Two years ago, James Lewis was working as an apprentice at a wine store, and Ryan Granville was an accountant at the Internal Revenue Service.
Today, the two friends are are business partners living out their passions and their dreams!
On September 4, Lewis and Granville opened J&R Symposium, a boutique wine and spirits store, located at 1148 Union Street (at the corner of Rogers Ave.) in Crown Heights.
What sets J&R Symposium apart is its large inventory of specialty, boutique wines from around the world, including the central and southern Appalachian Mountains, as well as wine regions in Germany, France, Italy, South America, and local areas across upstate New York and Brooklyn.
Their spirit selection is not as large as in most wine stores in the area. But what they do offer are smaller quantities of scotch, whiskey, bourbon and gin that are rare and infused. Also, everything is affordable: Their least expensive wine starts at $8 and their most expensive is $34.
“We noticed that in an area that is changing, people who really enjoy this type of store want something affordable,” said Lewis. “They don’t want to have to cross the Parkway and [pay a lot of money] just to just get a bottle of wine.”
Granville added, “This is an open concept wine store where, unlike the other liquor stores in this neighborhood, we don’t have the bullet-proof glass. You can walk in, explore every region; you can ask questions or just pick what you’re familiar with.”
Granville said they decided to open J&R Symposium, because, for them, it made dollars and sense: James apprenticed at Atlantic Wine Cellar for a year, where the owner was gracious enough to teach him how to manage and run the business. And Granville was employed at the IRS, where he noticed the lucrativeness of the wine and spirits business– an industry where the demand was steady.
“I felt like, with wines evolving so fast, in terms of the taste, more people are drinking more wine,” said Granville. “For instance, Riesling used to be a sweet wine. Today, Riesling has about seven different varieties, from extremely dry to extremely sweet.
“Ten years ago, you didn’t have that option. But I think people are more aware of the changes in the wine world and are excited about trying a wine. Since James learned the business side of it, I felt it was a great time to open this store.”
However, the two admit they did receive pushback from the community– not surprising, since liquor store openings remain a bone of contention with their neighbors in Bed-Stuy’s Community Board 3. But ironically, Community Board 8 in Crown Heights wasn’t the one who had problems with their opening: The pushback came from the other liquor stores themselves.
“They didn’t want another open concept store in their area,” said Lewis. “They showed up with their lawyer and told us that they didn’t feel it was safe enough for [us] to do this. I guess they wanted to continue to create that jail feel.”
They also complained that since there were already five liquor stores in a five block radius, they would be carrying the same items. But, Lewis said, none of that was true:
“Our wines and our prices, you won’t find around here at any liquor store,” he said. “Besides, one of the contingencies of our liquor license was to keep it an open concept.”
Lewis and Granville believed wholeheartedly that the community deserved options, and so they pushed forward. And today, they have no regrets.
“I think there’s research and studies that show that people who drink wine are little more happy and a little more stress free,” said Granville, smiling. “So I think it’s the perfect time to open this type of store. We just want to be that go-to wine place in Brooklyn where you can always find something different for any occasion– something rare and something delicious at a reasonable price.”
J&R Symposium is open Monday through Thursday, from 11:00am – 10:00pm, Friday and Saturday, from 11:00am – 11:00pm and Sunday, from 12:00noon to 8:00pm. The store holds wine and spirit tastings every Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit their website.
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