Through the power of devoted customers and staff, curbside sales and a vast selection of wine, Cork It has nearly made it through its first year of business and is already preparing to open a second location in Buford this spring.
“I think it’s gone really well,” Roland Stanley, managing partner of the wine bar, said. “When you experience a challenge, it really creates a great opportunity to grow. I think that’s what this whole experience has been, not only for me and Jim (co-owner) but the entire staff is to learn and adapt to these different situations.”
Stanley officially opened Cork It inside Main Street Market with Jim Tortorelli, who owns Tap It Gainesville Growlers, on Feb. 29, 2020. The wine bar offers an array of local and imported wine, as well as charcuterie boards filled with cheese, meats, pickles and jams from Antebellum Restaurant and other businesses.
Stanley said he remembers feeling anticipation and excitement as the wine bar’s first customers began filtering in. The 20-something-year-old was fresh out of college and eager to start his first business endeavor as a co-owner. He had worked in the restaurant industry for a large portion of his life, serving as Luna’s general manager for around three years.
Before pursuing the wine bar, Stanley, who grew up in Flowery Branch, said he had spent six weeks living in Barcelona, Spain, and was ready to leave Hall County to search for “something different.”
Knowing Stanley’s talent in the industry and seeing his potential, Tortorelli said he reached out to him in 2019 and proposed starting up Cork It together.
“I said, ‘I think this community is special, and I think we could do something to really add a lot of value and do something interesting to enhance the community,’” Tortorelli recounted. “Let’s stick around and get it done.”
And sure enough, Stanley became his business partner.
When gearing up to open Cork It, Stanley said the business idea was met with apprehension from community members.
“A lot of people were like, ‘Oh, Gainesville is not ready for that,’” he said. “People said, ‘Are you sure? That might not be a good idea. You just got out of college, why don’t you do something that’s going to work?’”
Knowing the value of Cork It and the need for a quality wine bar in Gainesville, Tortorelli and Stanley said they went with their intuition.
“You can go and enjoy yourself right here in Gainesville and get a nice bottle of wine,” Totorelli said. “We take care of people here.”
Weeks after opening Cork It on the square, the pandemic hit and restaurants began to close their doors. To survive, Stanley said he quickly developed a plan with Tortorelli, shifting to curbside pickup for both wine club members and other patrons. The wine bar also held online wine tastings and offered “deals of the week.”
“You open a business and it’s like the whole word is against you at that point with the pandemic,” Stanley said. “This is not something that just affects Gainesville, the community or the state of Georgia. This is something affecting the whole world. I think it was great to have Jim there. He’s such a great business partner and was extremely optimistic.”
For the first few months in business, he said the wine club had around 40 people. All members pay $65 a month to receive three bottles of wine with tasting notes. They also gain access to an exclusive monthly wine tasting event.
Today, the club’s membership has more than doubled, now serving 85 people.
Stanley said he credits their success during the pandemic to the wine club, COVID-19 protocols, curbside sales, marketing and dedicated six-person staff.
“We have such an incredible team, they show up on time and work hard,” Stanley said. “They consistently impress me with their desire to better themselves.”
In April, Stanley and Totorelli said they plan to open a second Cork It location on East Main Street in Buford, next to Aqua Terra Bistro. Like the Gainesville business, the co-owners said the wine bar will keep a large selection of wine and a variety of charcuterie boards. Chris Bona, who lives in Buford, will serve as the managing partner of the second business.
“Our ultimate goal for Cork It is to provide a great place with great wine for people to come out and enjoy it and talk about it,” Stanley said. “I think that’s exactly what we’ve been able to accomplish in the last year, and we don’t want to stop at that.”