Flight ready to take off as wine bar in Cleveland
Flight ready to take off as wine bar in Cleveland
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Lindsay Smith is armed with a passion for vino, a business plan, a fun title and the perfect name for her new wine bar and shop in Cleveland.
It’s called Flight.
“The name is a bit of a double entendre,” she said. “Literal in terms of our menu but it touches on that adventurous piece for us. Come in for what you are looking for, but also try. It allows flexibility and takes that intimidation factor off the table.”
The best way to allow your palate to take flight is to order one – several short pours to try different varietals or compare similar ones.
Smith aims to open Flight in the space formerly occupied by Latitude 41, at W. 58th Street and Detroit Avenue next to Spice and catty-corner from Happy Dog in Cleveland’s Gordon Square neighborhood. Target opening date is near Thanksgiving.
“I’ve been having so much fun – it’s hard, but fun,” Smith said about opening her first business. And while she is the majority owner with a few partners, her business card calls her something else:
She’s serous about educating people about wine but wants to have fun doing it. Wine can be intimidating, with labels focusing on different things, region to region.
“How can we take that all off the table and make wine fun?” she said.
To that end, customers will be able to order various sizes: A flight, a tasting portion, full glass or bottle.
A nitrogen-based 29-tap preservation system will be used, allowing for two lines: The gas goes in one, the wine goes out the other.
She is hoping to bring in winemakers or reps for casual walk-about tastings in the 2,000-square-foot space. Inventory looks to be about 400 bottles – “not huge, but it’s not small, either,” she said. Wines will be subbed quarterly, so offerings won’t become stale to patrons. She’s all about finding inexpensive quality wines. (For beer lovers, three drafts will be available, plus chilled six-packs.)
There won’t be a kitchen, but nibbles will be offered – charcuterie, cheese, olives and some desserts.
“Good wine food,” as she puts it.
Smith came to wine through the hospitality industry and through a creative background. From Lake Bluff, Illinois, originally, she studied art at Columbia College in Chicago and attended culinary school. She took to working in restaurants, telling herself “This is fun, I should be a chef.”
“My love affair with food started then, but actually it was when I was a kid through my family,” she said. “They have always been very adventurous.”
She was used to drawn-out meals, where conversation takes turns and dishes are brought out one after another.
Drawn to the pace of the hospitality industry, she found out quickly you either “enjoy it and really get into it and you hang, or you can’t and you move on to something else.”
She worked for Lettuce Entertain You and eventually moved to Cleveland, where she was director of catering for the Cleveland Clinic. And along the way, the wine bug bit.
She attended the American Wine School, getting through the Wine and Spirit Education Trust level 1. She enjoyed diving into all things wine, but she wasn’t applying this to her job as much as she wanted.
“I wasn’t really getting to utilize that or stay engaged the way I wanted to,” said Smith, 38. “I was loving this wine industry and talking about it and being around it, but I wasn’t doing it on a full-time basis. In the back of my mind I was ’How do I do this, how do I change my life to make this happen?”
What it took was a bold move. She headed to Milwaukee to live with her sister and to travel. Her self-proclaimed sabbatical took her out of Cleveland from February 2017 until she returned in April. While in Milwaukee, she began working at a wine bar-shop.
“Yep,” she remembered, “this is what I want to do.”
The seeds for Flight took root in September 2017. She kept a field journal, jotting entries and notes. She immersed herself in an entrepreneurship program. She worked diligently on a business model. What drove her was, and is, a desire to make wine approachable.
“People are intimidated when they go buy wine,” Smith said. “One of the hardest things to do is to invest in wine when you don’t know anything about it.”
She’s right. How many times do you look at a menu and think ‘Do I really want to take a flyer on a $15 glass?’ A flight allows a customer to dip their feet in the water rather than diving into the deep end. If one stands out, get a glass. It shouldn’t be just wine bars and breweries offering flights, either: More fine-dining restaurants should employ this to help educate consumers.
Flights allow you to become familiar with new styles, learn about new producers, or even just satisfy your curiosity, she said.
“Two ounces is not that big of a commitment,” Smith said.
She said she thinks back and asks “What would I have wanted when I was 20-something going out in Chicago, Cleveland? I think craft beer has done a really good job (educating drinkers).”
In addition to guiding customers, she hopes to start a wine club, where folks can buy three, six or 12 bottles a month, curated on a theme “or stuff we find cool.” She also is crafting a customer-reward program to help create return customers.
“I want to be the wine shop and bar that’s a little more approachable for the common man,” Smith said. “I don’t have a huge drive to bring in expensive bottles of wine. What I want to do is focus on the sweet spot that people are focusing on spending. To me that’s $10 to up to $45, maybe $15-$25 is the comfortable zone. I want to have a robust amount of choices on the low end.
“I think about how I shop for wine. I am not going out buying $30 bottles of wine to drink during the week,” she said. (Her business card, she jokes, should say “cheap wine nerd.”)
“What do I want out of a wine shop? I want to buy $15 to $20 bottles, but honestly I want to buy $9 bottles.”
“You find that shop, you ... know is going to take care of you, you start a rapport,” Smith said. “You start a relationship with your customers. It’s about building those relationships.”