Owner Doug Crowell and his chef, Ryan Angulo, had an insanely great first year at their South Brooklyn American bistro Buttermilk Channel. Insanely great is not how many would describe 2009. So what caused this opening, one of dozens to launch in restaurant-obsessed Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill, to succeed—and so quickly, with Bruni awarding a star just three months into the opening? Luck, locals, fried chicken. Plus Twitter, blogs, brunch and a rock-solid business model. Crowell and Angulo explain.
You opened in November 2009, amid one of the worst economies in history.
Doug Crowell [left]: The week we opened, the headlines were reading something like "the economy is officially dead.”
Holy hell, that must have been terrifying...
Ryan Angulo: I don’t know, it wasn’t at the top of my mind.
DC: We had other things to distract us. Like opening a restaurant. And really, we had always intended to give people a great value. That’s the type of restaurant you want to be during this type of economy.
Thankfully you were instantly embraced by the neighborhood…
RA: They welcomed us with open arms. We have regulars who have been coming since the beginning.
DC: When we opened, the crowd was 100 percent made of people who could point to their apartment.
Why did it work so well?
DC: There are a lot of people around us who were in need of a really good restaurant. We are also a good schlep from the Smith Street restaurants. The location seems like a no-brainer to me. It’s a beautiful neighborhood, but you walk a block, either way, and you fall off the face of the earth.
You once told me that you'd be "happy to take the Frankies spillover." Funny and ironic, because I recently retreated to Frankies after discovering that your brunch wait was over an hour. Do you find yourself sending people over there?
DC: I do, but I warn that there could be a wait there as well. I try to send people to littler-known spots like Luna Rosa down the block. They do wonderful brick-oven pizza.
You were featured in New York Magazine’s robust fried chicken coverage. Is your fried chicken still a popular dish?
DC: It’s the most popular dish. But, if there was to be a backlash, we have a game plan.
DC: Chili. I love it in all forms.
Biggest surprise this year?
RA: The biggest surprise is doing something like 330 covers every Sunday. The most we ever did was on Father’s Day. Over 360. In this little restaurant?
DC: I didn’t expect to get reviewed in the New York Times. When they called to fact-check I was like, really? For the big one? And so soon?
What did you take away from the review?
RA: We have a star, which I am very happy with. People took different things out of the review. Some people thought [Bruni] was being snarky.
DC: Anything bad written about you in the New York Times is so hard to take. But the response to it was really great. People just saw the good things in it.
With Sifton living in the hood, I see you getting a second look.
DC: No way. Maybe in five years. We’ve enjoyed his writing. He seems every positive about restaurants in general. He’s a fun writer to read.
RA: I started reading the reviews again.
Any plans to expand?
DC: We are going to focus on this for a while. If I had a pile of money from a source that didn’t have many strings attached, I would want to open something immediately. Brooklyn is a wonderful place to open a restaurant, but you really have to pick your neighborhood carefully....You don’t want to go to Manhattan. I can imagine operating somebody’s restaurant in Manhattan, but not opening. The investment in Brooklyn is so much lower.
How about opening in Fort Greene, where you live?
DC: You couldn’t name it [Buttermilk Channel], because it’s so specific to this location. But I could think of another nautical-related name. But not in the next year. Unless some weird opportunity came up. I’d love to do a wine bar.
Photo by Jori Klein Jacobs