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Wine Studio – Latitude Wine Bar

Back in 2013 I quit my 9 -5 job to follow my passion, wine. We sold our dream home, picked up roots and moved to Bluffton, South Carolina, a quaint historic Southern town just off Hilton Head Island. We opened a wine bar. Of course, we still needed a regular income so hubby went to work for the Town of Bluffton while I focused on getting the bar built out, designing the layout for everything in the bar, buying all the kitchen and bar supplies AND tasting lots and lots of wine to build our wine list from.

The bar, Latitude Wine Bar, only lasted two years. We opened the doors the first part of February, 2014 and closed them the end of January, 2016. Some would call that being successful in this type of industry. The majority of restaurants and bars close within the first 6 – 12 months. I still question every operational decision I made over that two years wondering if….

Tina Morey from Wine Studio invited me to be the guest host on her weekly virtual Twitter Chat discussing passion and the paths we choose to follow our passion.

Our Focus for #winestudio:

I’d like to talk about the concept of passion and how it can move us in certain directions without sometimes knowing the full scope of what we’re asking it to do.

Q: Passion is one thing, but executing is quite another. Jean, how did it all come about?My husband suggested (on a whim) that because I had such a passion for wine and loved talking about it with anyone who would listen that we should open a wine bar. He didn’t have to suggest it twice. Of course, we put a lot of thought into this before we actually put the wheels in motion.

  • Originally we had planned to locate the wine bar close to our home in Winston Salem.
  • But we ended up moving to Bluffton at my daughter’s urging as she had moved here a year prior. She thought I would never have any time off to come visit and spend time with her and the grandkids. She was right about that; living just up the road from them, it was still very difficult to find a lot of free time so it was really good that we were close.
  • I originally planned to keep my job and hire a manager. I was only going to work weekends and let the manager close every night through the week. But after I quit my job and we moved the location for the bar, it was only logical for me to manage it.

Q: When did you realize that it wasn’t working out? Early on we realized the environment and customer base were different than what we had anticipated. We had to overcome hurdles that were not part of the planning process – things that I don’t know that we would have realized even if we had lived here prior to starting the wine bar.

  • People that have moved here from areas where there was a true wine culture tend to live in private neighborhoods that include private golf clubs. These clubs offer wine tastings direct from the distributors and then allow the members/residents to purchase wines at cost. There’s no need for them to buy in bulk from someone like me or to even frequent wine bars very often because it was cheaper and offered the same quality wines through their private clubs.
  • People who frequented the Promenade (the historic district where the wine bar was located) wanted more than just a wine bar. There were a few other bars located in the Promenade – one specifically referred to itself as a “wine boutique.”       They had sports tv’s around the bar so you can watch your favorite game and as soon as you walk through the door, the bartender starts offering shots. The locals were shocked that I didn’t offer tv’s and sports and even more shocked that I didn’t serve hard liquor.

Any particular pivotal moment? Yes. Last fall we had reached the point where I had to have help at the bar 1 or 2 nights a week, but you can’t find anyone to work only 1 or 2 nights, everyone needed/expected more hours. So I hired someone to work 3 nights/week (Thurs – Sat). When I was the only one working the front of the house, all tips that came thru on credit cards stayed in the company and helped cover the bills. Once I started paying tips out to my employee, there wasn’t enough money to cover everything. We were personally putting a few hundred dollars back into the bar every month – and this was almost 2 years in. We felt like we were putting in money we didn’t have just to keep the wine bar afloat and we were literally doing without at home.

Q: How much does public perception weigh into opening a wine bar? Can we change it? I think perception depends on where you live and the wine culture that surrounds that area. For example, there are only 17 wineries in the state of SC. Typically when someone here says they love wine, they really have no concept of what wine is.

  • In my mind, a wine bar is just that – a wine bar. You serve great wines, offer a great selection of wines to please a variety of palates. You serve charcuterie and flatbreads and create simple pairings and small plates that bring out the best in these wines. But here, people wanted hard liquor and sports TVs all around the room. They wanted to come in to watch the game and do shots. A true wine bar concept was not what the locals were looking for and they thought that I didn’t understand what a wine bar was supposed to be. They also wanted a true dinner menu with heartier food selections.

