Diana Hawkins of Chicago’s Lula Café on Serbian gamay and beer for sturgeon – Wine & Spirits Magazine

Diana Hawkins of Chicago’s Lula Café on Serbian gamay and beer for sturgeon


Diana Hawkins sold technical software for four years before quitting her job to work in wine retail at Evolution Wines & Spirits. She jumped over to City Winery, in Chicago’s West Loop, and then helped open The Promontory as assistant GM. She’s been heading up the list at Logan Square favorite Lula Café since May 2015.

Top-selling wine: 2013 Francuska Vinarija Gamay Obecanje from Serbia

Honestly, I was surprised when I ran the numbers! The producer is biodynamic and it’s a sustainable farm, a small family-owned estate. I told the staff, I’m going to put these bottles [obscure varieties from unexpected regions] on the list. I’m going to open them for staff training.

Servers love the wines with an interesting family story, and since the stories are so great, the guests love them as well. In this case, the wine is exotic and tastes amazing. It’s super food-friendly. I put it on by the glass and went through a case of gamay in a week.

What Chicagoans drink

We have people from the neighborhood who come in every day, and people who come in from the suburbs, and there’s also an industry crowd. So we have people asking for those California wines [the Broadside 2013 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon is her third best seller] or wine from Bordeaux or Chianti. The guests who come in often really trust us to give them something they like, asking for a recommendation. They are willing to let the staff lead them.

The other day I had guests asking for wines from Hungry and Croatia. Exciting! And shocking. Someone asked about dry furmint and I’m so glad they asked; we don’t have it on the list right now, but maybe I should get one.

Wine for the young and not-so-young

Millennials are interested in wine, interesting in learning more. The younger staff is asking about different bottles, even taking them home. It’s become less something you drink with your parents, and more to have a glass in a bar setting, and I’m really pleased that it’s happening at Lula. People are drinking more adventurously across the bar. And not just the Millennials are drinking the weird wines from France and Italy. My mom is drinking Amarone, which was recommended because she mentioned she likes zinfandel. I mean, it’s cool to hear my mom order that!

Barley for sturgeon

We do a Monday farm dinner—three courses every Monday. It’s never the same from week to week. We also do optional wine pairings with it. We did a beer dinner in November with Penrose Brewing Company. The food was inspired by the beer, which was really cool. We paired an IPA, one that is well-integrated and citrusy, with poached sturgeon, smoky mushrooms, mandarin orange and a barley sauce. They were so perfect together.

Caitlin Griffith knew her future career would entail food and drink when, at the age of six, she munched an anchovy from her father’s Caesar salad thinking it as a small strip of bacon—and was more than pleasantly surprised. While enrolled in New York University’s Food Studies program, she learned the secrets of affinage in the caves of Murray’s Cheese.