Roland Stanley was scared of getting stuck in the food and beverage industry after working for years at Luna’s and a short stint at Antebellum.
But that’s exactly where the 22-year-old has landed as a managing partner at Cork It, a wine and charcuterie store, opening soon inside Main Street Market on the Gainesville square.
“As I kind of stepped more into that fear of it, I realized I actually kind of have a passion for it,” said Stanley, a recent University of North Georgia graduate.
The store — it can’t be called a “wine bar” because of city code — is putting the final touches on its renovation at the front nook inside Main Street Market and will be finishing up its menu of meats and cheeses, along with too many wines to name, in the coming weeks.
It’s somewhat of a sister store to Tap It on Thompson Bridge Road, which Stanley said is “more beer-oriented.” Tap It is co-owned by Jim Tortorelli, who is a partner at Cork It now, too.
Stanley hopes to be open 3 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and noon to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday, sometime in the next six weeks.
Cork It will serve wine samples and flights of wine samples — four samples at 3 ounces per glass — paired with charcuterie boards filled with cheese and meats as well as local jams and spreads.
And when it comes to the food and drink at Cork It, Stanley has gotten a little help from the people around him. He’s used Tortorelli, who he said is a “wine connoisseur.” But there’s also a sommelier who’s helped craft the wine list.
Nicholas St. Clair, chef and owner at Antebellum, has helped out with some of the meat and cheese selections and will be providing some of the jams and pickles that will come on the charcuterie boards.
“I helped Roland kind of taste them and pick out the ones we thought are the best,” St. Clair said. “There are some really good ones that are local to the area, which I kind of pointed him in that direction just because they're really good and made by some artisans in our area.”
And as far as the space, before Stanley got ahold of it, it blended in with everything around — original wood floors with basic countertops and some fluorescent lighting.
If you haven’t been to Main Street Market lately, you’re in for a surprise.
Black marble-like tiles and granite countertops now bedeck the front of Main Street Market. He’s built out the counter space to surround the staircase in front of Cork It and will have barstools there as well as around the tasting counter area. There’s even a bar against one of the windows where Sweet Magnolia’s had a few tables.
The store can seat 30, but the open area typically used for Sweet Magnolia’s can seat about 50 more.
Stanley hung pendant lights over the tasting counter. It’s a space he’s hoping people can relax.
“This is cool because it's right on the square and we wanted to create a nice wine bar for people to come in and have a nice snack, glass of wine,” Stanley said. “People can come in, buy some wine, sample some wines and we'll do some pairing classes.”
The new business coming to the square adds something Main Street Market hasn’t had before: A food-and-drink business open later in the evenings.
“I'm excited,” Stanley said. “This is going to provide a space for people to come and learn, a place for the community to gather around wine. And I think throughout this process, I'm learning a lot. I'm learning more day by day. If we're not consistently seeking to learn and grow as individuals, then really, life just becomes stagnant, boring and dull.”
And Cork It hopes to be anything but that.
“I think it’s going to just be something the square needs, all of Gainesville, really,” said Paula Hoffman, an artist with Gallery on the Square, which is inside Main Street Market. “It looks like they’re doing a great job and I think it’s going to bring a lot of people to downtown that love wine and cheese and camaraderie.”
The space up front that Cork It has taken over has always been a space tenants in the building hoped would bring in more visitors.
“They’ve had hot dogs and ice cream and a coffee bar, but those are still mainly during the day,” Hoffman said. “And with this being in the evening or late afternoon, it will be a new realm for Main Street Market.”
Gallery on the Square is looking into extending its hours, especially on the weekend, as a result of the increased foot traffic it hopes to see.
“By us being here, it's driving more people to these small businesses that may need that additional boost,” Stanley said. “So, hopefully people will come in here, get a glass of wine, try some meats and cheese and go check out some art.”
Though Stanley is young, he has more life and world experiences than many people who are older than he is. In just the last couple of years, he’s been to 15 countries, including Italy, Spain, France, Cuba, Canada.
Couple that with his fine-dining experience and Stanley feels he’s the perfect person to head up something like Cork It.
“He loves food, he loves wine, he loves people,” St. Clair said. “For his age, for any age, he's an incredibly smart and talented young man … It's really refreshing to see somebody that young who really wants to be successful and is willing to work for it.”
Aside from tasting all sorts of wine, he’s studied and taken classes to learn the things his palate can’t tell him.
“There's a lot that goes into wine,” Stanley said. “There's a lot of science that goes into the creation of wine, and at the same time there's a lot of art because it takes a lot of passion for that science to be able to create wine.”
Sharing that knowledge and passion is his goal through Cork It, and as the next few weeks come and go, he said he’s excited to share it with everyone who comes through.
“I think we're definitely doing something different for the area,” Stanley said. “I think Gainesville is really going to appreciate it when they see the final piece that's put together, when they see the vision that we have for this place.”