Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Legally Delicious: Lawyer Turned Wine Bar Owner

Meet Elizabeth Banker. She recently left her law practice to pursue her passion by opening Slate Wine Bar and Bistro. This new spot is set to open later this summer in Glover Park. Elizabeth had been getting her feet wet in the industry for years by forming a consulting company specializing in wine-themed parties and working in the tasting room at Sunset Hills Vineyard. I just love hearing about lawyers fulfilling their dreams in the food and wine world. We can't wait for the opening of Slate!

How will your lawyer skills will help in your new venture?

A: I think great customer service is equally important to having a successful legal practice as it is to running a successful restaurant. It has also been helpful in getting this project off the ground that I am used to managing complex projects, anticipating problems, and developing workable solutions.

How did you decide to open a wine bar?

A: I have been passionate about wine for years. For a long time I was content with learning as much about it as I could. Eventually, I realized that one of the things I loved most was sharing my passion and my knowledge with other people. I experimented with some different ideas involving wine education, such as working in a winery tasting room, a wine shop, and running a consulting business that hosted wine events. Eventually, I decided that a wine bar would allow me the most flexibility to continue my own wine education and to offer wine events and wine education to consumers.

Tell us about your new wine bar. Location? Opening date? Menu?

A: Slate Wine Bar + Bistro will be located in Glover Park, DC. We are targeting mid-August for a soft open. The wine menu will consist of a daily chalkboard of unique wine offerings available in very limited quantities for just that day, as well as a list of about 15 wines by the glass and a full bottle list. We will also have a great list of beers, including beer on draft and in various size bottles including 750ml (the same size as a standard wine bottle). The menu will include traditional wine bar fare such as cheese plates and olives, as well as a small menu of salads, sandwiches and entrees. The cuisine will focus on fresh, simple dishes bringing in flavors and influences from around the world.

How will you select the wines for Slate?

A: We will be showcasing wines from around the world. We are focusing our search on smaller production wineries, who use sustainable, organic or bio-dynamic farming practices, and who are non-interventionalist in the winery. There are some great small importers and distributors who also focus on these types of wineries.

Favorite wine?

A: Pinot Noir

What is currently in your home wine collection?

A: Pinot Noir! In addition to Pinots from Burgundy, Oregon and Sonoma, I also own white wines from Loire and Alsace, Italian reds made from Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, and California Cabernets.

Any tips for selecting good wine at restaurants that won't break the bank?

A: If you’re willing to experiment, picking a wine from a lesser known area will often give you a higher quality wine at a lower price than a well known region. For example Spanish wines from Jumilla, Yecla, or Bierzo are likely to be better values than wines from Rioja or Ribera del Duero.

How long have you lived in the DC area and how did you end up here?

A: It’s home. I grew up in Maryland. I worked in San Francisco for 5 years, but I have been back in DC now for 8 years.

What is your favorite local restaurant and why?

A: I go through phases, but I live within walking distance to a restaurant called Medium Rare that serves only steak frites. Right now with so much going on with getting the wine bar launched, I love that the only decision I have to make is how I want my steak cooked.

Where's the best place you've traveled to and why?

A: In the Priorat region of Spain, there is a small town called Gratallops. The area has ruins dating the the 12th century and an awe-inspiring landscape. Every time I have a wine from there, I am still amazed that grapes vines not only survive under the harsh conditions there, but produce such beautiful wines.

Any upcoming trips?

A: I am attending the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon from July 27-30th.

Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Since you are interested in the lawyer-food connection, I thought I would mention that many of the investors in this project are also lawyers or non-lawyers who work in the legal field, including lawyers at DC firms (ZwillGen PLLC, Sidley and Austin, and Steptoe and Johnson); employees in the legal field at internet companies like Yahoo! and Google; and some government employees. Many of them are members of a wine club that I’ve organized for the last four years.

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