A 19th-century bank makes a spectacular setting for a wine bar. But when your kitchen is in one of the old bank vaults, and the restaurant opens out onto US Route 1, pandemic adjustments can be pretty tricky. Owner and Rockland native Melody Wolfertz has kept In Good Company going nonetheless, even if it’s meant switching up wine for cocktails and packaging deviled eggs and olives to go.
My kitchen is literally a safe, and there’s two of us in there. I cook on a camp stove. It’s tricky. It’s cramped in normal times, but takeout really pushes the space to its limits. I’m sure you’ve heard this from everybody, but takeout takes over. You have to have so many containers. I don’t have room for all the plates and glasses because I have to have all the room for the paper products and all the other stuff. If we get past COVID, I don’t think we can actually do takeout and full in-house dining at the same time.
Prior to this, a lot of my staff were parents—single mothers or parents. And so, with COVID, a lot of them had to be home for their child, which I totally get. So, it was a much tighter staff. Normally, I’m open seven days a week; we had to switch to five days a week. And dishwashing and bussing—I couldn’t find anybody to fill those positions. So a lot of nights, I was actually doing the dishes and bussing. And I had my second-in-command cooking, because it had to get done. It’s funny because you would think being closed more would give you more time, but it was actually harder working this year than any of the other 17 years I’ve been open.
Wine sales really plummeted this year, and cocktails took over—partly because it’s easier to package a cocktail to go; an individual glass of wine doesn’t translate as well. And even once we had outside dining, it just seemed like cocktails. I don’t know how much of that was stress related, but definitely there was a shift, whereas, before, I felt like people were shifting away from alcohol.
One shocking thing for me this year was chardonnay did not sell this year. Normally, chardonnay just sells itself. I don’t know if the chardonnay drinkers were suddenly the cocktail drinkers? But what I’m still sitting on right now is the cases of chardonnay that I thought would fly.
What did sell is obscure Italian whites. And nebbiolo. I have a very heavy Italian wine list because I’ve always loved Italian red. I just think it’s so, like an Italian man in a cashmere sweater, so attractive, and I think it really goes well with a lot of food, generally. So I had a lot of Italians ready to go.
Takeout Wines vs Indoor Drinking
“The cheaper wines people would buy for a bottle to take out. The people who were dining in who wanted a bottle of red went for nice bottles,” Wolfertz says, explaining why Patricia Green Rabbit Ridge Old Vine Pinot Noir and Maison l’Envoyé pinot from Willamette Valley topped her list of Most Popular bottles. “We sold a lot of pinot noir this year—mostly American, but definitely Burgundy, too.” Diners getting bottles to go often looked for less expensive bottles, like the Domaine Vistalba Corte C Malbec from Mendoza at $28, or Ranga Ranga Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough at $24, also among her Top 10.
Those more affordable options are in keeping with the spirit of her restaurant, she says. “We’re in Maine: In the wintertime, you don’t always have a lot of money. My menu is really meant so that you can come in and get a couple of nibbles and still be satisfied. So my nibbles start at $3 and go up to $18. Even with takeout, we have people who order the deviled eggs and maybe one of the breads, or olives to go. They’re the ones who would always come in and do that anyway.”
For the last 12 years, Wolfertz has done Food Journey, a series of Thursday night dinners centered on a theme. “We’ve done famous chefs; last year, it was movies. This year is travel, because, for the second time, my trip to Holland to see the tulips blooming and then Belgium for beer and chocolate got canceled. And I know everybody had trips canceled. So we put it out there for people to write in to tell us what trips they were supposed to take. This week, it’s New Orleans, for Mardi Gras, and next week it’s Thailand: One of my wine reps is from Thailand, and he was supposed to go home and visit his parents.”
Choosing wines to match with the menus is normally something she looks forward to, as it allows her to bring in wines she might not have otherwise. “But this year I’m not doing that because I don’t want to bring in more wine: We’re doing 50 percent off to just move what we have. But because we have customers who literally come to every journey we do, they’re asking for recommendations to go with the menu, which is trickier because it has to be stuff I have.”
I still have people wanting to come inside. It astounds me that there are people who want to eat inside right now. I’m like, no thank you. I mean, and I love restaurants. Normally, I don’t cook at home. I eat out when I’m not working. And I’m like, no, thanks; I’ll get takeout. I have no interest in dining in somewhere.
I really hope that we get to continue having outside space for dining, because it was lovely in the summertime. Everybody enjoyed it.
is W&S’s editor at large and covers the wines of the Mediterranean and Central and Eastern Europe for the magazine.
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