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06.2012

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Article By: Brandy Rand

MAUREEN RUBINO
CO-OWNER of CENTRAL BOTTLE WINE & PROVISIONS, CAMBRIDGE
     
Central Square and neighboring Kendall Square in Cambridge have become burgeoning biology and technology hubs, with MIT-spawned start-ups and notable companies like Google and Novartis setting up shop.  Not the only ones to miss the opportunity to be part of an up-and-coming neighborhood, Maureen and Dave Rubino, along with partners and friends Nick and Liz Vilardi (owners of the Blue Room) opened up Central Bottle Wine & Provisions on Friday the 13th of November, 2OO9 (good luck according to Italians).  As wine flows, so do great ideas – the concept for the store came about when the two couples were vacationing together in Venice, Italy.  Inspired by the Venetian enotecas, they wanted to create a community gathering spot where people could eat, drink, socialize, and buy wine all under the same roof.  Dave sketched out a beautifully designed 14OO square foot space which has proven to be a dream come true, not only for the friends, but the customers as well.  With a highly curated selection of mostly European wines comfortably priced to pair with mid-week take out –  and a few boutique special occasion gems – Maureen says a goal is to keep most bottles around $2O.  Central Bottle carries a broad selection of craft beers, along with artisanal cheeses, meats, homemade jams, pates, and other specialty items.

BRANDY RAND How did you get in to this industry?
MAUREEN RUBINO I had been a professional fundraiser for seven years and wanted to be a cook, so I set up a meeting with Cary Wheaton at the East Coast Grill to pick her brain.  When she found out I had been a doing, she said “You’d probably be better off in the front of the house dealing with the customers and staff.”  My first thought was: what’s the front of the house?  She arranged an interview for me with Nick at the Blue Room (General Manager at the East Coast Grill too) because he needed an assistant.  With no restaurant experience (Nick claims he was only going to give me five minutes), we ended up talking for over an hour and the next thing I knew, I was hired as a hostess for $8 an hour.  In a few months, I was the Assistant Manager working for Nick and Chris Schlesinger.  The Blue Room was my first real immersion in to wine education and I just continued.  Liz, Nick and I hatched our plan to open our own wine shop because all the Blue Room guests would ask where they could buy the wine they had just enjoyed and we would send them a shop in Medford that I had helped open.  I’m still learning things about wine every day, that’s the most fascinating part and that is one of the reasons why I love this business.

BR What has been the most rewarding part of opening Central Bottle?
MR A couple of things.  One, the realization of a dream come true with our wine shop becoming a true enoteca right here in Cambridge.  Two, to actually discover my strengths and weaknesses as this is my first time being an owner.  My rapport with our regulars and managing people has been a nice element.

BR You’ve said your staff is an integral part of your store’s success.  Why makes them special?
MR They all have a driving desire to be here contributing in their own way to what we have built.  It’s not a large staff at all, so they can take ownership when they are here and build up their own core group of regulars.  Also, they all have different skills and interests.  Dinah MacPhail is very knowledgeable about beer and writes her own beer blog.  We use that as an educational tool for her teammates.  She paired up with our cheese monger, Stephanie Santos, and just had a sold-out, cheese and beer pairing class.

BR When a customer comes in intimidated about wine, how do you approach them?
MR With just a general sense of ease – that wine is something to be enjoyed every day – not something to be overwhelmed by or intimidated about.  The whole idea of “every day” is something that is very important to us – to have these things in your life every day – it just makes it all better. 

BR You have a chef on staff; how has food become a part of your business strategy?
MR Our chef, Stacey Daley, is incredible.  She has built-up our food and provisions program into the fastest growing segment of our business by creating handmade and homemade items that really exemplify our belief in local, fresh, well-made items.  Our customers now buy her jarred heirloom tomatoes by the case, and know to come in on Wednesdays for a fresh batch of her chicken liver pate.
Also, our cheese monger Stephanie is building our cheese program focusing on local American artisan cheese makers with an emphasis on New England and New York.  Having the classic European cheeses – just like the most trusted Bordeaux on our wine shelf – helps to actually build trust among your guests.  They recognize these classic European cornerstones and are then eager to try our American inspirations and selections.  For example, Timberdoodle from Weston, Vermont, and Hooligan from Colchester, Connecticut.

BR A food and wine pairing that surprise people the most but work well together is . . .
MR Dolcetto and creamy pasta.

BR Most memorable bottle of wine you’ve ever had . . .
MR It would have to be Flavio Rodolo’s Dolcetto.  Eileen from Adonna Imports was tasting me on my very first Dolcetto years ago and this was the one that changed the way I thought about wine and food – kind of like a light bulb going off above my head.  The wine was fresh and fruity and sprightly, and made my mouth water almost uncontrollably.  I was telling Eileen this and she said that, in true Italian form, Dolcetto’s purpose was to be paired with the primi course, specifically pasta with cream sauce that is very traditional in Piedmont.  The Dolcetto’s “job”, per se, was to wash the mouth clean of the milk from the cream sauce and prepare it for the next bite.  I’ve never forgotten that.  Dolcetto’s name translates loosely to “sweet, young thing”. 

BR Your wines are primarily European instead of domestic – why?
MR When we opened we wanted to sell wines that the four of us like to drink every day, which are primarily Italian and French wines.  This brings our focus on small production, handcrafted, sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines.  We actually tried to sell wines from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and it just eventually fizzled out for us.
We decided that it was perfectly alright to just sell what we truly love.  It just seems harder to find wines from our own country that exemplify what we love and enjoy.  For example, one of our favorite wineries in California just happens to be owned by an Italian man and his son . . . go figure!

BR You’ve turned Thursday nights in to a gathering spot with wines and beers to taste, often paired with food.  Tell me about them.
MR Now that we’re two and half-years-old, we have definitely built up a core group of regular guests who come every week.  They know it’s going to be fun and educational, and sometimes challenging, since the wines are not always what they are used to or expect.  This turns out to be a good thing because, in the most basic example, we might only have whites on the flight that night, and a guest will say “I only drink red”.  Then we get them to try something new and most often they like it – or at least they’ve given it a shot.
Our most successful ones seem to be the big food themed ones: jambon bar (we carved our own jambon leg); fondue bar (the shop smelled especially great that night); and $1 oyster bar (we shuck Island Creek oysters to order and serve it with Stacey’s blood orange mignonette).  We also have visiting wine makers and cheese makers who mingle with our guests. 

BR What wine you would have as part of your last meal if you had to pick just one?
MR If it was my last meal it would be a magnum of sparkling wine and a box of tissues . . .

For a schedule of events, visit centralbottle.com.
                                                                                                                                                                                                           

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