GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Shatawn Brigham wants to change the conversation about wine.
Growing up in Benton Harbor, he lived just a short drive from some of the many vineyards sprinkled throughout Southwest Michigan. But he says wine was not a part of life in his community, and the drink had a reputation of being “snooty.”
It wasn’t until his mid-30s, after Brigham graduated from college and was living in Grand Rapids, that he had his first glass.
“I grew up one exit away from wine vineyards, but at the time it didn’t feel like people who looked like me had access,” said Brigham, who is Black. “No one ever came into our neighborhood and said, ‘Is anyone interested in learning about wine?’”
Brigham hopes to change that with his new wine and jazz bar, GRNoir.
He started the business with his wife, Nadia, of making wine “fun and accessible.”
“I think sometimes it has a reputation of being off-putting and snooty, like you have to look a certain way, you have to come from a certain socioeconomic status or background,” said Brigham, 43. “We didn’t want that.”
GrNoir is located on the ground floor of a newly constructed multi-story building at 35 S. Division Ave.
Inside, customers will find a sleek interior with hardwood floors, plush chairs, a fireplace, and candles at every tables. A series of wine dispensing machines, capable of measuring the perfect pour, sit behind the counter. Photos of jazz icons Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Sarah Vaughan hang above a drum set and piano available for live performances.
The goal, Brigham said, was to have the space resemble the classic jazz clubs found in New York City and Harlem in the 1950s and 1960s. He also wants to create a “beautiful connection” between wine and jazz, two of his passions that he says pair well with one another.
“When people come in here, we want them to just get lost in the music,” he said, “but also, for sure, get lost in the wine and have a really good time.”
Customers can find more than 100 varieties of wine at GRNoir, Brigham said, and live music is planned for Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The wine and jazz bar represents a new path for the couple.
Brigham has worked in the education sector for years, including as a community school coordinator for the Kent School Services Network, a program designed to provide additional social services in schools with a goal of boosting student achievement.
His wife, Nadia, is working on her PhD in race relations, owns a consulting firm focusing on racial equity and leadership, and spent about 14 years at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Brigham said he and his wife are passionate about working with people, and that they’re excited to bring that to their new business and “being able to connect and relate to people around wine and jazz.”
Getting the business off the ground hasn’t been an easy task amid the coronavirus pandemic.
GRNoir was originally scheduled to open in April. But the global health crisis, which brought a good chunk of the food and hospitality industry to a near standstill, forced them to delay their opening. The wine and jazz bar, which also sells wine to-go, opened for curbside pickup in December.
“That forced us to go back and tweak and make adjustments that we needed to make to be prepared for this moment right here,” Brigham said, referencing the delays his business faced because of the coronavirus pandemic.
GRNoir hosted an official grand opening last week, after restrictions on indoor dining put in place by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration were partially lifted. The business is now open from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
GRNoir sells one-ounce, three-ounce and five-ounce pours, as well as full bottles of wine. Customers can find an array of red, white, rose and sparkling wines on the menu, with bottle prices ranging from $19 for a bottle of 2016 Klinker Brick “Farrah” to $61 for a bottle of 2015 Linne Calodo “Rising Tides.”
Customer can also try a wine “flight,” which consists of four, two-ounce pours of various reds, whites and sparkling varieties.
While GRNoir doesn’t sell full meals, customers can try a series of appetizers and desserts, including smoked salmon tartine, brisket sliders, panko fried shrimp, cheese, chocolate cake and more.
Brigham said GRNoir has room for about 80 people, and that the business was designed to provide an “intimate” setting where friends and family can gather for wine, music and good conversation.
“We want people to come in here no matter where you are I the Spectrum of wine,” he said. “You could have never tasted a glass of wine in your life or you can be a master sommelier …. We want you to be able to come into GRNoir and feel comfortable.”
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