After 20 years in the wholesale wine business, Brian Franzese was determined to live out his dream to own and operate a retail market. • "I knew if I didn't," he said, "I would kick myself later for not at least trying."
But when Bella Vino wine and cheese market opened a few days before Christmas 2005, Brian and his wife, Cheryl, both 44, feared they had made a mistake by making the store too attractive.
"Because it's pretty doesn't mean you pay more," said Cheryl Franzese. "That was the hardest thing we had to overcome."
Today, the market's customers include serious wine connoisseurs as well as newcomers learning from Brian Franzese's expertise and the market's monthly wine tasting events.
Marie Kudelko and her husband, Paul, a cardiologist at Morton Plant Hospital, are serious about their wine and make frequent trips to California's Napa Valley wine region.
"We enjoy that kind of wine country experience when we are there," Marie Kudelko said.
Bella Vino, she said, has "brought that kind of experience here. They really go the extra mile with their specialty wine tasting events, getting people from the top wine houses."
Bella Vino continues to expand.
"I don't care what business you're in, you have to work hard at it," Brian Franzese said. "We're still growing and evolving."
The market's newest feature, he said, is a wine bar that offers 15 wines by the 3- or 6-ounce glass, priced from $3 to $13, and cheese and dessert hors d'oeuvres selections for two at $15.
Another addition is the Skybar wine dispensing machine for home use. The vacuum-run machine holds three wine bottles, each with its own temperature control, and is guaranteed to stay fresh for 10 days. It sells for $1,100.
"That we're doing well has a lot to do with some very loyal customers," Franzese said.
"I like wine, but I really never knew a lot about it," said Tom O'Brien, a Bostonian who has lived in the area a decade and hosts a financial talk radio program on WHNZ 1250 AM.
"You can buy wine anywhere," he said, but at Bella Vino, "you meet friends and get an education."
He said the Franzeses have made the store a social gathering place, and "I think that's a huge plus."
"When they first opened, they had the wine, then they added the cheese," said O'Brien, who with his wife, Angela, has been a customer since the market opened. "They had cheese makers come and explain how they made the cheese and what wines would go with the different cheeses. It was really cool. That's what makes the place. They're selling a whole experience."
The market has more than 40 cheeses from around the world ranging in price from $7.99 to $24.95 a pound.
It also has espresso cafe hot and cold drinks, gelato, wine gifts and accessories, cigars, temperature-controlled wine lockers that hold from four to 12 cases of wine and all-occasion gift baskets.
"They do all our holiday shopping for us," said Belinda Glover.
She and her husband, George, who builds and manages hotels, are among the loyal customers.
"We just take our list in to Brian and say this is what we have, they take care of it and do a beautiful job," she said.
The Glovers collect wines and enjoy finding new ones at California wineries. Back here at home, she said, "We've learned a lot about wines from Brian. He knows his stuff."
"They're so friendly and I feel so comfortable in there," Glover said. "I can ask them anything, like, 'We're going to have a hamburger tonight, what would go with this?' "
Chris Cosdon can be reached at email@example.com.