Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Stevie Stacionis, Founder of Bay Grape, MAMA Oakland, and Bâtonnage Forum, located in Oakland, CA, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Well... I own three businesses and founded a non-profit: two wine shops and bars, one Italian restaurant, and a non-profit for women in wine. The through-line with all of them is community. All of my entities operate to foster the notion of community and to deepen our understanding of how core the concept of community is to us as social beings! Since the wine shop was the first (and now there are two of those), I can speak a bit more to that in particular.

Bay Grape (with locations in Oakland and Napa, CA!) sells small-production, mindfully made wines from around the world. Our selection covers all styles, all regions, and all price points. Still, the common thread is that they're wines made by individuals and families working to craft beautiful, delicious wines that preserve our home planet and the health of all its living creatures. That means sustainable, organic, or biodynamic farming, and only natural products (no chemicals or preservatives!) are used in the winemaking process. We think of ourselves as a farmers' market for wine.

We serve the most diverse demographic of wine drinkers anywhere in the world. Wine has historically been a product for and by a privileged few (ahem, there are many old, rich, white men involved, yikes). But wine is, at its base, an agricultural product. And it's delicious. So it should be accessible to everyone.

We have worked super hard to create an inviting, playful but not dumbed down, low-key, and (as we call it) non-douchey vibe in our stores and to greet and speak to EVERYONE who comes in with the same friendly approach. We get young and old guests from all walks of life, all colors, and all identities, finally feeling welcomed into a wine space and being smartly helped to pick out a bottle that suits their unique tastes.

Tell us about yourself

My first job was in a restaurant, cutting bread and taking out the trash. It was a high-end restaurant, unlike anywhere I had dined as a kid. I fell in love with the bustling energy, the crazy-good food and drinks we served, and how special the dining room felt every night. I also adored how food and beverages brought people together over a physical, shared experience that brought them both nourishment and joy. Working in restaurants was ultimately what paid my way through college. After I finally "made it" in the "real" working world as a writer and editor, I still missed hospitality in my bones.

Fifteen years of fits and starts in various restaurant, wine retail, and publishing jobs gave me a really, really wide range of experiences that were crucial to my ability to open my own business, but ALSO, having ideas and trying to take the initiative in those various jobs and constantly being told to essentially "stay in my place" or having my thoughts ignored got me bored and frustrated enough to decide I might as well do it all myself. I guess I'm also not very good at listening to authority, especially if I disagree with it. So writing my business plan to get to do all the things I wanted (and better than anyone else, ha) was what drove me to start working on my own business.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Seeing my employees—almost all of whom started working with me with little knowledge or experience but big excitement—go on to become their bosses, opening their businesses or launching their brands. I've had some part in empowering them to follow their dreams.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Shmehhhh, managing people. I tend to have extremely high standards, be highly efficient and proactive myself, and want things done exactly my way, so it can be hard for me to either let things get done a little differently or a little... less... and for me to convey why doing it my way is so important.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Spend as much time as possible on your business plan. Fleshing this outputs you one step ahead of inevitable problems that will come up down the line and gives you much more clarity to help you make big decisions later.
  2. Take an Excel course. I still need to figure out what pivot tables do, but I am confident they could unlock new levels of something for my business!
  3. Take a leadership course. No matter how small you choose to stay, you will want at least one employee, and being a great leader to them will be crucial to your sanity. Understand your style, tendencies, and shortcomings so that you can get out of your way.

Where can people find you and your business?



If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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