Confident that the new establishment would succeed when it opened in July, Tara Smith, manager of Lodi’s Wine Social, is excited the wine bar has become a big hit Downtown.
“We had high hopes going into it,” she said of opening last summer. “And things just went well. And here we are now, still going strong.”
Lodi’s Wine Social, at 7 N. School St., has always been slightly different from other, more traditional wine bars.
From the beginning, Smith knew she wanted to create a place where people could walk in, relax with a glass of wine or two, and not be rushed out the door.
In fact, she would encourage customers to stay as long as they wanted, even if that meant closing 30 minutes later than scheduled.
Word of mouth spread about the bar, and Smith’s clientele has grown from a few casual wine drinkers and regulars who come in on a specific day after work, to book groups reserving a corner of the wine room every week.
In the six months Lodi’s Wine Social has been open, Smith has also booked regular musical acts to perform some weekends, as well as a karaoke disc jockey.
But she said the most popular aspect of the bar has been its wine slushies, frozen drinks similar to the Slurpies found at 7-Eleven, but with wine added to the mix.
When Smith opened last summer, her thought was to offer wine slushies in the warmer summer and spring months. However, when temperatures dropped in the early winter, she packed the slushie makers away and introduced a warmer drink, the Vine Brule.
“I had so many people keep asking when I was going to bring the slushies back over the last few weeks,” she said. “And you know, our temperatures were in the mid-60s this week. We found that, even though it was supposed to be winter here, people didn’t necessarily want to keep warm.”
So the decision was made to keep the slushies flowing year-round.
Along with offering the frozen delight throughout the year, Smith will begin dedicating certain nights of the week to different in-house events.
Fridays, she will begin featuring some of her favorite recipes as small menu items.
Last week she made a Tuscan brownie, soaking the familiar chocolate pastry in a port and topping it with vanilla bean gelato.
She said each Friday will feature a different recipe, giving customers a “tour” of different regions around the world.
Looking forward, Smith intends to have live music every Saturday night. Artists will range from country to jazz to classic rock, and Smith said she’s currently booked through March.
In addition, she hopes to have two wine pairings a month, such as cheese and wine or chocolate and wine, and at least one themed party each month.
In March she will host an ‘80s party, encouraging guests to deck themselves out in their best Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson or “Miami Vice” costumes.
She said many of her ideas for more than just serving wine with cheese and olive plates have come from customers and the community.
“There are a lot of people who come in and love the ‘80s,” Smith said. “So we’ll put ‘80s music on Pandora, and watch the crowd grow. Another night someone will want classic rock, so we’ll put that on and watch another crowd grow. It’s great to see we have a diverse group of customers.”
And the diversity is not limited to musical tastes. She said customers range in age from the just-turned-21 crowd to lifelong Lodians in their 60s and 70s.
A native of Houston, Smith came to California in 2002 and worked in the Bay Area as an assistant at a credit card processing firm.
In 2007, she was a manager at the Great Mall of Milpitas, then moved to Lodi in 2012 and tried to conquer the grueling commute through Tracy, Livermore and Fremont to get to work.
That lasted about a year before she found a job in Lodi as a property manager at Sorelle Winery. She also found herself doing similar work at Six Hands Winery, doing everything from bottling wine to managing events.
“I just decided it was time to do what I loved when I wasn’t at work, and that was food and wine,” she said. “I went out, I met people and networked, and before I knew it, I was at Sorelle.”
Last year. the winery then made her manager of its wine room at 14 S. School St. In just four months the place had outgrown itself, she said, and Lodi’s Wine Social came to fruition, moving across the street to its current location.
With only three staffers when the bar opened, Smith now has eight employees. If the crowds continue to grow, there might be room for expansion, she said.
“I think we’ve shown people you can do more than what everybody else is doing,” she said. “And that’s doing more than just serving cheese and wine.”
She said Facebook has been key in spreading the word about Lodi’s Wine Social, which has attracted people from Sacramento and San Francisco to Southern California.
However, Lodi residents haven’t been excluded from the customer base.
“This is my community, and these are my neighbors,” she said of the clientele. “It’s important for us to be a part of that, and I think we’ve brought a sense of community here. I’m looking forward to branching out and doing more things in the future here.”