After an illustrious career in the restaurant and hotel business in New York City, which included managing Smith & Wollensky, running the Grand Tier at the Metropolitan Opera, and overseeing food and beverage for the International Hotel in Times Square, Douglas Kooluris, in 2012, decided he was ready for a new act.
It took him close to a year to find just the right spot in which to open his own wine and spirit shop. “I liked the idea of working in a business with fewer moving parts than a restaurant,” he offered.
When he learned Ralph’s, the longtime wine shop at 498 Forest Avenue, was closing, he moved quickly to acquire it. “You can see Long Island Sound from the front window and it’s in a neighborhood,” Kooluris explained.
He set about making it a neighborhood destination again. He took the dilapidated interior down to the studs, built lots more shelving for wine to make it “the star of the show,” and added nautical touches throughout.
Once he settled on a striking logo – the mythical griffin – the new name for his shop, G. Griffin, “just rolled off the tongue.”
Kooluris built a loyal and large clientele early. When did he realize his business was a success? “When I started getting Christmas cards,” he said proudly.
There are many reasons for his success. “I leave my ego at the door and talk up to customers, not down,” he said. He focuses on customer service and relationships more than he does a particular grape or vintages. He stocks recognizable labels. More recently, he added ready-to-drink cocktails to the mix. They’re flying out the door.
“My philosophy is that you have to stock a little bit of everything — everyday wines, great wines for special occasions and gifts. Ninety percent of my customers aren’t wine aficionados, they drink what they enjoy.”
It’s worth noting that he has built his business through word-of-mouth. He’s revered by the nonprofits, because when he’s asked to make a $100 donation of wine for a charitable event, he typically gives a $400 donation.
The pandemic, while not good for the spirit, was good for the wine business. Kooluris recalled, “Before 2020, we received a call or two on a weekend, asking us to deliver. Nearly four years later, we’re still making 30 deliveries a day, and with so many customers still not back at work full time, I don’t see that changing.” His Winebulance was an instant sensation and has logged many miles. And the $3 brass plaques on the display shelves for regular customers? “Priceless.”
But after a decade in the wine business, Kooluris, age 50, is ready for his next act. “If you’re going to own a wine shop, you have to be the captain of and on the ship, which means working 12-hour days six days a week,” he said. “With our son off at college, I want to be home at night, spending time with my wife.”
He hired a broker and had no difficulty selling the business. Once the state signs off on the new licenses and permits, Doug Kooluris will be pondering his next career. Meanwhile, he knows he’ll be home this Christmas Eve.