By Anne Brennan
“For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…and when the power goes out at your popular wine bar, and you have to ice all the food, wine and beer in the restaurant that you live above.”
But Elaine and Scott Kuebler of North End Wine Bar in Hudson have plenty of experience in handling such minor crises; they’ve been married and co-owners of North End for more than two decades. On New Year’s Day they’ll celebrate North End’s 25th anniversary. They obviously pair well together – and they know about wine pairings, too, so today they’re meeting with their chef about pairings for their menu.
When they came up with the idea of the wine bar, there was only one similar place in northeast Ohio, Elaine says: “Now there are 200. We were way ahead of the curve.”
The small wine bar is dark, casual and cozy. Wooden wine bins full of tempting selections line the perimeter. Rosé is popular. (There’s a reason why a three-liter bottle of it is displayed near the entrance.) A modest $15 corkage fee helps too.
North End converted its entrance into a small pub, where you can enjoy a drink or pick up a bottle of wine, or a six-pack of IPA, the most popular beer this summer, Scott says. “The hoppier, the better. It’s crazy. It’s huge this summer.”
As owners, creating special events is always on their agenda. Some of them include: beer and wine tastings, happy hours, retail wine nights, Turntable Tuesdays (bring your vinyl records), Wino Wednesdays and Sparkling Saturdays. (Veuve Clicquot by the glass is on special, no corkage fee.)
Over the years, they have learned which of their individual skills, interests and personality traits are best suited for different roles needed in managing their business. Tasks range from watching wine trends to accounting to managing employees.
At least that’s the theory…but like pairing a wine with food, the results can be surprising. In reality, it’s a constant evolution.
“You’d think it’d be obvious, [agreeing on] our own areas of responsibility, but we’re still perfecting that,” Elaine says. Elaine is the general manager. She’s out front in the restaurant and considers herself a natural people person. “I’m more details and finance, like overseeing purchases and engineering the wine list,” Scott says.
One job perk: When they go out, sometimes they don’t have to argue about who pays the check, they say. If they run into North End patrons, the subject may be moot.
“We were at dinner not long ago and saw some people who were customers. We tried to buy them a drink, but they picked up [our] tab,” Elaine says.
“The guy had come in on Christmas Eve, all panicked. We wrapped up some Champagne, and he was the star at his office,” Scott explains.
“We’ve had people send us gift cards. It completely floors us,” Elaine adds. “This is a generous community.”
The biggest challenge in this job of co-owning a wine bar is similar to that of some marriages: who’s the boss? Employees tend to relate to Elaine and Scott as “Mom and Dad,” Elaine says. They’ll play them off each other, for example, when it comes to decision-making.
Elaine and Scott are frank about the difficulties of running a place together. In fact, Elaine actually left the business for six years.
“It was impossible to keep the wine bar and have a healthy marriage,” she says. “The business took its toll, but I came back two and a half years ago. We grew an appreciation for each other. But any job has its ups and downs. On days when it’s tougher to walk through the doors, “the customers are so happy to see you,” Elaine says, and that makes all the work worthwhile.
Owning a wine bar is really a lifestyle, Scott explains. “We drink the wine and beer, and eat the food.”
Scott’s North End favorite is a Rosé. “It’s a versatile wine and a great apéritif,” he says. He likes it with the southwest tuna and the short rib (the bar’s top seller). Elaine enjoys the salmon and snapper and Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc.
As for the future, they’re looking forward to ringing in 2017.
The cooler will probably break. It does every holiday. They have the repairman’s phone number.
But odds are, there will still be plenty of good Champagne to go around, and customers and employees with whom Elaine and Scott can celebrate their long success