It’s common knowledge that a significant portion of new restaurants fold within their first year. Add a shaky economy into the mix, and in 2011 new restaurants have an even steeper climb to success.
But those unfavorable odds haven’t meant a thing to West Street’s Crush Winehouse. In fact, Crush is looking at growth, which includes seeking the help of an architect to expand its bustling kitchen.
Crush Winehouse is celebrating its one-year anniversary of its grand opening by holding a celebratory “Customer Appreciation Day.” It will take place on Sunday, June 5, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. The $10 cost includes all-you-can-eat items. There will be an auction and entertainment.
Part of Crush Winehouse’s success is due to the behind-the-scenes work of Chef Jon Rosa, who has an impressive and lengthy résumé. He began cooking at age eight, and his first job was making pizza dough. He then moved on to complete his education at a prestigious culinary school. After graduating, he interned at a five-star restaurant, a rare opportunity. Despite his young age, he already has 13 years’ of restaurant experience.
Historic Annapolis Patch: When did you decide that you wanted to be a chef?
Chef Jon Rosa: Basically I was forced into the decision. My father died at a young age, and I was an only child. My mom was always working. From age eight, I began watching and babysitting myself, so cooking just came naturally. In sixth grade, on career day, a chef came in and I was like, you know what? I cook at home, I like doing it. I’m pretty sure that’s what I want to do. As soon as I was done with high school I went straight to culinary school and embarked on my culinary voyage.
Historic Annapolis Patch: Where did you go to culinary school?
Rosa: I went to Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Academy in San Francisco.
Historic Annapolis Patch: How would you describe Crush’s first year in business?
Rosa: I’ve lived in California almost my whole life, and I opened a couple different ventures there. And the progression that we saw here at Crush so rapidly is pretty amazing. In the first year we’ve done some things I’m really proud of. I called a couple chefs from the culinary school that I graduated from in ’01 and told them the numbers I’m running with food because it’s kind of astronomical compared to a lot of places. I’m pretty excited about our first year.
Historic Annapolis Patch: That’s really interesting given the economy.
Rosa: Definitely. For a wine bar or any bar, typically you’re going to have to be at half food sales, half wine sales. But from the first eight months, we were running a 70-30 split, food to wine. The chefs from my culinary school were like, “I can’t believe you’re doing that rate of food.” I do about 98 percent of our menu in house; dressings, desserts, everything’s made here. It’s tedious being here working 12 hours a day to do it, but if you love it you love it.
Historic Annapolis Patch: What have you learned while working at Crush?
Rosa: The East Coast palate, I would say. I’m used to a different world of food, and obviously I’m going to showcase my own skills, but at the same time I have to incorporate some Maryland flavors in there. So my biggest thing I’ve learned so far, and I can’t say I’ve learned it completely, but I’m getting a better knowledge of the East Coast palate.
Historic Annapolis Patch: And how is it different from California’s or the West Coast’s palate?
Rosa: People are a little more likely to be risk takers in California. I could put out anything, and anybody will buy it and not be turned off by price, or that it may be a raw item or something they never heard of. They’re just willing to try it.
Here people are a little more set in their ways, and they know what they like. And that’s completely fine. You know, when something’s not broke you don’t fix it. So whether it be trying to do a crabcake exactly the way I’ve tasted them here in Maryland, or I do a brisket with jumbo lump crab on it and with chickpea puree, basically hummus, and a little Old Bay and some lemon. My fiancée is from here, and when she was in California, she asked for Old Bay somewhere. I had no idea what it was. I had already been cooking for six years. The guys at the restaurant we were at were like, “We have no idea what you’re talking about. Sorry, we don’t have it.” So whether it’s something small like Old Bay or mustard in your crabcake, whatever it may be, local flavors.
Historic Annapolis Patch: How do the wine tastes of Annapolitans compare with national tastes or trends?
Rosa: On the wine side, we’re curved toward Italian wines, and a lot of Italian wines sell well. In California, everybody drinks California wine. It’s there, it’s cheaper, more abundant. It was culture shock for me to move here and see the bottles I worked with in California jump $20 or $30 out here. I think Annapolis has a pretty educated palate when it comes to wine. It’s pretty diverse. I can’t say there’s anything we don’t sell. A lot of people like South African wines. With the weather getting warm people are starting to drink whites. They’re spread pretty evenly. Everybody likes a little of everything.
Historic Annapolis Patch: We’re getting close to summer. What does that mean for your menu?
Rosa: We’re seasonally changing to a lot more salads and things of that nature and using more items that are coming into season. We switched the menu up. We did a lot of smaller plates because a lot of our clientele is women. Predominantly, during the weekdays it’s only females. On the weekend it’s date night, so we get a lot of couples. Smaller plates, so they can have the option of having a couple little bites, drinking some white wine, hanging out outside and still feel light. It’s about fresher flavors. We introduced mango, cilantro, heirloom tomatoes, figs just came into season. We definitely keep our menu seasonal. It’s always exciting when the seasons change, something that we don’t have in California.
Historic Annapolis Patch: What does Crush offer that a brewpub or martini bar can’t?
Rosa: We’re the most intimate when it comes to service. It’s a total package. People love us for a reason. There’s nobody here that’s cocky. I genuinely do not believe anybody has ever come in and left unhappy. We’re really willing to go that extra mile for our guests.
We sell little chocolate truffles that we get from XOX in San Francisco. Each is an ounce of chocolate. This table of four ladies wanted me to cut it in four, so I cut it to make them happy. It’s the little things like that that keep people coming back. We try to do anything that we can for our guests. I would think that would be our best attribute.
Historic Annapolis Patch: When you’re at home, what do you cook for yourself?
I just bought a smoker, and the seasonal thing comes into play. Other than that, whatever my fiancée wants. I do a little bit of everything and try to keep it diverse.
Historic Annapolis Patch: Not counting Crush, which restaurant in the world would you eat at?
Rosa: I would really like to go to Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar in Las Vegas. I went to one of his restaurants in San Francisco, and he’s one of the most underrated top chefs. He’s been on the chef shows, but the man is just a mastermind. One time I walked into his restaurant in San Francisco and was told, “Sorry, we have a six-month waitlist.” That restaurant’s menu had a $5,000 burger on it.
Historic Annapolis Patch: What brought you to Annapolis?
Rosa: My fiancée. I was living in California, we met, and I knew it was a little cheaper to live here. So I thought why not try it out? I didn’t come here talking to Bob [the owner] or planning to open a restaurant. It wasn’t my plan: it just ended up happening. It worked out well.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct that the restaurant serves XOX Truffles.