Q: Social Media. Jean admits her social media became nonexistent because of the demands of the bar. Where does that leave you now? Way behind the eight ball. I’m trying to get back into it, but things have changed over the last 3 years. Because there is no real wine industry here, I can’t seem to find the motivation to write on my blog again. I gain Twitter followers everyday, but am probably about 10K followers less than where I should be. I’m not even sure where people generally look to find out about wine(s) anymore.

  • I am spending more time with my FB page, trying to get it moving in the right direction. Hoping to start live video streaming while I talk wine.

Q: What advice do you have for others who talk of their wine passion and wanting to open their own business? I think my biggest mistake was moving to an area where I wasn’t familiar with the wine culture – or lack thereof. I truly believe had I opened my wine bar in Winston Salem where my alter ego of “Red Wine Diva” already had a reputation of knowing wine and where I was connected in the wine industry, we would be having a different conversation today.

If having a wine bar or restaurant, owning your own winery, making your own wine, or even working in some other capacity in the wine world is your passion, you have to give it a shot. You have to try. Even though I had to close my wine bar, I don’t regret trying. We were there for 2 years – most restaurants and bars close within 6-12 months. If you look at it that way, we were successful.

  • Nobody here knew who Red Wine Diva was – and truth be known, they really didn’t care. Don’t give up who you are – that’s what has gotten you this far and it will go a long way on carrying you through.
  • Occasionally I would get a call from a winery who had found out I was pouring their wines thanking me for doing so. I actually received a call from the PR rep for Chateau Tanunda in the Spring of 2014. John Geber, the owner of the winery, was taking a yacht up the East Coast and inviting distributors and buyers to cruise for an evening with him to taste his wines. They wanted me to come for a private tasting and spend the afternoon on the yacht. Naturally I accepted. Thrilled, I immediately called my distributor that carried these wines to let her know. Turns out she already knew about the East Coast tour. The distributorship had invited “select customers” to join them for an evening. I wasn’t one of those customers. Immediately the distributor wanted to know who invited me and why. Then they started apologizing for not including me and suggested I give up my private tasting and join their group for an evening out. I opted for the private tasting.

Q: Jean, what are your main learning experiences for you personally? What have you gained from this major experience? Wine was and is my passion. Some people are fortunate enough to work with the things they are this passionate about. If you can do that, by all means go for it, but just know that it is okay for your passion to be your hobby and your pastime – a time where you can relax and truly enjoy what you love. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you become so stressed that your passion starts to lose its glimmer.

  • Even though we’ve had to close the wine bar, we still had fun. We met some GREAT people – people that are dear friends today. And the wines that I had the privilege of tasting – OMG! We carried a great selection of wines – wines that typically would not be within my budget. And yes, I brought some of those home when we closed! 😉

Q: Where can we find Jean now?  I am trying to put together a couple of different things. Nothing big has materialized yet, but you will definitely see posts on FB and Twitter as (if) these things unfold.

  • If you are ever in the area on a Thursday, come join me at one of the local watering holes where a group of us go out to celebrate #ThirstyThursday and Happy Hour!

This update just in – South Carolina has some very restrictive laws pertaining to alcohol.  Since we don’t have wineries that come to events and pour wine, the distributors do this.  Then sell the wines through the licensee (private club, restaurant, etc.).  Our most recent law now prevents the distributors from pouring at these tasting events/festivals.  I have been asked by some distributors if I would like to start pouring.  YES – Will Work For Wine!  (or money…)

work-for-wine

Some questions from the participants were:

