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Auburn couple taste success with wine, caviar
The idea suddenly came over a glass of wine for one Auburn couple.
Why not convert the modest building they had bought off a busy street into a charming, unique wine testing store? Such an ambitious plan couldn't succeed in a deep recession, could it?
Undaunted, owners Jim and Deanna Wilson officially opened the Auburn Wine and Caviar Company on A Street Southeast to a large reception on Dec. 12, 2008. It was an instant hit. Opening day sales exceeded expectations.
"We went to bed that night with visions of lollipops in our heads," Jim Wilson recalled. "Woke up the next morning and there were eight inches of snow on the ground, which lasted for almost two weeks. I had four customers in the next two weeks. ... The City (plow) would come by three times a day. I had a berm (of snow) up here, and to get across it you had to have one of those four-wheel drives."
Wilson admits they opened "at the wrong time," but since then, times have been good for the growing small business. The Wilsons gradually found their niche and hit their stride in offering one of the few classic wine and caviar stores in the Auburn area.
Relying on business acumen and instincts, the Wilsons have defied logic. Clientele has grown, keeping pace with an expanded menu that includes an inventory of about 1,000 bottles of wines of many origins and varieties. An extensive collection of domestic and international wines and champagnes continues to evolve.
For Jim Wilson, the approach is simple: a small business can make it Auburn with careful planning and steps.
"It's a matter of making people want to come here. That's the whole secret," said the 66-year-old Wilson, who has put off retirement. "You've got to attract people, especially since we don't have walk-by clientele. We've got to do things to make people want to come here. We try and make it fun."
The rewarding ride means being a part of the community. The store sponsors several events and supports clubs and organizations – all while improving its own service and inventory.
Once the Wilsons began to serve wine by the glass, a food menu – with lunch and light dinner favorites – began to take shape. From that, came live music, which plays every Friday and Saturday, from 6 p.m. to closing.
The store features a winery of the month, provides wine testing rooms and the comforts of a stylish café.
Customers can try French, German, English and Spanish cheeses and, of course, caviar.
The shelves since have made room for a selection of import beers, including those made in the monastaries of Belgium.
There are plans to open an upstairs room for international wines and expand parking this summer.
The venture has been more than what Jim Wilson has expected.
"Our whole vision was to be a wine shop tasting room and to sell wine by the bottle. We had no vision of going past that," Wilson said. "It took us three to four months to figure out – from listening to people and seeing what was going on – that wasn't going to cut it."
So the Wilsons took the next steps, conservatively growing the business without overextending themselves.
Jim Wilson brought more than 20 years of business experience to his south Auburn shop. He worked for a Seattle-based logistics company that represented major cruise line companies. He did his share of worldwide traveling while picking up a thing or two about service, management and customer relations.
He eventually left the business, and the couple settled in Auburn.
"This whole thing has been an on-the-job experience, and every day we learn something new," said Jim Wilson, who was selected Ambassador of the Year by the Auburn Area Chamber of Commerce last August. "We've done a lot of expansion, but it's been slow over the 2 1/2 years we've been in business.
"It's been a lot of fun," he added. "A lot of customers say it's a 'Cheers' kind of place."
• Auburn Wine and Caviar Company: 2402 A St. SE, Auburn
• Specializing: Wine selections and testing. Food menu also offered. Venue available for clubs, special events.
• Hours: 1-8 p.m. daily. Wine tastings begin 5 p.m. daily.
• Information: 253-887-8530, www.auburnwineandcaviar.com