Back on the scene: Former owner of Northampton's C. McD’s Cafe, Caroline McDaniel to open ConVino wine bar in Thornes Marketplace



Last modified: Thursday, November 20, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — As a restaurant consultant in New York City during the 2000s, Caroline McDaniel watched dozens of wine bars open in the Big Apple.

The Smith College graduate, who at the time frequently returned to Northampton for regular haircuts, started telling anyone who would listen that the concept would be a perfect fit for Paradise City. But when the calendar flipped to 2014 and no one had taken a stab at the business concept, McDaniel decided not to wait any longer — she began planning to do it herself.

“I kept waiting for the wine bar to come, but 14 years after the trend started in New York, here I am,” said McDaniel, who moved back to Northampton in 2012.

As she spoke one day last week in the basement of Thornes Marketplace, construction crews swirled around her working to strip paint off the walls, clean floors and complete dozens of other tasks in the space that formerly housed Dynamite Records.

It’s in this 2,600-square-foot space that McDaniel intends to open the wine bar under the name ConVino, which stands for “with wine.”

The bar will feature between 60 and 80 types of wine from throughout the world, 30 of which will be sold by the glass and the balance by the bottle.

McDaniel said she intends to offer some of the best wines in the world from France, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece and Lebanon, to name a few. Many of these wines come from families who have been producing handmade wine without chemicals for seven generations, a feature she said makes for good wine and should be appeal to customers in western Massachusetts who seek out organic food and beverages.

The bar will also sell New World wines from closer to home, including California, Washington state and Oregon. The glasses of wine will sell for between $8 and $14, while all of the bottles will be under $100, with most under $40, McDaniel said.

For customers who prefer beer, ConVino will also sell five to seven beers.

“This town has a lot of places you can get 30 beers on tap, but few where you can get a decent glass of wine,” McDaniel said. “ConVino will have wine that everybody likes.”

Customers will be able to couple the wine with “warm-weather” Mediterranean food with an American spin, such as pizza, flat breads and paninis. Other items include olives, almonds, dips and spreads, meats and cheeses, sandwiches and desserts.

“People who make wine in those countries make wine that goes with the food they eat every day,” said McDaniel, who trained as a chef at a Paris cooking school years ago. “That’s how I come to wine, through food.”

She obtained the year-round wine and malt license which had been used by the former Eclipse restaurant on Main Street.

If all goes as planned, ConVino will open its doors Thanksgiving weekend following an extensive renovation of the Thornes basement space overlooking a plaza next to the E.J. Gare Parking Garage. McDaniel said the space is being renovated for a restaurant for the first time, which involves new drainage, plumbing and venting.

Other work involves construction of a new front door facing the plaza and an accompanying 10-foot handicapped accessible ramp. An existing door that once served as the front door to Dynamite Records will be removed, though a nearby back entrance to Thornes will remain.

The inside space will include seating for 65 people in several different areas. Among those are a U-shaped bar with booth seating on two sides; a section for banquet and table seating; and a lounge area with an upright piano, couches and chairs. During warmer weather, outside tables will likely be set up next to the bar.

Nearly half of the space will house a kitchen and cool storage and refrigeration areas for wines.

ConVino expects to employ about 25 people. McDaniel, who said she is the primary investor, declined to disclose the cost to get the business up and running. She added Thornes is paying for a portion of the infrastructure work needed to convert the space for restaurant use.

McDaniel is no stranger to the Northampton restaurant scene. After graduating from Smith College in 1985 and attending cooking school in Paris a year later, McDaniel returned to Northampton in the mid- to late-1980s and worked for a time for several restaurants including the former Beardsley’s Cafe Restaurant. She also owned a business downtown called C. McD’s Cafe, which fell victim to a recession in 1988.

She then spent some 20 years as a restaurant consultant in New York, though for a time in 2007 seriously considered opening a wine bar in Northampton until the Great Recession forced her to shelve the idea.

That changed when she moved back to Northampton in 2012 and began making plans for the wine bar. McDaniel believes there’s a market for a wine bar in Northampton, especially given the number of wine stores that are having success selling great wine.

“People want the good wines because they’re buying it” in stores, she said.

ConVino will be open seven days a week in the afternoons and evenings, closing at 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Chad Cain can be reached at ccain@gazettenet.com.


 

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