Kevin Plaut owns and operates Harry’s Bishop’s Corner in West Hartford, Connecticut. A longtime employee, Kevin and his wife, Anne, bought the restaurant in 2007 after founder Harry Rufleth retired.
Q: Having taken over a long-established restaurant, did you find any issues with long-time customers as they adjusted to the new ownership?
A: The adjustment was a positive one. The business when I took it over was suffering from a lack of management. The owner had fallen sick and wasn’t able to be there as often. He was trusting the business with some younger kids who were letting sales slide and didn’t really have a whole lot of management experience. When my wife and I took it over on a full-time basis, we were able to provide some management and some structure. We put some systems in play and got the staff up to par. We were able to turn things around.
Q: You’ve been considered among the best New Haven-style pizzerias and have won the awards to prove it. Is it diffi cult to maintain such a high standard on a daily basis?
A: It actually has proven not to be so diffi cult. A lot of it comes down to our staff. We treat our staff with respect (and) we give them as much versatility as we can. We have a younger staff of high school and college students as well as some staff that are in their 50s who have a lot of years of experience. We’ve created a culture where the staff really likes being at work, they care about the customers and the job that they’re doing. They’ve created an environment where everybody’s on top of their game and provides the consistency that our customers have come to expect.
Q: You intentionally keep your bottled wine prices low, with some priced at just $10. Does this increase sales?
A: Our highest price bottle is $20 right now, but we feature our $10 bottles. It’s really been a hook for us and a big (part of) our marketing campaign. We want good bottles of wine at reasonable prices. I generally go for about a 100- percent mark-up and I found that it’s been tremendously successful. A lot of people are tired of paying a 300- to 400-percent mark-up on bottles of wine when they know they can go to the package store next door and get it for a lot less. This puts a bottle of wine within reach for dinner.
Q: At this point in the game, what kind of marketing is necessary?
A: We don’t spend a whole lot on traditional marketing such as fl yers or mail-outs or newspapers. We do do some local magazines. I do have a PR person who assists me in a lot of press releases … that have kind of paved the road in getting reviews. Once we’ve gotten people in the door, we’ve found that they’re sticking around. Another big thing we do is fundraising events and anything we can do in crossbusiness promotions.
Q: Now that you’ve had a couple of years to get your feet wet as an owner, do you have any growth plans established?
A: We’re actually looking at plans to expand the current store. There’s opportunity where the space next to us is possibly opening up and we’re looking at adding a wine and beer bar to expand the wine and beer menu. … We’ll maybe add some booths and some tables for large parties. We are a small restaurant and we’re bursting at the seams right now.