  • Dezel Quillen  (Twitter @myvinespot): How much did the wine list really matter? In reality it didn’t, especially not here because of the limited wine culture. We would have people come into the wine bar and simply ask for a Chardonnay.  They wouldn’t look at the list.  They had no idea if they wanted oaky and buttery or crisp and clean – they just wanted something familiar.
  • Debbie Gioquindo (Twitter @hvwinegoddess): What didn’t you find in all of this? My whole reason for wanting to open the wine bar was to be able to share wine experiences with people. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I was able to sit on “the other side” of the bar and just talk with customers.
  • Melissa Vedrin(Twitter @VedrinMelissa): Is there one thing you wish you had done? I spent a lot of sleepless nights trying to come up with something GREAT that was going to take us to the next level. We tried a lot of different things. The best thing we did was offer cooking classes. We would have guest chefs come in and prepare simple dishes at a prep table in the seating/lounge area using an induction burner showing step-by-step how to prepare the foods. We would have enough of each item already prepared in the kitchen so that we could serve each guest a good sized sample portion of the food along with a predetermined wine pairing. The menu, the recipes and the wine tasting notes were printed up and given to the guests to take home after the class.       Participants could order the wines at a significant discount. These classes were very popular and always sold out. But you could only do them once a month because it took so much to put them together.
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Just Pondering

The wine bar is quiet tonight.  It is raining and nobody comes out in the rain to wander from bar to bar, much more comforting to sit at home with your wine in the dry.  So I have time too much time to think.  Three months in – what have I learned, what would I do differently?

  • My first mistake was several months ago when I initially leased the space for the wine bar.  I had no way of knowing it would take 10+ months to get the build-out completed and the doors opened but that is irrelevant; I still should have negotiated that the rent payments didn’t start until construction was complete.
  • I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter how great your wine selection is or how great your tapas menu is, people want a festive atmosphere.  They may tell you that they want to be able to sit and talk while they enjoy their glass of wine, but they will still leave your bar and head to the party bar if they are not entertained.
  • There is a steep learning curve to running a bar or a restaurant and you have to run hard just to keep up and even harder to get ahead of the curve.
  • There are more restaurant consultants (probably in most towns) than there are restaurants.  Even though you are a new business and you have to watch every penny you spend, these consultants won’t hesitate to ask thousands of dollars to show you how to succeed.
  • Advertising dollars are scarce, but once again, sales people come out of the woodwork to try to convince you to use their advertising medium to reach the masses.  Knowing the right source for your advertising so that you actually reach your target market isn’t easy.
  • Sleep is overrated!  If you get all of these things (listed above) spinning around in your head, sleep is elusive; but you keep going because of that learning curve and because success is the only option.
  • Eating, while not overrated, isn’t quite as important as you once thought.  If are looking for a weight loss program, open a bar – guaranteed 20 pounds.
  • Your wine list does matter.  It is nice to be able to brag about how extensive your list is and even more uplifting to have a master sommelier brag about your wine list.
  • Building a group of regulars is important.  It is nice to see that smiling face come through the door.  It is like having family come visit and it is important to your customers to be recognized and treated like family.
  • I have learned that you actually drink less if you own the bar – you can’t drink at work and you are way too tired by the time you get off!

I don’t want to write about the bar very often.  I still want to write about wine and the experiences that go along with it.  So the wine bar is open.  I have survived thus far – a little thinner, a little more knowledgeable about the industry, but still going strong.  Good days are really good, slow days are just slow days, not the end of the world.

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Cheers, All!!!  Thank you so much for all your support while I have chased this dream. If you are ever in the Bluffton/Hilton Head area, pleas come me.  You are all like family!

 

My 15 Minutes of Fame (almost!)

The wine bar has been open for 3 months now.  I keep thinking I am at a point where I can slow down long enough to post on my blog again, but something always comes up that keeps me hopping.  But I am not so stressed anymore so I do see the light at the end of the tunnel and unless it is a train, I will be back soon!  🙂

For now, please enjoy this video from my appearance on a local TV station for their Restaurant Show.

Latitude Wine Bar on the Restaurant Show

 

 

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Wine Bar Update: 9-30-2013

STICKER SHOCK:  I need to get one more item for closing on the loan for the wine bar – insurance.  I have gotten two quotes in this week and have experienced some serious sticker shock.  I have dealt with insurance for years in my position as a financial controller.  As a result, I have several connections in the industry.  I consulted with them as I built my business plan for the wine bar and prepared my projections.  I thought I had a handle on it, but the quotes (like everything else I have touched for this project) are WAY over budget.  A couple of things have led to this – being so near the coast (and hurricanes) and the fact that I don’t have an experience rating yet.  I am waiting for a couple of other quotes to come in hoping to find a policy that won’t break the bank.

