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One Year Anniversary - Our Story

Posted by Tom Kisthart on

One year ago we opened the doors to Craft & Curd. Building a business from zero is both frightening and exhilarating at the same time. Every single day was - and continues to be - a fight for our right to exist. And I love every second of it. I've never felt more in control in my entire life and this is certainly one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to all of you for your support, your attention, your telling friends about us, you bringing food & drink to us, everything. Thank you. I'm forever in debt to my future wife Jessica for everything she does for the shop. She is the most important weapon in my arsenal for success. I also need to thank my friend and business partner and his fiancée for believing in me. And my parents for their optimism and continued financial support - hope to end that trend before my forties ;-) I'd like to share a bit about how I got into wine and how that relates to Craft & Curd. 

How I got into wine

The aha moment. I'm barely 21 and just enjoyed a nice meal in an Italian restaurant. The waiter presents a list of after dinner drinks and I notice there are three ports. All are from the same producer, Fonseca, but one is ten years old, another twenty and the last thirty. I found it fascinating that you can order basically the same wine but to various degrees of age. After that day I wanted to taste every wine I could get my hands on. I would purchase all types of wines from everywhere, most not very expensive and rarely did I buy the same wine twice. My number one asset that got me into wine was not an extraordinary nose - far from it - it was my intense curiosity and desire to learn more.

The education

After beginning to taste all these wines from all over the world, the next step was to learn more about them. I subscribed to Wine Spectator magazine and started buying books from mostly British wine writers like Jancis Robinson. On my days off, I would literally lay in the bathtub for hours reading random entries in wine encyclopedias, sound exciting? After finishing my business degree and while working as a pharmacy technician I was trying to figure out what to do career-wise. Maybe I could work in the wine industry but I had no idea how. I signed up for a course at what was then the French Culinary Institute in NYC. Going to those classes was one of the happiest times in my life. I received lectures from top wine professionals and then got to taste different wines of the world paired with food. It was magic to me at the time. After that course was over I wanted more. I started studying with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and went on to earn their Advanced certificate. I wanted out of New York and decided to pack up in head to St. Pete. Not having any clue what to do but knowing I loved wine I asked the wine shop that I frequented for a job and got it. That shop was the now defunct Cork & Olive. I had been to Bern's Steakhouse a few times before and a friend mentioned to me that they were hiring in their wine shop. I applied and got the job based on my wine geek status. The wine director Kevin asked me some soft ball questions about grape varieties of a particular region and I continued with little known varieties that are also grown there. Done deal. I spent two years there tasting incredible wines every single day. Kevin was a great mentor and I learned a lot of little things from him.

The streets

Like many in the wine business you eventually end up selling wine for a distributor, that's mostly where the money is. Certainly a departure from spitting fine wine at Bern's all day. I was out fighting over Yellow Tail prices with shady characters on the mean streets of Brandon. The best thing that came out of those two years was meeting my current business partner. I went on to work for the same company's fine wine division for three years, living in fear everyday of someone named Luciano. I got to observe the strengths and weaknesses of dozens of wine shops across Tampa Bay and beyond. This of course was a tremendous asset for opening Craft & Curd. Not to mention learning how distributors work to use that towards our advantage. During that time, I passed my Certified Sommelier exam, step two towards becoming what is called a Master Sommelier - aka a wine waiter that knows enough about wine to literally bore a normal human to death. I also achieved the Certified Specialist of Wine credential and probably some other ones that I've forgotten about.

Back to NY

Working in distribution can drain your passion in wine over the years. I was getting bored with the job and with Tampa overall. At the time I was listening to a great wine podcast called I'll Drink to That. I was getting inspired about all the incredible wines available to taste in NY. I moved back up and ended up working for one of the world's (yes, world's) biggest fine wine retailers, Sherry-Lehmann. Fighting with sharp-elbowed upper east siders five days a week was one of the most miserable things I've ever done. I put my head down, fought on and got to taste many amazing wines. Luckily I had ended up with a job so bad that I missed Tampa and started plotting my return. I got back in contact with my now business partner and started planning for the future. I met a girl through that will soon be my wife. I took a trip down to Tampa, secured the girl, secured a job with a small distributor and hit the ground running within two weeks. In less than one year Craft & Curd was open. It's been a very fortunate few years for me and I'm grateful to be doing what I love, in the city I love with people I love. Gratitude.

Craft & Curd

Still with me? God bless you. Licensing was the hardest part of opening the shop. We wanted to open being able to sell wine both retail and for consumption here but found that the consumption license would take many months to get. We had no intentions to open as a cheese shop as well but learnt that doing so would speed up our process. OK then, we're a cheese shop. Hence the name Craft & Curd was born. Truthfully, I still don't love the name but it was something we could all agree upon.

I wanted a major of focus of Craft & Curd to be wines that we could sell for under $15. Many of those wines do in fact cost more elsewhere but we get restaurant pricing which is often better than what other retailers pay and we also make sure to take advantage of great deals. Our ideal customer is one that likes to try different wines and is not just locked into one brand. I always try to find new wines that people love and move out the slow movers to make room for more potential hits. Since a lot of the wines that we carry are lesser known we offer many opportunities to taste.

I'm obsessed with improving the business every single day. This is my dream and I will stop at nothing to make it work. One of the handicaps that we have is a location that is not highly visible and not good for foot traffic. Six months in we were considering changing the location after X amount of time if traffic didn't improve. We're still not fully where we need to be but we're certainly getting closer. I'm wedded to this location now and have come to love the fight against our weakness. We have no plans for a new or second location, the only plan is to keep improving this one continuously.

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