CLEARWATER —The concept behind Pour Yours, the wine bar that had its grand opening on Cleveland Street Thursday, is about taking the intimidation out of ordering a drink.
When customers slide their cards into the automated machines, they can choose one-, three- or six-ounce pours of 24 wines without fear of mispronouncing a Shiraz in front of their waiter or date.
But owners Lina Teixeira and Leonardo Caicedo hope the sentiment behind the wine bar goes further. Their goal is also to take the intimidation out of opening an ambitious business in a downtown currently peppered with vacant storefronts. If there is ever going to be a downtown Clearwater revival, Teixeira said, investors have to take a leap.
"I’m hoping it makes me more credible when I am trying to convince someone to risk it and open a business," Teixeira said. "I’m not just saying it. If I can make it work here, your idea can work here."
As president of the Downtown Clearwater Merchants Association, Teixeira has helped organize events to bring foot traffic to stores and talked up the city on local TV news segments. Since opening her Galleria Teixeria at 617 Cleveland Street in 2014, the wearable art studio has often doubled as downtown promotion headquarters.
But she realized her speciality shop, a destination for customers who commission her to design shoes or dresses, isn’t a business that’s breeding a retail core.
The idea for Pour Yours was planted when she saw a similar self-serve wine bistro while visiting her daughter in Italy last year. She did some research back home and thought "Clearwater needs something like this."
She pitched the idea to Caicedo after a Merchants Association meeting last fall. Caicedo, who opened his Puerto Rican restaurant La Fondita de Leo at 528 Cleveland Street in 2015, had been thinking of starting a nightclub in the vacant space next door.
He had already built a DJ booth and installed speakers. Now with the wine bar concept and a new partnership, they got to work.
Teixeira found design ideas online and Caicedo brought them to life. After working lunches and dinners at his restaurant, he’d go home to his workshop and built a steel framed bar, wine racks, a coffee table, a long communal table.
Any furniture they bought, like the high-top tables and couches, have sleek, laid back tones of earthy grey and an industrial style.
Their vision was anti-high brow, like how other wine bars can feel.
"There’s no oak in here," Caicedo said.
The self-serve wine concept has already made its way to Tampa Bay, with tasting bistros like Try Wine in St. Petersburg and Sips Wine Bar in Safety Harbor.
With millennials now more inclined to buy higher priced bottles at stores to bring home, spending less in restaurants, Leslie Gevirtz, a contributing editor at Wine Enthusiast magazine, said restaurants and bars are getting creative.
"They’re trying to offer experiences," Gevirtz said. "They have classes, they have tastings. This way there’s no wrong answer. It’s whatever you want."
Since opening their doors for a soft launch in April, it’s been just Teixeria and Caicedo running the place — she after working in her studio during the day and he after running the restaurant’s dinner rush.
Caicedo created a special tapas and small plate menu for Pour Yours, with the food prepared at La Fondita next door and brought over. Teixeira helped create nicknames for each wine, which helps customers select their drinks on more than just labels.
The Chateau de la Chaize is described as "red fruited, light, rubied, flirty," so it’s labeled the "James Franco." A Whispering Angel Rosé is "sweet, seductive, effervescent," so naturally, it’s nicknamed "Rihanna."
The automated machines have nitrogen pumps underneath, keeping the wine fresh and oxygen free. Customers get a card to insert for each pour, which keeps track of their tabs to cash out later.
"You’re left to your own devices to taste the wines here," Teixeira said. "When you like something, you can have the whole glass. In restaurants, I end up with a $12 glass of wine I don’t like. I find the whole process imposing. With these machines, I like the fact that, hey, I’m going to taste this and I’m only going to buy an ounce, so if I don’t like it, it’s only an ounce."
Caicedo said he’s been lucky downtown, able to build a loyal customer base through his reputation as a successful chef in Puerto Rico and being one of the only restaurants serving the island’s cuisine in the area.
Still the climate isn’t easy. A half dozen restaurants opened and shuttered within a few years in the same storefront before La Fondita moved in.
Caicedo said there is a combination of barriers: a fickle city permitting process makes opening a business burdensome; special events draw crowds of visitors, but there’s little foot traffic on an average day; and deserved or not, the overwhelming footprint of the Church of Scientology’s international headquarters has made business owners hesitant to take a chance on downtown.
But as a businessman, he sees a new door opening. The city is in the early stages of the $55 million waterfront redevelopment project Imagine Clearwater, which aims to reshape Coachman Park and bring trails, gardens, meeting places and a gateway plaza to the under-used 66 acres west of downtown.
Like the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park park in Tampa that has spurred a revival there, and residential and retail markets that have boomed in St. Petersburg, Caicedo said this could be Clearwater’s turn.
"It’s time to get on the downtown Clearwater boat," he said. "The effort we all as merchants are putting in will create that interest and bring businesses downtown rising this whole thing up. But the local crowd is not that big. We cannot depend on the walking crowd. We need a destination to bring others here."
Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.