CELEBRATION:  We also had reason to celebrate this past week.  For the last six months, I have been in South Carolina while hubby was still in North Carolina working.  One of us needed to keep a pay check and since the wine bar is my dream, he wanted to continue working while he helped me realize it.  This past week he was offered a job working for the City of Bluffton doing basically the same thing he has been doing for the City of Winston Salem.

Over the last few months, I have met with bankers, architects, and contractors by myself.  I have made major life-altering decisions with only a phone call to discuss these decisions with Hubby.  I even bought our new home with him only seeing it online, not in person.  But now we can be together again as the construction begins on the bar.

We celebrated by taking the family to The Old Oyster Factory on Hilton Head Island.

view oyser factory

View from our dinner table.

We opted for a bottle of Cakebread Cellars 2011 Chardonnay.  The wine was creamy with just a hint of buttery notes and spicy oak.  It had flavors of green apple, melon and citrus.  The finish had just enough bite to make it linger on the palate.  The delicate balance between acidity and minerality made this the perfect wine for  our meal.

cakebread chard

2011 Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay paired with Bruschetta

We started by pairing our wine with The Old Oyster Factory’s own recipe for Bruschetta, then moved on to our entrées.

Seafood Medley

Seafood Medley

Fried Scallops with Mashed Potatoes

Fried Scallops with Mashed Potatoes

Low Country Boil

Low Country Boil

We completed the meal with all the kids getting t-shirts from our waiter.

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The Family

We’re home!

Please be sure to check us out on Facebook and give us a thumb’s up.  www.facebook.com/latitudewinebar.  Our soft opening will be a special event for Facebook followers only and we would love to see you there!

Wine Bar Update: 9-23-2013

“Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, hang onto the affirmative, and don’t mess with Mr. in between.”  I saw this post on a friend’s Facebook page today.  I had been struggling with how to approach today’s wine bar update but when I read this post, I decided to accentuate the positive.

There’s not been much going on with the wine bar.  I am pulling documents together for the attorney to close on the loan – yeah, I know, BORING!  But I still wanted to stick to my promise and publish an update.

Knowing that the loan has been approved, I decided it was time to get serious about wine, after all, this is a wine bar.  I have met with a couple of different distributors to discuss our wine menu and start sampling wines.  As much as I love sampling new wines, this can actually be very daunting.  I know if a wine isn’t great or doesn’t sell that I can order more every day of the week, but I don’t want to waste money on inventory that doesn’t turn over (quickly) and I don’t want to start out by giving a bad impression.

I will be tasting all the wines before I buy, but to find a starting point, I decided to go online to all my favorite restaurants and pull their wine lists.  I am in the process of comparing these lists to see which wines have made more than one list.  Even though the distributors are making suggestions, I will specifically request wines from my discovery.

The next item I have shopped for is the back bar.  Basically what I needed was to find a design that fits the look and feel of the rest of the bar.  Well I’ve found that at a restaurant supplier called Andy Thornton.

ATFUVF352b

This great vintage look will be perfect.  I will get two of them and have one over each wine refrigerator that sits along the back bar.  This is actually going to save money over the contractor’s quote for building the back bar from scratch.  The shelf is  too tall as it is so we will remove the top row of cubbies and flip them upside down.  This will create a row of open cubbies that will then be attached to the bathroom wall by the vanities to hold paper towels and soap so that the vintage look is carried all the way through.

On a side note (still positive):  This process of starting the bar has caused helped me lose weight.  My pants now come off without having to unbutton them.  It’s really not a sexy look!  I will definitely have to do some shopping before the bar opens.

Our Facebook following has increased by more than 20% over the last week.  Join us on Facebook to be invited to a special Grand Opening and to know about all our events and dinners.

