Danielle Lewis and Michael Goldberg wanted to open a restaurant that served specialty desserts and wines in Brooklyn. But property prices held them back.
Last November the couple started just such a business, Chocolate and Vines, but on University Avenue in Rochester.
Goldberg and Lewis were drawn to the area by the Finger Lakes wine region. Goldberg, 27, brings 14 years of catering experience from working at restaurants in Manhattan and on Long Island. He says he was looking for a different atmosphere with Chocolate and Vines after working in busy kitchens for large parties.
The eatery serves an assortment of desserts, cheeses and wines paired carefully to offset tastes and complement each other. Chocolate and Vines has wines from across the world, with some 20 percent of them produced locally. It also features a number of microbrew beers, and Lewis says she has developed an affinity for local brews.
Prices range from $6 to $8 for individual desserts, and plates of cheese are $8 for a choice of three or $15 for six.
“I’m a big wine fan, having lived in Europe for several years and seen what they have to offer there, but I was raised in a microbrew environment,” says the 29-year-old Lewis, a native of Oregon. “I’m kind of a microbrew snob.”
Some of the beer is local too, like a Bavarian-style from Wagner Vineyard Estates Winery on Cayuga Lake. The entire menu-beers, wines, cheeses and desserts-is meant for exploration, Lewis says.
“When I explain to people what our restaurant is about, it’s really about playing with your food, playing with flavors and mixing and matching and what things blend most compatibly,” she says.
For customers who are not sure where to start, Lewis and Goldberg offer suggestions. Lewis says most people begin with a wine and a plate of cheeses, which include blue cheeses and gorgonzolas.
After a salty start, most move on to an individual dessert like cheesecake or a few pieces of chocolate with tea or coffee. All coffees are French pressed and the tea is organic fair trade, with decaffeinated varieties that cater to the late-night crowd Chocolate and Vines tends to attract. The menu also includes gelatos from Italy and mousses from France.
Chocolate and Vines opened in a 1907 Victorian house that Lewis says fits the shop’s environment perfectly, as does the neighborhood. The ArtWalk creates foot traffic, and the George Eastman House, a little less than a block away, and a handful of nearby theaters also help bring patrons.
Chocolate and Vines is popular for first dates and for crowds leaving shows, people who may have already eaten or are looking for an interesting way to cap an evening.
“We may not be looking for this to be your meal stop, but it is fantastic for after-theater or after-movie fare,” Lewis says. “It’s just a fun and different environment, and we even put a lot of work into the decor and honoring the existing structure to make a welcoming and interesting atmosphere.”
Lewis and Goldberg work in the business full time and have one weekend employee. Based on the first few weeks that Chocolate and Vines has been open, Lewis projects it will make close to $120,000 this year, but she adds that a more accurate number will be available after a few months. The couple is working to get WiFi access for students.
One of the biggest challenges, Lewis says, is dealing with skeptics who say the absence of complete meals will doom Chocolate and Vines.
“One thing I want people to understand is the concept is not about feeding yourself to satiate a hunger,” she says. “It’s about having an experience; it’s about combinations of flavors that many people ignore.
“I’m all about having a quick sandwich on the go, but when you have time it’s nice to sit in a great environment and enjoy combinations of flavors that we’ve spent a few years researching.”