On a Friday evening, College Hill wine and beer emporium Marty's Hops & Vines is alive with spirited buzz. It's the wine shop's weekly wine tasting during which a wide demographic of customers sample six healthy pours accompanied with cubed cheese and crackers for a mere $10. Tonight the mahogany bar is swarmed with folks sipping Clos du Bois chardonnay and 181 merlot, while others seated at one of the shop's 10 tables drink draft beers (hops) and wine flights (vines).
The man behind this bacchanal, Marty Weldishofer, is extremely hands-on. He jogs from table to table making sure his loyal customers and friends have everything they need. When he isn't pouring beer into glasses and chatting up his parched customers, the indefatigable Weldishofer also works a part-time marketing job at Llanfair Retirement Community. When I ask him if he travels much to wine regions, he deadpans, "You've never owned your own business, have you?" He and his family got away for a sojourn this summer, but otherwise he works from 9:30 a.m.-2 a.m. most days. In order to live up to the motto of "Good food. Good friends. Good times," Weldishofer and his staff must always keep the festivities going.
"I tell all of my customers I built this business so I can party every night and you all can party when you want to," he says.
Weldishofer's vision happened by accident. He was an interior designer for 30 years and passively enjoyed suds like IPAs. A wine shop in College Hill announced its closure and Weldishofer and his wife Kate were out to dinner with the people who owned the building.
Weldishofer recalls one of the owners asked, "Marty, why don't you open up your own wine shop in our building?"
"I said, ‘Really?' It wasn't on my radar screen," Weldishofer remembers. "I said, ‘Well, I drink more beer than I do wine,' and his wife Sandy said, ‘Well, just drink more wine.' So, I'm soul searching and 10 months later we opened up."
That was three years ago.
"If anybody is ever interested in opening up a business, just do it," Weldishofer advises. "Do it right or don't do it at all."
The set up is similar to Mariemont's Dilly Café, with a retail shop selling racks of bottled craft beers, international wines, local wines (College Hill's own Burnet Ridge), a few gourmet foods (Lusty Monk Mustard) and stemware. The other half of the venue houses the bar and restaurant.
When starting, Weldishofer says he didn't know much about wine, but after reading Wine for Dummies (which he also sells in the shop) he learned he could just wing it.
"I also believe what Henry Ford once said when he was interviewed by the media back in his time," Weldishofer adds. "They said: ‘Mr. Ford, how do you attribute all of your success when you only have an eighth grade education?' And he said, ‘I didn't figure I had to know everything about everything, I just needed to know where to get the information.' So you surround yourself with the people who have the knowledge."
When Hops & Vines first opened they only offered a menu of small plates, but that wasn't enough.
"All we kept hearing from the customers was ‘Why don't you add something more substantial?' Because what would happen is they would come here, have an appetizer, have a glass or two and then they have to go and have dinner, or they'll go and have dinner somewhere else and come here for a nightcap," he explains.
The newly expanded menu consists of three salads, baked subs and an individual build-your-own-pizza. People are now coming for a full meal, not just for a snack.
Besides their weekly wine tasting, Thursday is the shop's no-corkage night where customers can purchase a bottle of wine in the store and drink it on spot (Marty recommends Petite Petit from Lodi, Calif.).
A live band plays Friday nights after the wine tasting. Tuesday is Ladies Night and on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month they host a $10 beer tasting with recent appearances from Cincinnati's Triple Digit Brewing and Blank Slate.
It took a while for Marty's to be profitable, but the business has grown exponentially based on Weldishofer's hard work and ability to build strong relationships.
"If the customers like you, they feel welcome, they enjoy the space," he says, "they'll be back."
Marty's Hops & Vines
Go: 6110 Hamilton Ave., College Hill
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday.