You may (or may not) look back at it fondly now, but the pandemic made many of us do new things. We learned how to work remotely. We learned how to remote school our kids. We learned how to make sourdough. We learned how not to drive.
The pandemic also forced popular local restaurant Black Iron Bystro and its owner Bryan Mecozzi to shift gears — going from a traditional sit-down concept to a more modern tasting menu approach. Probably unlike your foray into sourdough, this pandemic transition turned out to be a lasting success. In fact, the restaurant recently moved to a new Kenmore location to better suit the new concept.
Like most restaurant owners during the COVID lockdown, Mecozzi struggled. With a relatively small operation in Blasdell, he didn’t have to worry about a massive staff and overhead. However, he still had to earn a living and decide how to move forward with his career. Ultimately, he decided to start the Unknown Dinner Club — a tasting menu concept inside Black Iron Bystro. Dinner had zero advance notice on the menu and Mecozzi played the parts of both chef and server.
Essentially, Mecozzi says he was staging pop-up dinners in his own restaurant.
“I didn’t just do that trial run because I was wondering about a new concept,” he says. “It was a matter of necessity. I know a lot of places closed or struggled because of employment issues. I wanted to start cooking food for people and I had to make some money, but I didn’t have any employees.”
Having operated the restaurant in Blasdell since 2014, Mecozzi had built up a loyal following. The dinner club, he says, amounted to taking a calculated risk. Battle-hardened by packing takeout containers during COVID, Mecozzi knew some of his regulars would be turned off by a tasting menu concept, but he also knew some people would stick with him. He just had to keep putting out food he knew would sell.
“I just didn’t want to rely on anyone else, knowing what I could do on my own,” he says. “But even though I wanted to do my own thing and do it my way, I still wanted to respect what most people walking into a blind dinner would appreciate.”
Needless to say, the dinner club was such a success, Black Iron Bystro has become a tasting menu restaurant. The move up to Kenmore, Mecozzi says, is part of embracing the new format.
“Because I’m going to be running my business on a more intimate scale, I needed to be closer to my home,” he says. “I’m living right around the corner because I no longer have a crew to take inventory and whatnot. On top of that, I wanted to build a space for this new concept.”
Located in the old Hoelscher’s Meats on Delaware Avenue, the new Black Iron Bystro offers limited small-plates and full bar service for walk-in customers, while the seated dining area has a reservation-based tasting menu, with one seating on Wednesdays and Thursdays and two dinner seatings on Fridays and Saturdays. There is no advanced preview of the tasting menus. Accommodations can be made for dietary restrictions. The restaurant will occasionally be hosting wine-pairing and themed dinners, with an email newsletter providing the latest information on those.
In speaking with us, Mecozzi said he appreciates all of the support he’s gotten throughout COVID, and he hopes that support will only grow with the new location.
“It’s not for everybody,” he says, “but I hope everybody will give me a shot.”
Hours at time of publishing (Subject to change): Wednesday to Saturday, 4 p.m. – 10 p.m.
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