TONY CHA, CO-FOUNDER OF BINWISE, HAS WORKED IN RESTAURANTS NEARLY HIS ENTIRE LIFE.
In his youth, most of his free time was spent working in the restaurants that his parents owned in New York City. When it came time to decide on college, he attended Penn State and majored in hotel and restaurant management. Cha ended up in San Francisco where his professional experience spans nearly 15 years managing beverage programs for places like Slanted Door, Rubicon and Michael Mina. On a recent unusually bright mid-August afternoon, over Aperol Spritzes, Cha spoke to The SOMM Journal about how his experience managing beverage programs led to the necessity for a platform like BinWise.
“Managing beverage programs in the old-school fashion, which is still the norm,” Cha explained, “was very challenging. You are managing multiple spread sheets and Word documents that are static, so there’s no data communication between them, which creates plenty of room for human error. That makes it really difficult to have transparency and to know exactly what is happening in your beverage program.”
While working as Head Sommelier at Michael Mina, Cha met Grant Gilligan, the restaurant’s Cellar Master. Gilligan, a part-time developer as well, empathized with Cha’s frustration with the administrative and logistical aspects of running the wine program. Ultimately, he began to write code to explore ways to integrate manual spreadsheets and Word documents on to a cloud-based web platform. They began showing the product to colleagues and solicited their feedback. Soon after, Gilligan founded BinWise. The platform began to pay off immediately; Cha found that the actionable real-time data could help him easily lower costs and increase revenue.
TODAY, BINWISE IS THE ULTIMATE ONE-STOP SHOP—a cloud-based beverage management platform that connects buyers directly to their distributors and streamlines every aspect of running a beverage program, from ordering, receiving, inventory and sales, to on-demand analytics and reporting. BinWise was created by industry veterans, so it is no surprise that it is intuitive. “From the very beginning we were focused on solving the most common problems facing beverage directors, sommeliers and owners and our DNA has not changed,” says President and CEO Isabelle Hong. “We listen to our customers and are continuously evolving. In fact some of our best product features have come from real users providing suggestions and ideas for improvement.”
Daniel Grajewski, Director of Beverage at Mina Group, says, “With just a click, BinWise’s enterprise feature has done a great job of consolidating all the information I need.” Grajewski says that BinWise has created an organized system for smart purchasing, which allows his staff to be more focused on guest experiences and be on the floor rather than being bogged down with administrative tasks.
“We sync with our clients’ POS [point-of-sale] systems,” explained Cha, “so every night, every item that is sold is depleted from inventory.” The biggest ROI comes from BinWise’s ability to deplete products by portion. You can determine your glass pour size to the ounce and every time a sale is made, BinWise depletes that amount from inventory. “We also provide on-demand analytics by product so you can manage your overall cost percentage of your BTG program by managing your product mix.” says Cha.
Sommeliers are the tip of the spear for BinWise and some of our biggest supporters.” — BinWise President and CEO Isabelle Hong
Mauro Cirilli, a 20-year industry veteran, is Beverage Director at Press Club, an expansive, upscale wine bar in the heart of San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. He first heard about BinWise by word of mouth from friends in the industry. “Before BinWise, I had to compile notes, prices, contacts, inventories and in so many different documents in my computer—inevitably there were little mistakes here and there that would have an impact on my bottom line,” admits Cirilli. “With BinWise it’s no longer like that—all my information is organized and easy to reach, keeping me in control of my perpetual inventory on a daily basis and saving me time to better focus on my job.”
Tara Patrick is Lead Sommelier at San Francisco’s two star Michelin and haute cuisine favorite Quince, as well as at Cotogna, a more casual establishment offering rustic Italian cuisine. Patrick manages both restaurants program out of one 4,000-bottle wine cellar and says, “BinWise’s corked bottle feature has made my job a lot easier.”
“Corked bottles appear more often than you might think and trying to follow up with your sales rep on one bottle here and there becomes a bit of nightmare.” says Patrick. With BinWise, that’s no longer an issue. Corked bottles are flagged as “corked” and the system then does the work of following up, by alerting the appropriate sales representative and sending notifications on behalf of the beverage director, so that time and energy can be spent focusing on other things. In Patrick’s case, another benefit is the ability to maintain a constant snapshot of which bottles in her cellar belong to Quince and which belong to Cotogna. Before BinWise, it was a challenge, but now it has become as easy as checking a bar code on a bottle.
According to Hong, “BinWise exists to transform the beverage industry and we are relentlessly focused on bringing value to our customers.” As part of the bundle of services, BinWise also offers staff training and technical support. While BinWise relies on internal expertise from its sommelier co-founder, it is feedback from their customers that allows them to continuously improve and offer best-in-class features for the industry.
Hong says “as industry leaders and influencers, sommeliers are the tip of the spear for BinWise and some of our biggest supporters. When you have customers with as complex programs as these using your platform, you know you’re doing something right.
by Jonathan Cristaldi / photos by Hardy Wilson