A WV wine bar hangs in with all hands-on deck
In the midst of a move to a larger, better space, and just as the national business lockdowns hit like a tsunami, the team at Sip Downtown Brasserie in West Virginia put their shoulders to the wheel and pulled their company through.
Job titles flew out the window as staff and friends grabbed paint brushes and dust pails to chip in, helping to complete a long-planned move from to a larger, better equipped space at 311 9th St., in Huntington, W.V.
On July 6, after many nerve-wracking weeks of lockdown, a lifesaving federal loan, and an all-in team effort, Sip Downtown Brasserie completed a soft re-opening in compliance with social- distancing measures.
“The whole thing was pretty amazing, and we made it work,” says Manager John Seals. “At one point, after professional contractors had completed a good chunk of the renovation work, Sip’s owner Allison White put out the word that we were looking for some help.
“We had staff and friends show up, pick up paintbrushes and help us finish the renovation that we’d started in January.”
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, John Seals talks about the wild ride of moving a popular concept to its next location during the upheaval of the coronavirus.
BB: How did you adjust to the new normal?
JS: We just kept chugging along and didn’t let it stop us. When we were granted permission to do Curbside, our loyal patrons came by to buy bottles of wine. We stayed in our old location until mid-March because we were allowed to do retail. We communicated everyday with employees via text, and when we got together for meetings, we practiced social distancing. We had put a lot into this move prior to Covid. The owner put a lot on the line. So even though it’s been nerve-wracking at times, we never lost sight of our goals.
BB: What were the goals for Sip Downtown?
JS: When Allison White opened Sip in 2012, it was a wine bar concept. It had seating for 24 and an old, tiny kitchen with a limited menu. The concept was very popular, and we became known for our wine, whiskey, and craft beer.
Originally located in Heritage Station in Huntington, Allison White told Herald-Dispatch newspaper that she didn’t have a five-year plan when she first opened her concept, but about a year it became clear her popular concept needed room to grow.
BB: How has Sip Downtown evolved since the early days?
JS: We’ve gone from a small footprint to about 3,400 square feet of space, as well as an outdoor dining space. Our capacity has grown from 24 seats to 120, and we’ve gone from a small kitchen to a full commercial kitchen that has allowed us to increase our menu. The architecture of our new space is also unique. We have covered outdoor space with a concrete bar. It’s really nice, allows our customers to have fresh air while they’re enjoying a drink and some plates.
BB: How has your menu changed with the new move?
JS: We’ve been able to add some really cool menu items, including Coq au Vin, an all zucchini parmesan, crème brûlée, and a deep assortment of small plates and extensive cheese plates. Sip was Huntington’s first and only wine and whiskey bar, and we’re known for our extensive collection of wines from around the world, and for our fleet of three small glasses of wine served together. We also offer We offer a selection of microbrews, artisanal cheeses, desserts and fine local foods carefully selected to complement a drink.
BB: How is it going so far?
JS: Our opening went very well. We weren’t crazy busy, but we were steady the whole time. We’ve opened up our indoor and outdoor space. Inside, we’ve taken away chairs to comply with social distancing, and so far, we’re receiving all positive comments. People really want to get out again.
Although we had some initial furloughs, we navigated the PPP loan program, which was a huge assistance to us, and helped us retain our staff. We have a full-time kitchen manager and about 10 employees.
The owner put a lot on the line when she decided to expand Sip Downtown Brasserie. She had it all pre-planned before Covid. And now we’re hoping we can bring in enough business. We had a very strong following and strong community support before the shutdowns. And so far, everything is turning out well. — Sip Downtown Brasserie is a treasured Boxerbrand customer who uses Corks in their menu cover presentation. Thank you!