Wine Bar Uodate – 9-16-2013

What a difference a week makes!  Actually, I got the news last Thursday (Hubby’s birthday, September 12) that the SBA had approved our loan.  I knew there was no reason to not get the approval, but seriously, this has been dragging out for six months.  So finally it has happened.  And I am excited – thrilled actually.  One would think that I have now jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops they could throw at me but no, they have pulled out a few new ones, like just now ordering copies of my tax return transcripts from the IRS.  Apparently they can’t use the copies I have.  My only question is:  “Why didn’t they order these a month ago instead of waiting until now?”  I can’t blame this on anyone but the bank.

I also met with the contractor today and signed the final quote sheet and paid for all the permits.  We now have a business license, a building permit and have paid our retail impact fees to the city of Bluffton.

The bank hasn’t given me a date for closing on the loan, but I am really hoping this happens by the end of the month so that we can start construction the first week in October.  This is like giving birth – I will have been at this 9 months by the time we get the build-out completed.

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Please check us out on Facebook and give us a “Thumb’s Up.”  We are planning a special grand opening party just for Facebook followers and I would love to see you there.

Wine Bar Update – 9-9-2013

It is really hard to believe it has been six weeks since I updated everyone on the status of Latitude Wine Bar.  It continues to be the SLOWEST moving project I have ever been involved in.

On a brighter note, we have sold our house in Winston Salem, NC.  It was on the market for 4 months which appears to be a fairly quick sale.  As of today, we have furniture sitting in two different storage units, at my daughter’s house and in a temporary living arrangement my husband has been forced into as we wait for all the pieces to fall into place for the wine bar.

We have also entered into a contract to buy a house in Bluffton.  It is a really cute little house (to better define little, the new house is literally half the size of the old house).  We have sold some furniture, had a huge yard sale and donated numerous items to charity.  We know that we will have to sell even more furniture once we get into the new house and determine exactly what we need.

These are two huge steps out of our laundry list of things we are trying to do.  It is a load off my mind and has allowed me to become focused once again on the wine bar, blogging and social media.  I haven’t lost focus on the wine bar, but packing, moving and going back and forth between South and North Carolina has pulled me away from blogging and social media.  (It is good to be back!)

Now back to the wine bar!  About three weeks ago, I received a phone call from my contractor.  They had been getting quotes in from sub-contractors and they were way over budget.  The cost of the build-out for he wine bar actually went up by 45% – yes, you read that right!  Not 5 or 10%, but a full 45%.  I was in shock – that was a lot of money.  I told them I just couldn’t do it, I was going to pull the plug.  Stunned silence on the other end of the phone!  After several seconds, a very subdued voice ask me to give them a chance to get more quotes in and to work out some other issues related to the cost of the build-out.  It took them until this past weekend to get me the revised quote.  It is still 15% above the original estimate, but is doable.  I am going to let go of some other items I wanted – such as the dishwasher (glasses will now be done by hand, at least in the beginning) and the awning over the windows will wait until next Spring.

Then we have the Small Business Loan – OMG!!!  This is one of those things that should have been approved in 7-10 business days; but no, the SBA was behind so it was going to take 30 days.  And they took the full 30 days, but then all they came back with was a request for more info.  I have been supplying more info for the last two weeks.  Hopefully today wrapped up all of their requests.  It is definitely a balancing act!

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I have met a couple of distributors and have enjoyed some really good wine tastings.  The business plan is solid.  And I promise there will be a special post put up the day they actually start construction (you may not be able to stand me!)!!!

Cheers!!!

Follow us on Facebook:  www.facebook.com/LatitudeWineBar

The Stigma of Boxed Wine

What is it about boxed wine that turns the majority of wine enthusiasts off?  After all, it is still wine!  All wine is basically made the same, right?  You pick the grapes, run them through a machine to remove the stems and then crush them.  Here is where the winemaker steps in and works his or her magic, but the basics are the same.  Obviously the end result is where the winemaker shines.  However, it doesn’t seem to matter how much skill and finesse is used to make the wine, the end-user judges the wine based on how it is presented on the shelf, from the shape of the bottle to the foil around the top to the label.  The box will never be able to create the desire the bottle does even though boxed wines are winning medals in wine competition and competing toe-to-toe with their bottled counterparts.

