Back in June, Jordan Nova was at home with his dog, sipping Champagne and watching The Chronicles of Narnia when he had an idea. What if he brought a true winter wonderland, with all of its fantastical magic, to the still-balmy California wine country in December?
“That’s how it began,” he says with a laugh. “How do we do something that’s really theatrical but also makes sense and gives people a sense of love for the holidays that we don’t necessarily get in Napa Valley?”
Jordan is the Restaurant Director at 1313 Main, a restaurant and wine bar in Napa. He admits he and his team love doing “over-the-top, ridiculous things,” and that no idea is ever too big or too impractical to tackle. So when he proposed Winter in Wine Country — complete with faux snow, dozens of Christmas trees, a Champagne reception and tasting menu — they didn’t miss a beat.
The event will be held throughout December, with two seatings and no more than 20 guests each night. He’s spending $800 on Christmas trees, $2,000 in fake snow, and $3,000 in tents (and that’s before food and wine). The price for guests is $250 for six courses and wine, with tax and gratuity included — not inexpensive by any means, but for the experience he’s created, Jordan wants guests to walk away feeling like the evening was a bargain.
We asked Jordan how he’s planning a glamorous, extravagant holiday experience at a brand new restaurant — without the typical $600-per-person price tag you see in Napa’s most exclusive spots. Here are his secrets to holiday party success.
Don’t take your first offer
Instead of simply costing wine and food the same way they would normally, adding on all the special touches, and passing the cost on to the guest, Jordan and his team got creative. He challenged Chef Adam Ross and his team of sommeliers to make a $90-per-person food menu happen for $70, and a $65 wine experience happen for $40 — without compromising on quality. That requires additional negotiation, and not settling for whatever figure you see in the price book.
Build relationships with vendors
How? Nurturing strong, ongoing relationships with vendors is key, Jordan says. He created incentives for them, committing to a certain number of cases of Champagne in return for a better price on Bordeaux he could pour by the glass. Same thing with the florist: he got them for $65 a piece (down from $105) by committing to a year’s worth of flowers. Jordan even negotiated on fake snow, which he admits was a first.
“It is absolutely about relationships, as the holidays should be,” he says. “Making it happen is difficult but not unattainable. It just requires a little bit of extra thought.”
Disclose (some of) your secrets up front
An established Michelin-starred restaurant in Napa would write a special-occasion menu with understated descriptions like “cucumber and caviar” or “lobster and its roe,” leaving all the extra flourishes as a surprise. Jordan says 1313 Main had to be more forthcoming to grab people’s attention.
As part of Winter in Wine Country, 1313 Main is offering a personal gift to each guest at the beginning of the meal: a small box containing a black truffle from Alba, which they will use throughout the meal. At the same time that they present the truffle, servers invite guests to exchange gifts themselves — a “Black Truffle Gift Exchange,” as its called on the menu.
Make your marketing dollars count
When it comes to building buzz around the event, Jordan is leading what he calls an “integrated attack,” using traditional PR and email marketing and social media. Interestingly, he’s invested most heavily in the social piece with a savvy Instagram campaign.
He acquired a printer that pulls from photos posted on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter every time someone uses a designated hashtag — in this case, #1313Main or #WinterinWineCountryNapaValley. When someone posts a picture with the hashtag, the printer automatically prints the image, and Jordan will distribute the photos to guests at the end of the evening. The idea is to get people to post about the event as much as possible without explicitly asking them to do so.
“We’re not telling our guests that we want them to Instagram and Facebook; we’re telling them that we’re providing them with a service,” says Jordan. “We want guests who dine in the first weeks of December to get this out there, to make it seem like it’s the place to be.”
Be business friendly
Each ticket to Winter in Wine Country costs $250, with food and wine included. But predictably, the area is full of industry folks who may want to bring their own bottles. To make sure they’re included, 1313 Main is offering a $180 menu excluding wine, and he’s reaching out to all of his winery friends to tell them about it. It’s a great way to spread the word further and to make the event accessible to insiders.
Don’t try to be better, try to be different
We asked Jordan to share his best tips for other restaurants planning big, splashy events around the holidays. He passed on the mantra he and Chef Ross use to guide them in the business:
“We should never try to be better; we always try to be different and be ourselves.”
One-upping competitors in the Napa Valley, he says, is futile. Instead, he focuses on what he and his team are uniquely positioned to bring to the table. For example, when they were stumped on a good happy hour promotion, he turned to his love of Champagne (which is well-known in the industry) and his extensive list of bubbly. Since they couldn’t afford to offer $2 glasses of Champagne, they offered half off their usual Champagne by the glass, which still comes out to $10-15 a pop. Now, he says, “Our happy hour is so successful that we turn people away.”
The bottom line: Isolate what you do well. How can you do it differently from everyone else? Don’t try to chase the crowd, but create something entirely new — and a little bit magical.