During Phase 2 of Delaware’s economic reopening, many restauranteurs hunkered down to weather the coronavirus-related storm. Not Paul Bouchard.
Bouchard is a managing partner with Jamestown Hospitality, which is best known for Tonic Bar & Grille in downtown Wilmington.
Recently, Tonic got a new name, a new look, a fresh menu, additional space and new siblings.
Clearly, Bouchard has been busy.
What’s in a name?
To start, Tonic Bar & Grille, located on Eleventh Street, is now Tonic Seafood & Steak.
“By changing the name, we’re clarifying that, hey, we’re a restaurant but have music — not the other way around,” said Bouchard. “I’ve always felt that the restaurant could drive the bar, but the bar could never drive the restaurant.”
That is particularly true this summer when bar seats were removed due to COVID-19 concerns.
Bouchard knows this restaurant space well. He was previously the manager of Deep Blue Bar & Grill, which opened here in 1998.
Deep Blue spearheaded the city’s dining renaissance. About eight years later, founder and chef Dan Butler shook things up by offering steakhouse dishes along with seafood. It wasn’t such a stretch; Butler owns Brandywine Prime Seafood & Chops at Chadds Ford Inn.
“It was an experiment, really, more than anything,” Bouchard recalled. “I remember one Thursday night we did 50 covers, and I sold 40 steaks. I was like: ‘Maybe there’s something to this!’”
In 2015, Deep Blue faded as Tonic bubbled to the surface.
Setting the stage
Deep Blue was celebrated for its soothing, seaworthy tones, including Mediterranean blue tiles in the restroom and a giant mural of undulating mermaids. It was light and feminine. Tonic took a clubby approach to underscore the steakhouse sensibility.
“In all honesty, I think we came across as a very masculine restaurant,” Bouchard said.
With the help of designer Megan Gorelick, Tonic now sports a balance between the two, with a mix of warm and light woods, sea blue light fixtures and contemporary chandeliers. Bouchard says that Gorelick added “more jewelry and bling.”
Tonic has become known for its alfresco dining. Now folding windows connect the patio to the bar area, creating an open, urban vibe. The establishment still has live music.
On the opposite side of the restaurant, Tonic expanded into neighboring space for events. These flexible private rooms can seat up to 150 guests. The area can also handle overflow from the restaurant, which must adhere to state-imposed capacity restrictions.
The section will continue to serve as culinary classrooms for pastry guru Michele Mitchell and other chefs.
A lively menu
Mitchell, who worked with Tonic to revamp the dessert menu, spent five weeks training the staff, Bouchard said.
On the savory side, Patrick Bradley, the executive chef, increased the number of cuts on the steakhouse menu and increased seafood options.
“Although we have always worked in seasonal ingredients, the attention to them has been heightened,” Bouchard added. “The tomato salad and the white asparagus and fava bean salad are two of my favorites.”
Meanwhile, Jamestown Hospitality purchased the old Moveable Feast on West Fifth Street, which is undergoing extensive renovations. The site will handle the company’s catering division, Juniper by Tonic, as well as grab-and-go items and prepared meals.
As with Moveable Feast, there will be indoor and outdoor seating. The name, Park Café, salutes the nearby Wawaset Park community.
Jamestown Hospitality isn’t limited to Delaware. Tonic handles the food concessions at Braeloch Brewing in Kennett Square.
During the renovations and restrictions, Tonic in Wilmington has offered takeout. But owners came up with another way to boost income.
Juniper by Tonic is offering $2,500 “Pop Up to Knot Up” packages for 25 guests. Couples get everything from the minister to the photographer to the food and entertainment to a Michele Mitchell cake.
Customers include a couple whose venue canceled their wedding with little notice.
“Here I am, picking up a wedding at the last minute,” Bouchard said with a laugh.
But that’s fine with him.
“The reality is my guys are here. I’m already paying rent,” he continues. “If I can add to my sales, it will certainly help.”