Let’s use Red Truck wines as an example.  I have bought this wine in both the bottle and in the little 3 liter mini barrel.  I can’t tell the difference in the wine.  After all, they wine is made and then bottled or put into the plastic liner that fits into the mini barrel; however, my friend snarled her nose at the wine from the mini barrel while she enjoyed the wine from the bottle.

So how does the wine industry overcome this stigma?  Is it really any different than the bad rap screw caps (which are mainstream now) used to get?  Some of the larger wineries have started distributing wine in 10 liter barrels to restaurants.  These barrels are a great alternative to bottles and much better on the environment.  (For more info on wine distributed in barrels or kegs, please visit these wineries:  Saintsbury, Childress Vineyards, and DeLoach Vineyards– just to name a few.)

For smaller wineries, the standard box is still the best alternative to the bottle.  Please keep in mind that you can get some quality wines in an environmentally friendly box.  Let’s spruce it up a bit though with Boxxle.

Boxxel 2

Boxxel 3

Boxxle is a great new product on the market that holds the bladder of wine from the box.  Simply pop the top of the Boxxle open, press the plate down with your fist until it pops into place and insert the bladder of wine so that the spigot is properly aligned for dispensing wine from the Boxxle.  The Boxxle is attractive.  It looks like any regular small appliance you would keep on your countertop.  Your wine is always at your fingertips.  If you prefer your wine at a slightly cooler temperature than your typical kitchen, simply set the filled Boxxle in the refrigerator 30 minutes for red and an hour for whites then proceed to serve and enjoy.

And since the wine hasn’t been disturbed, it will last as long as any typical boxed wine – 4-6 weeks.  As boxed wines become more and more popular, this is THE wine accessory to have!

Now is your chance to own your own Boxxle.  I will be giving this one away to one lucky person.  There are a few different ways to enter:

  • Share this post on Facebook mentioning “Red Wine Diva” to make sure I see that you have shared this – you can either share it directly from here or from my link on Facebook.
  • Tweet this post mentioning @RedWineDiva so that I can track the your entry.
  • Or “LIKE” Latitude Wine Bar on Facebook AND share this post from that Facebook page.

The drawing will be Friday evening around 8pm EST.  The winner will be announced on all of the social media outlets mentioned above.  The Boxxle will be shipped Saturday provided I receive your shipping information timely.

Boxxle was a sample furnished to me for review purposes.

Wine Bar Update 7-22

I know it has been a couple of weeks since I posted any updates about Latitude Wine Bar.  Apparently it has something to do with my organizational skills.    I like to think I can multitask, but the reality is that I can’t.  I get sidetracked easily and completely lose track of what I was doing to begin with.  However, the last couple of weeks have been full of wine bar stuff!

The bank finally approved my loan for the wine bar and as a result, they have pushed everything up to the Small Business Administration.  Fingers crossed – we should hear back from within the next 7-10 business days.  Wish us luck!  🙂

I have been working closely with the architect.  We have the basic plans drawn up, but we are still tweaking some of the details.  I have picked out the lights, the color for the bathrooms and the flooring.  However, I am having trouble finding the “process” and/or product to create the walls and the look I am going for in the bar.  I am searching desperately for a product that will give Latitude the look of a copper patina.  I know that years ago Genevieve Gorder did this on a wall on “Trading Spaces.”  I have searched everything I can think of to find the products I need for the walls to get this look but I can’t find what I need.  I desperately need some input – PLEASE!!!

I have finally found the perfect bar stools though.  These are killer!!!  They are not reclaimed and don’t have the appearance of being repurposed, but they just fit.  They are one of those items that once I saw them, I just knew.  They are actually fairly modern.  What do you think?

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My vision for the bar is for most everything to have the look of having been repurposed and/or reclaimed with a couple of ultra modern pieces inserted to create interest.

More wine tastings tomorrow with the distributor – Life is good.

Please like us on Facebook to be part of the guest list for your special grand opening of Latitude Wine Bar.

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