Interview with Kat Chitow, co-owner of The Wine Dive in Mooresville, North Carolina which opened in July 2010. Tracy Brener, student in the Masters of Entrepreneurship Program at Western Carolina University conducted the interview on April 29, 2011.
What is The Wine Dive, you ask? According to Kat Chitow, the concept was her husband (and co-owner), Thor’s idea. Kat says he considers The Wine Dive to be “…a wine saloon. It has a relaxed atmosphere and is not at all stuffy…” like some other wine bars may be. They have live music on Friday nights and a pool table, as well as patio seating and a light appetizer menu. The Chitow’s consider their bar to be a neighborhood place and building relationships with their customers is extremely important to the couple.
Kat says, “Opening his own bar was something Thor had always thought about, but didn’t think was possible.” Thor spent many years in the food & beverage industry, providing a solid foundation for creating his own place. Kat has a background in financial planning, a Masters in Conflict Resolution and also currently works for one of the leading hospitality colleges in the country, Johnson & Wales University. Thor also has experience in advertising and marketing from the photography and graphic design business he co-owned while living in Florida. The business, called AdPros, now belongs to his partner and The Wine Dive uses them for all their graphic design work. A series of events including back-to-back layoffs and an unexpected availability of funding coupled with the economic downturn to provide a catalyst for Thor’s vision to become a reality. They wanted to wait until their 20 month old, Gunnar was a little older, but other circumstances were right and they needed to act. The Chitow’s felt the current economic conditions would give them an advantage by stretching their dollars further and they didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity in front of them. Kat also notes that the support of her family was critical in the startup of their business. “We could not have done it without them”, says Kat; a theme found consistently among nascent entrepreneurs.When asked what she found most challenging in the initial set up of their business, most notable were a variety of factors including construction delays in the up-fitting of their facility, delays in getting the proper permits and dealing with and funding unforeseen costs. One way the Chitow’s saved money in their initial startup was to buy used restaurant equipment. This saved them a considerable amount of money. Thor also completed some of the up-fitting work himself. Kat says that months of spending money without seeing a return was both challenging and frustrating. The proper licensing for the serving of alcohol was also a lot of work and took up a lot of their time initially. She also mentioned that commercial utilities are much more expensive than residential and these costs should be budgeted for very carefully.
A year into the business Kat says, “ My free time is gone. Leaving town is a challenge.” Though Chitow anticipated this, she still finds it to be a challenge. Fitting in time to be with their almost 2 year-old son, is very important to the couple.The Chitow’s use social media almost exclusively for their marketing at this stage in the game. Social media, in particular Facebook allows them to connect with patrons in a way that would not be possible with more traditional forms of media. They ask patrons to follow them on Facebook, post daily specials and advertise for upcoming entertainment on the site. The dynamic nature of social media makes it the perfect platform for instant marketing. Word of mouth is incredibly important to the couple’s success. The social media platform supports this. Through the use of social media they been able to attract local groups through sites like meetup.com, offering them specials and other accommodations when appropriate. They also print flyers and distribute to homes in the surrounding area. Kat says that being involved in charity events is another great way to get exposure. The Wine Dive will be hosting a poker tournament this summer where the proceeds will benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. They have also been very active in the local Mooresville Chamber of Commerce. Another great way to get free exposure is simply to call up your local newspaper, magazine, etc. and ask them to do an article on you. Thor did this with the Charlotte paper and the free advertising brought in a considerable amount of business, according to Kat.
Future plans for the couple include expanding their current food offerings and possibly opening another location. “The best thing about having this business has been meeting so many great people and new friends”, says Kat. There’s also something else that Kat gets excited about, “No one gets to tell me how to run my business”, she says in an almost giddy way. “It gives me a sense of power and control.”
Many thanks to Mrs. Kat Chitow for her time and openness.
If you are looking for a great places to stop and have a glass of wine or a really good beer and you are in the Lake Norman area, go to The Wine Dive!
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