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High-steaks Venture

Delaney House Has Continued Growth on the Menu
Peter Rosskothen

Peter Rosskothen says the introduction of Kobe Beef has provided another reason for people to discover a ‘modernized’ Delaney House.

Peter Rosskothen wouldn’t dare use the word ‘easy’ to describe life for himself and other restaurant/banquet facility owners during holiday season. He knows better.

“It’s never easy for anyone in this business,” said Rosskothen, co-owner of both the Delaney House and Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House in Holyoke, with a soft shake of the head. “It’s just too competitive in this market.”

But easier is a term that would probably work, he said, noting that families and businesses have a good reason to go out and treat themselves during the holidays. The basic questions remaining are essentially when? and where?

For the other 46 or so weeks of the year, facilities must often provide the reason, he continued, adding that there are many elements that go into successfully meeting that assignment. Service is one of them, while consistency, an important ingredient in any business but especially with food and events, is certainly another.

But sometimes, people need a little more reason. Which explains why the Delaney House opened the Mick, an Irish pub of sorts named after Delaney House co-owner and chef Michael Corduff, which offers a more relaxed atmosphere. It also explains why the restaurant stages cruiser nights featuring vintage cars on Tuesdays during the summer; packages manicures, massages, and martinis in one Monday night promotion; and recently introduced to the Valley something called Kobe beef.

Considered the finest in the world, it’s from Japanese Wagyu cattle. The cows are given daily massages and regular sake rubdowns, and they’re treated to beer, which stimulates their appetite. For these reasons and more, the meat is tender, flavorful — and expensive; a filet is usually well over $100 in New York, but the Delaney House, the only eatery in the area with Kobe on the menu, will serve one for $59.

That’s still steep for this market, and the Delaney House is almost daring people to try the beef with an ad campaign that focuses on the price and intimates that consumers can’t afford it. ‘You can pay the mortgage next month,’ states one print ad, while another beckons the curious with ‘your daughter’s teeth aren’t that crooked.’

Thus far, the reverse psychology, if one can call it that, is working.

“We added it in August, and we thought we’d get maybe one or two orders a week if we were lucky,” Rosskothen explained. “One week recently we had about 40; one regular customer has come in three times over the past month, and he’s had it every time; it’s really surprised the heck out of me.”

Beyond the cars, shoulder massages, and the beer-fed cows, however, Rosskothen said he has another reason why people should travel down old Route 5 to the Delaney House; they don’t really know it, and should.

“They remember what it used to be like,” he said of the days when it was under the ownership of George Page, and, later, a succession of banks before it eventually closed in late 2003 for a short period. “They think they know us, but they don’t.”

Rare Opportunity

Rosskothen said the introduction of Kobe beef to the menu is a move that runs counter, in some ways, to the broad branding strategy for the Delaney House since Rosskothen, Corduff, and Larry Pereault acquired it in late 2003.

Indeed, the eatery has long been fighting the perception in the marketplace that it’s expensive, or too expensive, he explained. Many marketing initiatives have focused on the conveying the message that the restaurant’s prices are comparable to others in the marketplace, and that it is not as stuffy, or formal, as many believe.

Still, Rosskothen believed the menu lacked what he called a signature, and he thinks he now has one in a Kobe-led lineup of steaks that punctuates a menu with items ranging from Teriyaki Halibut to Cape Cod Chicken.

But what’s on the menu is only part of the equation, said Rosskothen, who described the first 2 and a half years of his Delaney House ownership as a period of ongoing transition, one where he and his partners have gone about trying to change some misperceptions about the restaurant while also making several needed changes in areas where perception was reality.

In short, it’s been a process of modernizing the restaurant, for lack of a better term, with regard to look, feel, and overall experience.

“I think that what we’ve done is taken a restaurant that was very successful but needed to be updated to be up to par with what our customers expect today,” he said, referring to everything from a more-relaxed atmosphere, menu choices, and how food is prepared. “We took a very traditional restaurant and made it made more modern; it was successful then, but the same concepts that worked years ago, wouldn’t work now.”

