Step 1: Figure out what you want to do. Step 2: Do that thing. Simple, right? Not quite. Thankfully, Nikki Goddard had the first step covered. Wine was her thing. Next was figuring out how to create a profession she loved. Like many of us, she started on the ground floor, soaking in as much information as possible. She became a student of her craft. It’s true what they say, that luck favors the prepared. Nikki was in a fortuitous position when the opportunity to run her own Wine Bar came about. Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Civic Center district, The Barrel Room is a cozy and quiet retreat for lovers of unique wines. At only 26 years old, Nikki runs the bar with two friends, Sarah and Carolyn. Their partnership has turned out perfectly.
I’m not a wine expert myself, but I’ve visited The Barrel Room and could tell that her customers truly appreciated her talent. I overheard one man say, “Why didn’t we come here for dinner? I’ve never had wine served by someone who’s so knowledgeable!” And, even with my very limited knowledge, I’d have to agree.
If you’re thinking about starting your own business, want to check out a gem in San Francisco, or simply want to hear about a new wine for your next dinner party, check out my interview with Nikki below. Here’s a little inspiration from someone who took a chance and ventured out on her own.
What were your aspirations out of college? Did you intend to have your own wine bar?
After college, I knew I wanted to work in the wine industry but I wasn’t quite sure in which direction I wanted to go. I got a job at a winery tasting room because it allowed me to view the industry from many angles at once–sales, marketing, hospitality and production. I quickly learned that my passion was helping people to become more comfortable talking about and enjoying wine, and teaching them how to identify the wines they liked best. I tried a few different types of jobs before ending up at a wine bar and realizing that was where I felt most comfortable. I knew I wanted to some day have my own bar, but I thought it would take many more years for that to happen–and then the opportunity to open The Barrel Room basically fell into my lap.
Were there huge barriers for entry into the wine business?
We had a very unique situation. We took over a space that had been operating as a wine bar for many years, and we already had a good relationship with the landlords. The red tape involved in getting a wine and beer license is astounding, but our particular circumstances allowed us to cut out a few steps and shorten the time before we were legally able to open. We never could have said “let’s open a wine bar” and looked for a new location. I can’t imagine starting from scratch. To apply for a beverage license, you need to have already signed a lease, but you may have to wait up to a year or more after that before being approved for the license. We would have spent all of our opening budget on rent before we could even think about opening.
How has your partnership with Sarah and Carolyn eased your venture?
It has been invaluable having people I trust to share the workload with. We all have our own strengths and we work together and play off of each other very well. I couldn’t have done any of this without them. Luckily, we all have very similar ideas of what makes a wine good (even though we might differ in what we each actually want to drink on a given day), so we typically do not argue too much about which wines to add to our list.
What has been your greatest challenge and reward in starting The Barrel Room?
Honestly, the greatest challenge was coming up with a name! I never expected that every single wine-related name I could imagine would already be taken (even if it wasn’t in use). And since the name is the first impression many people get of the business, it’s obviously very important. Also, applying for our wine and beer license was an incredibly stressful experience, but we were very lucky to get through it quickly.
The greatest reward is definitely the fact that I can come into work every day, truly enjoy myself, and feel completely fulfilled. I love what I do, and I don’t think I could really ask for anything more.
How has your day-to-day professional operation changed now that you’re your own boss?
My days are much longer! I still spend about the same amount of time actually working in the bar, but we spend most weekdays tasting wines that we are considering adding to our list. Also, now I have to think about things like when we are running low on supplies, what to do when a chair breaks, or whether the paint job needs some patching up.
Will you open other locations?
Right now we are just focused on the one we have, but I think it would be fun to someday have a similar operation in another city, like Oakland (where I live), Portland, or Seattle. I don’t think there are currently a lot of cities where we could pull off serving so many of the quirky, obscure wines that we specialize in, but I hope to see that change soon! I can already see it starting to happen as the younger generation of drinkers becomes more comfortable with and excited about wine.
Do you have one piece of advice for those starting a new business?
Make sure you are doing something you really, really love. Once you start a business, you can never fully disconnect from work. There is no “clocking out”–work will be at least a little bit on your mind at all times.
Any suggestions for must try wines?
Right now, I am really excited about the wines of Corsica (the whites, reds and rosés are all great), which are currently being imported exclusively by Kermit Lynch. I also love wines made from Mondeuse, a spicy red grape from Savoie (in the French Alps) and a light, aromatic grape called Poulsard from the nearby Jura region. Also, the reds of the Canary Islands are currently getting a lot of attention for a really good reason–they tend to have a very unique, perfumery, peppery aroma. Jose Pastor is the pioneering importer for that region.
Everything! I feel so incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about how amazing all of it is. I had some less-than-great experiences on my way to where I am now, but it is so clear to me now, when I look back, that everything that happened, had to happen in order for me to get here. It’s really given me a new perspective when it feels like life isn’t going the way I want it to.
Thank you, Nikki! You’re further proof that your passion can become your profession.
Everyone, be sure to check out The Barrel Room in SF! Even if you don’t drink alcohol, they have lovely non-alcoholic options.
The Barrel Room SF Website: www.barrelroomsf.com
Follow on twitter: @barrelroomsf
Enjoy the weekend!