I had a chance to sit down with Stephen this week to find out exactly what he has been up to since the show ended and what he is planning for the future. Currently, he has two projects approaching completion, one on each coast. The first is called Tastevin and it is a concept wine boutique aimed at 20-somethings who are increasingly developing a taste for wines, but are put off from seeking out high-quality ones by the old fashioned, pretentious way wine is usually presented. Corks, dusty bottles and wooden crates are not selling points to the under-30 crowd. Stephen is doing away with all the stuffy formality of wine buying and keeping his venture sexy and ultra-modern, with Philippe Starck furniture and beautiful displays of the bottles, appealing to his age group by improving the presentation and accessibility of one of his favorite things: wine.
The shop will be 1,000-square feet and will offer 40-50 boutique wines, none of which will be over $25 per bottle, on a rotating basis. The major selling point is that every wine they offer will be "on tap," thanks to a cutting-edge computerized wine tasting system that allows every buyer to taste up to three different wines before they buy them, ensuring that they get one they like every time. Not only will they be able to taste the wines, but brief, current descriptions of all the wines will be offered via audio wands. The wands will be similar to the audio tours offered in museums, but will be equipped with short descriptions of the wines and their history. This eliminates the need to clutter the space will all kinds of signs and, as many buyers in the target demographic can feel intimidated by the prospect of dealing with a wine expert or someone who will try to upsell them into an expensive bottle they're not interested in. The whole goal is to make wine more modern, more accessible and, given that you can actually try before you buy, much more appealing.
Eventually, Tastevin will become a franchise, with locations in other cities that have high populations of young professionals, but this first location will be in downtown Los Angeles and is scheduled to open this spring.
Forté d'Asprinio is the second upcoming venture, a contemporary Tuscan restaurant that will be located right on the water in Palm Beach County, Florida. The restaurant, like Tastevin, is geared towards a younger generation. The food will have a few more twists to it than the fair at similarly modern Italian restaurants, continuing Stephen's vision of making sure his food appeals to younger consumers with slightly more adventurous palates. The place where this vision is really realized as far as Forté d'Asprinio is concerned is behind the scenes. Not one member of management or the kitchen staff, including his executive chef, will be over the age of 30. By doing this, Stephen is giving other up and coming culinary stars a chance to showcase their talents, while at other restaurants they might be held back simply based on the seniority of older chefs. Basically, he is ensuring that the restaurant is being served by its target audience, as well as serving them.
The opening should be in early to mid summer.
Even after both Tastevin and Forté d'Asprinio have officially opened, Stephen is clearly worth keeping an eye on. He is driven, but very clear-sighted about his vision and the direction in which he wants to see his restaurants and other business ventures go. As it is, he already has some basic plans in place for two entirely new food concepts - FoodReál and EnoBar - both of which are aimed at his young, progressive and food-savvy demographic. Still in the development stage, it will be at least a year until either is underway.
Are we looking at the new face of restaurant development, here? Unfortunately, there is no crystal ball that can say for certain, but it is clear that Stephen Asprinio is worth keeping an eye on – and even without a crystal ball, that is something we can say for sure.