. So, to be defined as a restaurant, you have to sell at least 40% of the food.” “So we were, humbly, famous and sold a lot of wine and alcohol, but I wanted to have great food offerings because that’s the sustainability in the restaurant business. Buyers come and go, but if you have great food that’s the key to a great restaurant.”
In the first year of selling the food, the food accounted for 39% of the restaurant’s sales, allowing Kaufman to get a six-month extension to overcome the hump set by state regulations.
DC Ranch’s living room removed the obstacle but Kaufman still knew there was room for improvement in the kitchen being moved from his kitchen to his tables.
That was until 2021, when a chef who grew up in Hawaii and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale (formerly Scottsdale Culinary Institute) in 2007 reached out to Kauffman’s chef about working at his restaurant.
Came here by BJ Dalumpinis, who has been working in restaurants since he was 14 and has a wealth of skills and knowledge when it comes to cooking different dishes.
Dalumpinis immediately impressed Kaufman with his kitchen ingenuity and Kaufman decided to increase the investment in his kitchen by doubling its size.
He bought an additional 424 square feet of space from a neighboring company to install two coolers he could fill with chilled drinks and fresh vegetables.
Kaufman also invested in induction hobs and access fridges for his kitchen to take his kitchen to the next level.
With the purchase of the best equipment, Kaufman tasked his new chef with creating a new menu that would spice up customers’ tastes.
“We’ve been working on (the menu) for about a month, and that month has been a lot of tasting, a lot of experimenting and figuring out what works and what’s good,” Dalomenis said.
Since revamping the menu, Dalumpinis has seen many tickets print for items like the heirloom salad in The Living Room, homemade lobster making tools, and prime rib sliders.
As the weather begins to warm, Dalumpinis has also noticed diners flock to its fish options.
Dalumpinis has also found a way to take advantage of the relaxed atmosphere of his restaurant and cook each culinary blend to perfection for customers who are patiently waiting for the perfect pairing with their choice of drinks.
“We’re a lounge, so there’s no ticket time. In regular restaurants that serve appetizers, entrées, and desserts and have two hours of time, that can kind of be expected,” Kaufman said. I came at 5pm and they’re still here at 12:30 because it’s a lounge and they’re partying, I’m not looking to turn the tables.”
For this reason, Dalumpinis thrive on the relaxed atmosphere to establish their function and use every second to embellish their dishes to the best of their ability.
“It’s fun working here. You have to keep it light and have fun with what you’re doing, or you’ll be miserable,” said D’Alombinis.
Kaufman also reports that his gamble has paid off because his kitchen now rivals his sales of liquor and has 50% of his sales come from both categories.