When asked how he survived the past year in the restaurant biz, Idaho Falls restauranteur Jay Drahota, owner of 11-year-old concept D’Railed, chuckles and begins: “Gather round, for I have a story to tell.”
The self-taught chef/owner of a thriving concept, serving A-5 Japanese Wagyu steak, Hungarian pork Mangalista, and 26-ounce Maine lobster could not have dreamed up bigger battles to wage. And he does it all from an 1800s Union Pacific railroad building; purchased and converted.
Adding to the nearly impossible odds of surviving the government mandates and restrictions, was a near-fatal motorcycle accident requiring emergency brain surgery.
“How did I survive the year? I tell everyone to gather round, for I have a story to tell,” says Drahota, the self-described “crazy chef” who brings the fight everyday with the loyal support of his staff and diehard customers.
In this week’s Q&A interview with Boxerbrand’s blog Recipe for Success, Drahota discusses the year that tried but failed to break him.
BB: How did you handle the closure and social distancing orders?
JD: Though the governor directed us and other restaurants to shut down last March, we had many things going for us. The governor, who is very supportive of business, allowed us to reopen in the middle of May. It was great timing for us because we have outdoor dining with seating for about 50. Our indoor space seats about 35. And, aside from a couple of spikes in virus reporting, Idaho didn’t really have a super-bad, longterm spike. So these factors were all working in our favor.
BB: How did your customers respond when you were allowed to re-open in May?
JD: As soon as we reopened, we were sold out on our patio. We were getting 30 calls a day looking to make reservations. And everyone began by asking the same question: Is your patio open? The fact that they could dine outside alleviated the fear. And our customers came back immediately.
BB: Your return to the kitchen suffered a sudden, life-altering twist.
JD: I was out riding my Harley Davidson motorcycle and had an accident. The only thing I remember is waking up in the hospital. I had broken bones, deflated lungs, and underwent an operation on the left side of my brain. I had metal plates implanted. It was a very rough experience on that one. After I was discharged to go home, the doctors said I needed to wait before I could go back into the kitchen. So, we closed until September, when we finally reopened for good. And I’m very lucky that all of my employees waited for me and returned after I reopened.
BB: How has inflation presented the next battle?
JD: Right now, price volatility is absolutely crazy! It’s not on any one product. Every week a different product will double or triple in price. Three months ago, it was frier oil. These days it’s your peanut, canola and soy products. What once cost anywhere from $18 to $21 for five gallons jumped to $45 for the same five gallons. And it is becoming scarcer.
Where I’m really affected is the price of beef. It’s at a premium right now. This week, it went up 30 percent, and there’s another 30 percent increase expected soon. Crabmeat has also gone up. I was paying $18 per pound less than one to two years ago. Now it’s up to $34 a pound. The crab and lobster market is the highest price, even adjusted for inflation, then it has been in 45 years.
BB: So how are you factoring inflation into your business operation?
JD: With the beef, we’re just holding to our price and we’re eating the difference at the moment. Our customers have an expectation of the cost and quality, which is why I haven’t gone up on price. We’ve changed the way we look at our profits because of the high inventory costs. We’re no longer operating under the traditional restaurant profit expectations of making three times your investment per entree. There’s no such thing as making three or four times your money anymore. Instead, we’re willing to accept a dollar value on the plate profit. So, for example, if we used to make $25 on a plate, we’re willing to accept that same amount.
BB: Please tell me about D’Railed’s commitment to serving the highest grade of product.
JD: If you look at our menu, you’ll find three kinds of beef. The A-5 Wagyu, which we import from Japan. The Japanese have very strict guidelines for the A-5 Wagyu, even down to the marble. It’s a very exclusive product that I describe this way: If you do a side-by-side comparison between an American cut of beef and the Japanese A-5 Wagyu you can get a great American cut, but the Japanese Wagyu is a life-changing experience! But, in addition, we also serve an American Wagyu, which is amazing, and we have a great partnership with a local rancher who raises amazing beef.
We also carry a Hungarian pork on our menu, which is called a mangaliseta. It’s very marbled and melts in the mouth, and the texture is so dark red it looks like beef. And beyond that, we’re carrying 26-ounce lobster tails straight out of Maine. And we’re importing sea bass from Antarctica and salmon from New Zealand.
BB: We understand you are using Boxerbrand’s Ostrich Baby! Menu cover in Pomegranate red.
JD: Yes! They’re so nice, an amazing product. We have a 4 1/4 by 11 inch wine and bourbon menu, an 8 1/2 by 11 inch dinner menu and a 4 1/2 by 5 1/2 dessert menu. They’re built strong and sturdy, and are virtually bullet proof.
BB: How are you thinking about the future?
JD: Right now it seems like the sun is starting to shine again, and the bottom line is I think we’re going to be OK. We just have to move forward, regardless of the obstacles in front of us. There’s some restaurants who won’t make it through this, but, from my perspective, I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. — D’Railed of Idaho Falls uses Boxerbrand’s Ostrich Baby! in its table presentation. Thank you!