Today we’d like to introduce you to Nichole and Paul of Vino & Vinyl.
Before we jump into specifics about Vino & Vinyl, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
The story of Vino & Vinyl is the story of the collision of our two greatest loves; music and wine.
After living most of his life in Missouri as a professional musician, my husband Paul moved to Houston around 21 years of age. He was on the road with a band based out of Houston, ironically. It was here that I met my future partner for business and life in general.
How we fell in love is a story all it’s own (we’ll save that one for a couple bottles of wine someday). We got married after being friends for a few years. Paul and I both worked in the restaurant industry and I was also in school working on my finance and marketing degree. We both came from humble beginnings and share a similar drive to work hard, take initiative and strive for excellence in everything we do.
Paul was a beer drinker while I enjoyed white wine. On a date in Houston one night I talked him into sharing a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand with me. After taking a sip we both had what we call an “ah-ha” moment. It was fresh, easy drinking, but full of flavor without being sweet. We found something we both really enjoyed and were curious to find other bottles that would give us the same feeling of exploration! After that, Paul got the wine bug… big time. He was working at a steakhouse and started off reading Windows Around the World, then read the entire Wine Bible. After that, signed up for the Court of Master Sommelier’s Level 1 exam. The focus was on old world countries like France, Italy, or Spain. Only about 40 percent of the class passed, and he was one of them! I realized that he was on to something and enjoyed studying with him (especially when it involved tasting – ha!).
I completed my degree and began working full-time with a small software company that is a key player in the Oil & Gas industry here in Houston. While Paul spent a few more years of working in the wine business, opening wine bars with other companies, and selling wine for a fine wine distributor. The more he working the in the wine industry, the more we started to think… what is happening out here in the sub-burbs? Where is all the soul, the life, the creativity? All theses questions were churning in our minds for months. What about all the cool wines that aren’t at the grocery store? Isn’t there a place in Houston (let alone Fort Bend County) where we can find small-production, organic and sustainable, hand-made wines from the West Coast? To bring it even closer to home, our family lives in Sugar Land and we wished for a local wine bar to visit like Vino & Vinyl. Do all places with personality have to be inside the loop? In Austin? In San Fransisco? In Paris?
Let’s talk business! Tell us about Vino & Vinyl.
I always thought Paul would own a business because about every 6 months he would pitch me a new idea. Unfortunately most of them were terrible, but he never gave up… his wheels were always turning! We make a good team because he is a dreamer with an entrepreneurial spirit and I am more level headed (or the “dream crusher” as he affectionately calls me).
One day it all got serious when Paul came home and said, “How does Vino & Vinyl sound? I know music and wine.” It was like the record needle scratched and everything stopped. He went on to tell me how we could start a small wine shop and record store, and learn what our guests love in the process. Once we outgrow the start-up business model, we’ll go to the next level.” I liked the idea but of course thought of all the reasons it would not work. I asked him to write a proper business plan if he was serious. I did think that he would follow through, but he read 3 books about business plans during 3 months of writing and at the end, had a 20 page business plan with financials ready for me to look at. I was very impressed and we decided to take the jump and do it!
After setting up the business entity, we started the process to open as a retail wine shop/record store called Vino & Vinyl. We ended up leasing a small space in the Township Square in Missouri City (a small suburb of Houston, Texas, that was close to home).
We started meeting with distributors in the wine business and learning (and getting a deeper understanding) of how the wine laws in Texas operates. Of the 20-30 wine wholesalers in the state, we settled in with about 10 that we consistently used. It was an incredible experience as we started with close to 400 different wines, trying our best to source small-production, family-owned wines, and kicked off our wine club (Club Vino) as well! Right in the middle of the store, we also set up to sell new and used records that we bought from a large national record wholesaler and local customers.
Truthfully, we never wanted to be considered wine experts. We just wanted to be tour guides and show people new wines. Our love for wine was birthed more on the fascination of agriculture, versus the beverage mentality that surrounded us. It was and is, not just an alcohol thing; it’s an appreciation thing. It’s appreciation for the agriculture and the land. The farmers and the workers. The chemists and the cellar rats (the people helping in the cellars). It’s the appreciation of those “ah-ha” moments when we taste something new and wonderful. No one will ever know everything about viticulture (the study of the grapevine), or be able to taste every wine from every vintage. What we strive to drink and bring to our guests, are wines with a sense of place, identity, and personality. Not your big-production wines that taste exactly the same, year and year out. Some flaws are interesting. And ironically, we share this universal trait: we are all flawed. But, that’s what makes us all unique, right? We love and value each other for those differences. We change a little each year, too.
