As a small business owner, I love when I can spotlight fellow entrepreneurs to highlight the wonderful services and products they bring to our community, and today we’re combining my enthusiasm for shopping local with wine . . . and cheese . . . but mostly wine. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Michelle the owner of Cork & Cow, a local wine bar and bistro, and we immediately connected over the shared struggles of owning a business and how a glass of wine in the evening is sometimes an absolute essential. She’s funny, knows her stuff, and owns one of the coolest spots in town. If you’re local or just visiting for some fabulous bras *ahem*, add Cork & Cow to your “must go” list. Did I mention they had wine and that today is a Saturday?
Cork & Cow
Location: 3152 Walden Lane, Burlington NC 27215 in the Alamance Crossing Shopping Center
Find them online: corkandcowburlington.com
Michelle, tell me a little bit about what Cork & Cow offers customers.
We are a Wine Bar, Bistro and Retail Store serving over 30 wines by the glass and 25+ draft and bottled beers. We have an array of cheeses, meats, sandwiches, salads, flatbreads, dips (made in house), and munchies, and you can enjoy outdoor seating on our beautiful patio. We also offer:
- Wine Tastings on Tuesdays & Wednesdays from 4 to 7pm. Cost is $5 for 4 tastes of Wine served with Crackers and a taste of cheese.
- The option to book a private wine tasting party, showers, book clubs, business meetings. Great place to meet a friend and share some wine before or after a dinner or a movie. Comfortable setting to relax, read, socialize or gather with co-workers.
- Great retail wine and beer selections to take home.
- Knowledgeable and helpful staff.
- Case wine sales 10% off everyday.
We are a family owned local business started in November 2012. Our staff is dedicated to making your experience pleasant and comfortable. No pretense, just helpful service and delicious food and beverages.
I love the concept of “no pretense” and how your focus is primarily on service. What made you want to open a business like this?
I have spent many years in the wine industry as well as food and retail. I have always wanted a place that would be a comfortable experience for the novice and the expert. Some people often find the “bar scene” uncomfortable, particularly if you are single and just want to go out and have a glass of wine or if you are not into sports and just want to meet your coworkers after work for a beer. I’m often told that this is such a warm and welcoming spot, perfect to just relax among friends or a quite date night.
I can totally relate. Burlington seems dominated by places with either a sports emphasis or that quintessential bar feel. Almost every time I visit a traditional bar, it’s predominantly male, and as a single woman myself, it can be intimidating to get a drink at other places, especially if I want to be left alone or hang out with my friends. Then there’s times I just want to drink wine and read. What you offer with Cork and Cow takes the stress out of a bar-like drinking situation while still providing a great selection of beers and wines. Of course, creating a successful small business takes time and persistence. Have you made any mistakes along your journey?
Biggest mistake was trying to do everything myself…my advice: hire the accountant, social media person, manager, etc if that is not your forte. Do what you do best and pay someone to do the rest.
So, we talked about how you differ from the local bar scene, but what distinguishes you from other wine and cheese bistros?
Cork & Cow is not a franchise, it is a family run business. My Mother works here during the day, and customers LOVE her. She and I as well as most of my employees know all of our regular customers by name. Many customers tell us its like having wine with friends in their living room. Oh, and dogs are welcome on the patio…
As someone who bring her dogs to work, I heartily approve of this picture! Given all the variables that go into your business, what do you think is the hardest part of running it?
Finding employees that want to work and actually be engaged in the business. Fortunately, over the years, we have found a few that actually care about the customers, want to learn about wine, and enjoy what they do. But it is a struggle to find and keep them. I have found if I hire people that have an interest in learning about wine rather than someone already experienced in wine (translate: ego) it seems to be a better fit.
I haven’t crossed that bridge yet, but I’ve heard finding an employee who matches both you and the atmosphere of your business can be challenging. Not like the rest of running a small business isn’t! Have you ever had any moments when you wanted to quit? I feel like most of us experience this at some point and I am always curious how everyone copes, especially across different business models.
Yes, the first couple of years were tough, even if you are very focused and organized, it is difficult to plan for anything and everything that might happen. So when those unexpected events happened, I just dug deeper and worked harder, because I knew that this is what I really wanted to do.
When you’ve had one of those tough days, how do you like to unwind and recenter?
Funny, this is the reason I have Cork & Cow. One of my favorite things to do would be to put together a spread of cheeses, fruits and veggies, and sit out on my porch and socialize with friends or neighbors and, of course, drink wine!!
Okay, let’s have some fun questions. What’s your guilty entertainment pleasure?
I’m not much into TV, reality shows or binge-watching the latest whatever. But sometimes when I get home late after a long day, I watch horror or sci-fi movies. There’s something about fright and gore I find cathartic 🙂
I’m a total horror movie junkie myself! Let’s see, if you had to pick a time other than now to live, what would you choose?
I would be a noblewoman in France during the Renaissance, I’m not totally sure that I haven’t already done that.
And the secret to happiness is . . .
Do what you love and love what you do!
Thank you, Michelle, and I hope all our local customers will stop in for a glass of wine soon!