In some ways, you’ve got to be mentally prepared before stepping foot in La Grande Orange. It’s a barrage of noise, sights, people, more noise, stuff to buy, girls who don’t do yoga but wear yoga clothes, more noise, and a line that requires your attention if you intend on keeping your place in it.
Over to the right, you’ve always seen the walls of wine, but chances are good that you’ve never ventured over there, or if you did, like bad feng shui, you knew something was askew so you just left. Now it’s safe to enter, because Kimber Stonehouse is in charge. Stonehouse has helped steer the shop at Sportsman’s Fine Wine & Spirits as Director of Opps for eight years. Since Bashas’ unloaded Sportsman’s over the summer, that put Stonehouse in position to, well, look for a new position.
A little over a month ago, she landed at LGO Hospitality as Company Wine Merchant. Her immediate job: get that aforementioned wine portion of the grocery under control, help develop the program at the soon-to-open Ingo’s Tasty Food across the street, and spearhead the new Tasting Room where that gelato shop once was. After all this, it’s all about relevance. Stonehouse will keep wines and beers on good rotation so folks always have something to look forward to on the drinks front.
We caught up with Stonehouse last week and chatted about all that’s happening. As you can tell, it’s a lot.
So, this is a bit of a change from life at Sportsman’s…
I know! I love it. The energy is so high – not just because it’s busy all the time, but because of all the changes we want to implement and the work to be done.
What kind of changes have you made already?
Well, in the wine department, I first cleaned up the floor and got all the bottles on shelves. There were wine boxes and matts at the bottom of the shelves so you could barely get to the wine itself. I’ve reorganized how the wine is displayed … it was organized by varietal and now it’s by country, then the domestics are organized by varietal. Plus, all the bottles behind the display bottles are now laid down rather than upright. You’ve got to do things like this if you’re going to start attracting the real wine enthusiast. In the pizzeria, the wine list is now a lot less cluttered – it’s more focused. The wine list was a bunch of pages … but we’re talking about pizza, you don’t need that many choices. Plus, with all these changes comes staff training.
What do staff now need to know?
For example, I’ve explained how to speed chill a bottle with water and salt. If a guest wants a bottle of white that’s on the shelf and not in the cooler, servers previously steered customers away from those wines. Now, you can order anything that’s in stock because they’ve been taught to speed chill. There’s no corkage fee at LGO, so it’s great to pick a bottle off the Grocery shelf and bring it to the pizzeria. On the store side, we’re going to focus on reminding people that we offer a 10 percent discount on purchases of six-bottles or more. Plus, we’re just going to do better at simply offering help if you’re in that department.
You did a dessert wine tasting last week. Were any of those wines stocked previously?
None of them. I see the start of a dessert wine section! (laughs) But you’ll also notice I added some wines that are more recognizable. Don’t worry, I’m not talking cheap grocery store wines, just wines that make customers feel like there’s something familiar on the wall, so it’s not all so esoteric. Then, once a customer sees something they know, we can talk to them about discovering something new.
What hasn’t changed?
A bulk of the inventory is still priced in the $15 to $40 range. That’s the sweet spot for a wine shop like this.
In most restaurants, you see liquor reps hanging out all day with their laptops and roller cases of wine for tastings. I never see that here. What’s up?
We do those tastings discreetly and they’ve all been told that we need to set appointments. This loud environment isn’t conducive to my focus. To really taste, you need to offer full attention.
How do you stay educated about wine?
I travel. My last trip was to Washington with 60 buyers from across the country. On that one, we tasted chardonnay juice before it was fermented so we could better understand the grape. And we tasted viognier during all of its stages – it’s mind boggling what happens to grapes as they become wine.
Do you read?
I do. A lot! Right now I’m reading a non-fiction book about Madame Clicquot called The Widow Clicquot. I’ve got over 100 books on wine and a wall full of other books.
Anything funky part of the marketing plan for all this new stuff?
Well, I used to record a podcast called Around The World In A Glass – we did winemaker interviews, talked about travel, and various industry topics. I haven’t done it in a while, but I plan on bringing that back once the Tasting Room is open.
That space next to the pizzeria, we’re turning it into a little wine bar. It’ll be open from 4pm to close, same hours as the pizzeria, and a great place to enjoy a wine on tap or a bottle you just purchased – I’m really looking forward to it.
Sounds like there’s a lot to be done — we’ll let ya get back to work…
La Grande Orange
4410 N. 40th St.
Phoenix, AZ 85018