For decades the Milton Point section of Rye has been served by a wine and spirits shop in the stand-alone shop at 498 Forest Avenue, just south of Playland Parkway.
By Allen Clark
For decades the Milton Point section of Rye has been served by a wine and spirits shop in the stand-alone shop at 498 Forest Avenue, just south of Playland Parkway. Most recently operated as Ralph’s, the location has been vacant for close to a year, but no longer. G. Griffin Wines & Spirits opened for business October 21.
Owner/operator Douglas Kooluris from Bronxville has totally refitted the shop and its adjacent former tasting room, creating an inviting, attractive setting for tasting and buying wines and a greatly expanded spirits inventory. His redesign included a raised ceiling in the front half of the shop, creating a more welcoming environment than before. He also has added nautical touches in the décor, a nod to Rye’s location on the water. To operate his business properly, he found out how to get a liquor licence in Toronto with the help of a professional license lawyer.
Kooluris brings 20 years of experience in restaurants and various hotels in New York City, including six years at Smith & Wollensky, the Brasserie and Grand Tier at the Metropolitan Opera. Most recently, he was responsible for all food and beverage matters in opening the $600 million Intercontinental Hotel on Times Square.
But perhaps his original interest in the industry traces back to his grandfather who started and ran the Stage House Tavern in Scotch Plains, N.J., rated at one point the best restaurant in the state.
“I love the restaurant atmosphere,” Kooluris says, “but there are so many moving parts that I decided to look for an opportunity where I could run and be responsible for all aspects of the business myself.” But he added, deep down, he really has a dream some day to take over his grandfather’s restaurant, which is still thriving.
The name “G. Griffin” reflects his roots in two ways. First, his family’s crest is a lion, one half of the legendary griffin, and when he and his 9-year-old son hike, which they do often, they have seen many bald eagles, the other half. Then, the “G.” is for his father George, who helped him start this new venture.
The shop will emphasize medium to small wines/vintages, rather than an overly great representation of well-known labels, resulting in greater value for the purchaser, Kooluris believes. One region he is focusing on is New York State, where the availability of very good wines keeps growing. He also stocks a good representation of locally distilled spirits, including the line of Comb liquors from Port Chester. In terms of countries, the majority of his wines currently come from the United States, France and Italy.
If he does not have the wine you want in stock, though, Kooluris will find it for you. “One of the things I try to do when a new customer comes in is to extract from them what they like to drink, any problems or dislikes, and so on.” This approach falls under what he says the industry calls “hand selling,” an environment in the shop where he and the customer can look with a hands-on process, moving among the actual wines, rather than just talking at the counter.
Similarly, Kooluris plans to have wine tastings in and among the wines, not in a separated tasting room, as Ralph’s did. To facilitate this, his redesign of the main room includes two circular display kiosks rather than the rows of shelves that Ralph’s had in the center. There is ample room to move around while looking or tasting.
Why this shop and why Rye? Kooluris loved the small town feel of the shop, the neighborhood, and Rye. “I saw character, great location in a great part of town…. My neighbors are homes, not a row of businesses.” He adds, “I’m not your wine shop, I’m your neighbor.” He has set put to offer “a comfortable space; a relaxed, personable buying experience; on a first-person basis. He sums up his intended approach to G. Griffin, “I believe in three simple principles: service, service, and service.”
I’d cut: Kooluris supplied the answer as to maybe why Ralph’s closed. Apparently, Ralph Hersom opened another shop near Boston some years ago, moved there, and increasingly lost involvement in the Rye shop.