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For nearly four years Brent Kroll has completed a near circus act. He developed unique, sometimes quirky, wine lists for Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s (NRG) 20 outlets as its wine director, including the one he’s most known for at Iron Gate. Kroll received a RAMMY award for “Wine Program of the Year” there and also got a nod from StarChefs for being a “Rising Star Wine Director.”
Most companies would develop one wine list and Xerox it across every concept, but not Kroll, whose thirst for the wine world is insatiable (just look at his closet). Kroll’s selections challenged palates with wines from far off regions that also tended to be good values.
Kroll’s time with NRG, also responsible for Hazel, Birch & Barley, and The Partisan, has come to an end. Next stop? A general manager gig at Proof. Though not quite a wine bar, Proof is one of D.C.’s top destinations for vino with its list of 1,200 bottles. Kroll will help promote the list and possibly make some suggestions, but the wine list will remain in the hands of the restaurant’s long time wine director Joe Quinn. This is a tectonic shift for Kroll’s career, but one that makes sense. Kroll is hoping to bone up on operations because he intends to open a wine bar of his own one day in D.C.
“I’ll be thinking of what a restaurant needs to do to survive, how it focuses on marketing, and attracting clientele,” Kroll says. Not to mention the nitty gritty: “Why do we have a certain cable company, a certain menu company, all these little things the guests don’t see that are important for a restaurant’s success.” He says he’ll apply the same zeal. “It’s the same work ethic and creativity, but in this instance, it’s from start to finish, looking at everything.”
Kroll joins the restaurant at an exciting time. Chef Austin Fausett formerly of Trummer’s on Main took the reins as executive chef in May following Haidar Karoum’s departure. “I’m happy to be part of a positive swing,” Kroll says. He’s also feeling warm and fuzzies about joining the company (Fat Baby Inc.) where his close friend, Max Kuller, works as the wine director for Doi Moi. They have quite the wine buddy bromance. “This is a bond and commitment to each other’s aspirations, I don’t know if I have a better friend than him, he’s my son’s godfather.” Kroll is also close to Austin Fausett and his wife, Morgan Fausett, who serves as the director of operations for the whole company. “It feels like family,” he says.
While Proof is seeing an influx of talent, the same can’t be said for NRG, which has lost some of its biggest stars including cocktail man Jeff Faile who is now at Pineapple & Pearls and has not been replaced; Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac who opened her own bakery, Buttercream Bakeshop; and Birch & Barley longtime Chef Kyle Bailey who is at Sixth Engine and gearing up to open The Salt Line with Long Shot Hospitality. Just this week, the group’s director of public relations, Megan Bailey, announced her departure too.
NRG Founder Michael Babin says there’s nothing but good will regarding Kroll’s departure. “I think it’s good,” he says. “Brent’s awesome and is a friend of mine and friend of the company’s. He was looking for a change of pace and a different kind of experience, I think. We love Brent, we love the company he’s going to.” On a replacement, Babin says expect an announcement before too long.
Kroll learned a lot at NRG, especially because the company expanded so rapidly during his tenure. “The biggest thing I’m taking with me that I plan to apply is the openings,” he says. “Going through them and knowing things I like, and things I don’t, I was a constant study as to how we did it.”
Kroll capped off his time with NRG with his passion project, Lambrusco Week, and started at Proof last week.