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Meet Evan Charest of Severance Wine Bar in Melrose

Today we’d like to introduce you to Evan Charest.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Evan. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I opened Severance Wine Bar in 2018 on Melrose after I was let go from a failed tech food startup, using my severance pay to help open my own wine bar; a dream of mine for the past decade. I have been in the hospitality industry for the past twelve years most of that working as the Corporate Beverage Director for Patina Restaurant Group with Chef Joachim Splichal.

Having worked for a lot of large companies and my own experience with corporate layoffs, I decided to conceptualize the bar around office bureaucracy and a playful, darkly-themed approach to a classic wine bar.

More importantly, this allowed for a more playful and exciting approach to an often stuffy and inaccessible part of hospitality: wine. We were able to bring in over 80 wines by-the-glass many of which were obscure, geeky, and simply don’t have representation on normal glass lists (or even bottle lists for that matter!). Every geeky project I had ever wanted to pursue from an obscure flight of pre-Phylloxera whites from the Canary Islands to varietal specific wine pairings based on soil types I could finally do.

However most importantly though, we were committed to accessibility without compromising our vision. We attacked that head-on with staff training and education, but without making the dining experience feel like a classroom. It is a delicate balance as most of our patrons are there for a fun night out, but also want to get out of their comfort zone. We also achieve this by acknowledging people like what they like. You want a heavy oak, malo-heavy chardonnay? I have a great one right behind the bar. No questions, no judgment.

Food-wise, I brought on an old friend, Chef Weston Ludeke (Patina, Michael Mina Group) to consult on the menu and my current kitchen manager and sous, Madeline Smith. Having grown up in Maine and with a lot of family from Quebec, our cuisine is distinctly Québécois with a selection of Montreal classics from Poutine and Tourtières to a daily selection of Cheese Fondues.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Opening a restaurant in any climate is always a tough battle. If you can make it past the first year, there can be a brief sigh of relief to know your business model isn’t complete garbage. We actually were planning on opening a neighboring Champagne Bar this summer in the neighboring storefront (delayed until early 2021 now).

But then, COVID19.

We quickly transitioned to pickup/delivery, transforming the bar into a wine & cheese shop. Although somewhat successful, it has been a struggle. We had to let go most of our staff and get creative in how we approach every aspect of our business.

We re-open dine-in on June 12th at 25% capacity and slowly will build from there in line with all LA Health Dep protocols, but it will be a tough road until the country has a vaccine. We plan on still focusing heavily on to go via meal & grocery kits and new ideas we are testing out such as To Go Wine Flights & Champagne Punch Kits. Hopefully, we can bring back most of our employees as soon as possible.

Covid forced us to change and be creative. The entire industry will forever be disrupted.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
There are a lot of great wine bars out there, especially in Los Angeles, but I feel like we differentiate ourselves by focusing on accessibility while not compromising quality and our vision. It is easy to relent to the pressure when every customer is asking for a Malbec or a Napa Chardonnay. Not to say we don’t carry those things, but we feel we have a responsibility to expose people to new wines and new regions, but doing so without any sense of judgment or elitism. That’s hospitality to us,

Plus, we make a mean Cheese Fondue, specifically our classic Emmentaler & Gruyere.

What were you like growing up?
I grew up in Cumberland, Maine and actually moved to Los Angeles originally for the entertainment industry. I was a trained actor and have (and still have occasionally) small speaking roles in a ton of film in Television (J Edgar directed by Clint Eastwood, Bosch, New Girl, Big Bang Theory to name a few).

As I was working in entertainment, like many do, I started working in hospitality as a waiter & bartender to pay the bills. I quickly fell in love with wine and started to work as a sommelier and beverage director. Quickly started a path to opening my own place.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
FCS Studios

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