But ‘modern’ does not mean ‘trendy,’ he continued, noting that the restaurant has been built for the long haul, and to serve a broad range of constituencies and tastes.

Backing up a little, to the fall of 2003, Rosskothen said he and his partners saw in the Delaney House an effective complement to the Log Cabin, one that wouldn’t compete with the highly successful banquet house that made its debut in 1996.

The theory was that the Delaney House, with a dozen meeting/dining rooms of various sizes and a hotel (Country Inn & Suites) next door, would be an attractive venue for many of the smaller events, including weddings, anniversaries, and business functions, that the Log Cabin couldn’t book because there wasn’t room in the hall or on the calendar.

That theory has been proven valid, said Rosskothen, but nothing has been easy (there’s that word again) since the new ownership took over.

First, many of the rooms required extensive and expensive makeovers, he said, adding that the partners’ investment in renovations was much more than anticipated when the property was acquired. Then, there was the matter of changing perceptions about the Delaney House or, in some cases, just conveying the message that the landmark was still open for business.

Flanking Manuever

After a slow first year (actually, the last nine months of 2004), the restaurant recorded a strong 2005, with roughly 15% growth, which is good for the restaurant business, said Rosskothen, adding that the venue is on pace for an even better year in’06.

That would be a significant accomplishment, he continued, noting an overall decline in the industry, especially at the local level, a trend that is reflective of the highly competitive nature of the market, a growing consensus that the region is oversaturated with restaurants, and an overall softening of the hospitality and entertainment market.

“This is a marketplace that’s not growing, and yet the number of choices continues to grow,” he said, adding that, with few exceptions, most restaurants have seen business fall off by 20% to 30% over the past few years.

To thrive in this environment, he said, all eateries, but especially those considered destination venues — the Delaney House, situated between the Northampton and Springfield markets, would definitely fit that description — must reflect current trends in dining while providing more of those reasons for people to leave the house, and not just on weekends.

The two assignments have some overlap, said Rosskothen, noting that the Mick was created out of the old bar/waiting area of the restaurant to provide a more casual (and lower-priced) dining experience — menu items range from Pilgrim Turkey Dinner to fish and chips to Guinness Beef Stew — but also some entertainment options.

Irish bands perform regularly at the Mick, said Rosskothen, who said the performances extend or complement the actual dining experience, providing more reasons to drive to Holyoke.

This was the reasoning behind the cruiser nights, he continued, adding that the events drew several dozen vintage cars — and probably some diners who might otherwise have stayed home on Tuesday night — to the restaurant’s parking lot.

Several other new programs have been introduced, as well, he said, listing a Monday night promotion conducted in conjunction with the Northampton-based day spa Brooks & Butterfield. For $20, patrons can get a manicure, massage, and a martini or glass of wine. The Mick has several promotions on a weekly basis, including a prime rib special that prompted an hour-long wait for seats one recent Wednesday night.

As for that broad modernization process, Rosskothen said a relaxed dress code is just part of a bigger picture. The broad goal is making dining a more personalized, more enjoyable experience.

“It’s about casual dress — not suits and ties, unless that’s what you want,” he said. “But it’s also the idea that you can pick the salad that you want, and that you can order and have foods the way you want them, rather than being told how you want them. It’s about Irish bands, not classical musicians.

“We want to make dining an experience,” he continued, “not a boring event.”

End Cut

Rosskothen, who is in the Delaney House nearly every day, said it’s a rare night when someone doesn’t approach him to relay that he or she hasn’t been in the restaurant for some time — and regrets that it’s been a while.

“I see it all the time, and it’s very gratifying to hear those things,” he said, noting that getting them back in is just the first step. “You want them to keep coming back, and do that you have to make that good first impression; you have to give them a good reason to drive a few extra minutes and come here.”

And that’s why this business isn’t easy, he continued, no matter the time of year.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]

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