Can you tell us some of your challenges or obstacles you’ve had to overcome on your journey with Vino & Vinyl?
It was a crazy first year. People didn’t know what to think. They were curious. They came out and brought their friends. I think we were just enough “different” for people to want to talk about us. The restaurant next door had virtually zero waiting areas, and so people would come over and peruse the wine racks and vinyl selection while they waited for a table. We did daily tastings and larger weekend tastings with our distributors so that peoples could taste the quality that we were offering, showcased local artist’s on our walls, and in the first year, we grew our wine club to around 30 members.
While things were moving along quiet nicely, there was also a bit of friction. Customers were happy and loved the concept so much, they wouldn’t leave. You see, every day we would open a different bottle to let guests taste (before they bought) and also did Saturday afternoon wine tastings. I’m sure they were wanting a wine bar because guests would linger, ask for multiple tastes of the same wines, and ask for seating. (Good problems to have!) The difficult issue we were faced with, was our license for the sale of alcohol.
In addition to a acquiring a different license with TABC, transitioning to a wine bar proved to have a few hurdles. We needed seating for guests, multiple restrooms, and food; all of which we didn’t have. Also, the biggest question remained, “do we close to remodel, or can we do it while we are open?” Because we knew we needed to keep the cashflow going, we chose to stay open. Believe it or not, it ended up helping us in the long-run! When guests would see us working on a project like re-purposing our wine racks, bringing in seating, or creating our signature by-the-glass board, we would tell them of our future plans to re-open as a wine bar/lounge. The news spread in our little area like wildfire. There was (and is) a bistro next door to us. During the few weeks we were fixing up our second restroom and completing the renovations for our license upgrade, we came to an agreement with the small restaurant next door to supply small bites for our patrons. Meat, cheese, & bread boards, desserts, and a fried potato/Brussels sprout small plate were on the menu. Not a lot of options, but enough to help us feel confident serving someone a whole glass or bottle of wine. It was a win/win for both. We got food, they got a waiting area for their small bistro.
Grand opening weekend was a smashing success. We saw around 250 people a day, and the psychology was simple: people saw more value in our re-vamped concept, apposed to the “take it home to drink” business model.
That year exceeded all our expectations. People found Vino & Vinyl to be a destination, and were driving to see us from up to 50 miles away! The vibe was incredible. Just imagine Al Green or the band Washed Out being played on vinyl records, the lights low, and amazing wine being served. It was epic! Not the typical stuffy wine bar with Kenny G on the intercom-type sound system. You could feel the music. We watched couples on their first dates, people get engaged, birthday parties, and everything in-between. People started booking private events, and we had even larger tastings. And then, it happened… again. We had out-grown our space. We started the conversation. What if we could open a second location, and improve on what we have already created? The brand Vino & Vinyl was recognized in the area. Not just a one-off concept. A real household name. Still to this day, you’ll see people in the local grocery stores and gyms wearing our t-shirts!
After looking at other properties around Sugar Land, we found a second-generation space (a turn-key), that was being sold by a local restaurateur. Because of physical issues he was having, he wanted out quick, and we did a deal that got us the keys by the very beginning of the next year. Almost within the time frame of one calendar year of re-opening our first location as a wine bar, we opened our second location. This time with a kitchen, a chef, and a small culinary team. We still feature local artists on our walls, sell vinyl records, sell wine and beer to go, and have almost 150 families locally in our wine club we call, Club Vino!
Even though we have evolved from our start-up concept, what you’ll still find is a small collection of the wines we love to drink, music we play at our house when we’re cooking and hanging out, all in an atmosphere lacking any pretension, elitism, or attitude. What we hoped, came true. Guests found an oasis where they could connect, un-wind, and feel at home. We have created a space that has a sense of “us” and all the things we love.
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Get in touch with Nichole at Vino & Vinyl:
Vino & Vinyl
15977 City Walk
Sugar Land, Texas 77479
Chris Killingsworth Photography
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