By Alex Gallagher
When Tom Kaufman opened The Living Room at DC Ranch in 2014, he knew his business would be different from other wine bars/restaurants in the Valley.
He decorated his dining room with plush seating, offered myriad wine options, and utilized every inch he could of a kitchen he describes as being smaller than his bathroom.
Yet, Kaufman still felt there was a missing ingredient to elevate The Living Room.
“When I wrote the business plan, I said to myself and the possible investor, ‘I don’t want to be one of 10,000 restaurants in Arizona, and I don’t want to be one of 6 or 7 lounges. I equate this place more to a resort lounge,’” Kaufman recalls. “I’m a wine guy, and I always wanted to do a wine bar that wasn’t cork dorky.
“I wanted it to be more a place to come and hang out that still has great wine options.”
Kaufman was alarmed when he learned of the “restaurant” criteria.
“Arizona has certain criteria for certain liquor licenses. So, to be defined as a restaurant, you have to sell at least 40% food,” he says. “So we were, with all humility, popular and we sold a lot of wine and alcohol, but I wanted to have great food offerings because that’s sustainability in the restaurant business.
“Buyers come and go, but if you have great food, that’s the anchor of a great restaurant.”
In its first year of selling food, it accounted for 39% of the restaurant’s sales, allowing Kaufman to get a six-month extension to surpass state regulations.
The Living Room at DC Ranch cleared the hurdle, but Kaufman still knew there was room for improvement. That was until 2021, when a Hawaii-raised chef who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale reached out to Kaufman’s corporate chef.
In came BJ Dalumpinis, who has worked in restaurants since he was 14.
Dalumpinis quickly impressed Kaufman with his kitchen prowess, and Kaufman decided to double the kitchen size.
He purchased an additional 424 square feet of space from a neighboring business to fit two walk-in coolers for beverages and vegetables. Kaufman also invested in induction burners and reach-in refrigerators for his kitchen.
With top-of-the-line equipment, Kaufman tasked his new chef with devising a menu that would impress customers’ taste buds.
“We worked on (the menu) for about a month, and that month consisted of a lot of tasting, a lot of experimenting and knowing what goes good with what,” Dalumpinis says.
Since revamping the menu, Dalumpinis has seen several an uptick in orders for the heirloom salad, house-made lobster potstickers and prime rib sliders. Fish dishes have become popular with the warmer weather.
“We’re a lounge, so there’s no ticket time. With normal restaurants that have an appetizer, a main course and a dessert, they have a two-hour turn time,” Kaufman says. “Here, I have no idea how long somebody is going to stay. I’ve had come in at 5 p.m. and they’re still here at 12:30 a.m. because it’s a lounge and they’re partying.”
Because of this, Dalumpinis feeds off of the laid-back atmosphere of the establishment and utilizes every second he can to spruce up his dishes.
“It’s fun to work here. You have to keep it light and have fun with what you’re doing; otherwise, you are just going to be miserable,” Dalumpinis says.