Red Beret And Pony Tail
Soon after it opened in June of 2012, I ran into the owner Joe, futzing around on the sidewalk outside his Joe’s Wine Cellar. Though not quite familiar with the shop yet, I was quite impressed at how compact and yet how organized and how classy it looked and felt. During our brief conversation, I remember telling him that if he could manage to survive for the first three years, he may have hit upon the right idea in the right neighborhood at the right time. Joe sounded very upbeat and optimistic: I am sure I can pull it off. Plus what I have going for me is that I know the landlord… and then he lets it out with an impish smirk, I own the building!!!
‘Well, in that case…’ and I smirked back. We talked a bit about wines and I may even have let him talk me into buying a card for his signature WineStation. A lovely way to try out several sip sized wines before deciding on a bottle to take home. Better yet, for $10.- service fee let them have cork it and pour yourself a glass or two and savor it right on the site – which since then has grown into the stainless steel topped long tasting tables in the fashion of zinc bars of the French bistros. And when it’s nice outside, Joe has even set up a spacious side walk patio. As an added incitement, you can now also order an assortment of cheese, charcuterie and fresh baguette. How can it get any better?
Life long Chicago area native – Elmhurst, Libertyville and now Gold Coast, Joe Dalton, 61, was a telecommunications sales executive for thirty years. He began his career at Sprint in the mid-80’s and retired from Quest Communications as VP wholesale sales – a position he held for more than a decade. His jobs took him all over the world and while entertaining or being entertained, exposed him to some of the best food and wines. When around 2007, with the industry consolidating, Joe decided that if Quest changed hands, it would be time to retire. His dream was to open a wine shop, grow his hair long and have it dangle into a pony tail, put on a red beret, sit behind the cash register and collect cash!!! Wrong!!! My wife ruled that out!
Soon he began to shop for a property to buy and settled on the six units building on Division Street in Wicker Park. Five of those units are residential, which brings in income and then he would still have the store front for his wine shop. Soon as Quest changed hands in 2011, Joe promptly retired and began to make concrete plans for the wine shop he would open. A year later, in June of 2012, Division Street saw the arrival of Joe’s Wine Cellar, sans pony tail and red beret.
‘Why Division?’ I asked.
‘Two reasons. The first, I loved the wide side walks. And second the demographics. I did also consider Halsted Street in Lincoln Park, but that crowd already into their forties had their own wine guy. At the time, average age group around here was about 27. Perfect place and the most desirable demographics to start and grow the wine business – taping into the crowd graduating from their craft beer phase. And you could just feel the energy!’
‘I am by no means a wine connoisseur, or knew much about wines, other than the fact that I liked wine and I knew what I liked and what I didn’t. I was never a wine collector either. That changed during a 1986 ski vacation in Lake Tahoe. We were having a dinner at Izabella Ristorante and the waiter recommended we try Far Niente, a California wine. We ordered a bottle each of Cabernet and Chardonnay. And we just fell in love with it. When we returned home, I ordered cases of each of them and eventually ended up with the cellar containing 800 bottles. Since then it has become more expensive, but as much as I still love it, just can’t afford to drink it every day.
But Joe’s is by no means a neighborhood cheap wine place. Even though he always has on the floor a barrel of inexpensive wines that cost around $10.- a bottle, the most of his clientele prefer slightly upscale wines, which is what his selection caters to.
‘What do you tell your customers when they don’t know what they want.’
‘Though there are some ground rules, as for pairing wines with the food goes, I tell them to drink what they like.’
‘Your personal favorites other than Far Niente?’
‘That’s a hard one. But I love all Rhône wines. Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I like French Syrah, and Rousanne and Marsanne grapes. I am partial to wines from Provence. And I love Muscadet from Loir Valley.’ We spend a while talking about Sauvignon Blancs and how most of them go so well with fresh oysters and other seafood, but some in his opinion taste too citrusy and some poorly made ones even taste like cat piss!
Moving onto more practical aspects of the business, pointing at the wine station he says that this turned out to be a lucky move. He first got the idea for it from a wine shop in Avignon, France. Basically a wine preservation system that pours wines by glass. This way people get to try many different wines without having to buy a bottle and have fun doing it. It’s working out very well for us.
At the end of the day, it’s a business like any other. But Joe said he would never recommend anyone to go into wine business if looking for high returns. Even though I must admit that we have been highly successful and broke even within the first six months; it’s a life style business. You make a decent living and have fun doing it!!! I will certainly drink to that. Prost!
© Haresh Shah 2018
Joe’s Wine Cellar, 2108 W. Division Street, Chicago, Ill. 60622 ● 773 303 4884 www.joeswinecellar.com
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