For the past 10 years, Paul Marsh has pledged himself to the pursuit of wine. In Chico, he learned the intricacies of its fruit by planting and harvesting a vineyard. With Kendall Jackson, he learned to sell. At The Firehouse Restaurant in Old Sacramento, he was educated on the finer points of building a wine collection in a hospitality setting, and he became a certified sommelier.
Equipped with the knowledge he felt necessary to fulfill his decade-long vision, Marsh, at age 42, took the final leap in the summer of 2013. At 10:36 p.m. on Aug. 17, he tendered his resignation at The Firehouse. At 11:45 that night, he began jackhammering a brick wall inside a freshly leased storefront near his family’s Stockton home.
“Essentially, from the time I left The Firehouse, I wound up living in this space night and day. We built the bar, the benches, the entertainment stage,” Marsh says. “The wood paneling on one side of the building is wood from an old barn we found in a vacant lot in Rio Linda. The wine racks are actually hog wire from a local tractor-and-supply store. My father-in-law is a master welder; he was able to make that happen.”
After more than three months laboring to reinvent the shop, Marsh opened Mile Wine Co. in a former photo lab on a stretch of Pacific Avenue called Miracle Mile. He describes it as part wine bar and cheese shop, part music venue and restaurant. It offers a little bit of everything to everyone.
“Our demographic is basically from 22 to 82,” he says. “Yesterday, we had a group of teens that came in with their parents after baseball practice. A couple times a week a cute 80-year-old couple walks over and shares a glass of wine. We’re also very kid-friendly. If they don’t prefer roasted Brussels sprouts, we’ll make mac and cheese on the fly.”
In addition to the neighborhood walk-ins, Mile Wine Co. caters to numerous professors, staff and students from the nearby University of the Pacific. “We have free Wi-Fi, so it’s not unusual to have numerous students and faculty sitting here in the afternoon, typing away on their laptops and tablets while enjoying a glass of wine,” he says. “We’ve also had (university) President Pamela Eibeck in here several times.”
Creation of the menu was a joint effort by Marsh, his wife, Cindy, and chef David Shorter, who leaned on their joint experiences traveling across America. Chesapeake Bay-style crab cakes hearken to Marsh’s time spent living in Washington D.C., while the El Cubano panini was a favorite of the couple’s during a stay in Orlando. The red wine-braised short ribs and seared striped bass are reflective of Shorter’s southeast Texas roots.
But as with any startup, the launch of Mile Wine Co. faced challenges, both fiscal and physical. After securing their tenant agreement with a wine-loving property owner, the couple played all of their chips. “We have no partners or investors. We had put together a lot of savings, got our credit in line and cut back on the amount of good wine we were drinking,” Marsh says.
Everything seemed on track for a smooth September opening until an unexpected hiccup occurred. As a new business, Marsh had to inform every property owner within a 500-foot radius of his intent to sell alcohol. One neighbor filed a protest, and with that dissent came a notice from Alcoholic Beverage Control that all alcohol purchases made from vendors would have to be paid with cash on delivery until the conflict was resolved.
“Before we even opened, that ate up three months of operating expenses,” he says. “I had budgeted $30,000 for wine and beer to get this place opened, but I didn’t expect to have to pay it all up front.”
Ironically, what made matters worse was Mile Wine Co.’s instant popularity.
“The place took off like wild fire. The neighborhood had been yearning for a place they could walk their dog to, sit outside and enjoy a couple glasses of wine and an appetizer,” he says. “But that early success only added to my cash flow issue.”
By choosing a storefront along Pacific Avenue, Marsh found himself part of a renaissance that is taking place in the Miracle Mile Improvement District. The combination of an improved economy and aggressive tenant recruitment has spurred the return of restaurants and retail to an area that had been all but stripped of its lifeblood following the development of shopping centers and strip malls in the 1990s.
MMID executive director Mimi Nguyen says the resurgence has been fueled by Stocktonians’ desire to develop a walkable business district. There are currently 230 businesses operating on the Mile and fewer than ten vacancies. The district is immediately surrounded by a 2,500-home neighborhood that feels a lot like Sacramento’s William Land Park. Additionally, because of its centralized location between north Stockton and downtown, 20,000 cars pass through the Miracle Mile every workday.
“We’re now the hub of activity between downtown and the Lincoln Center shopping area,” Nguyen says. “We have the best of both worlds. We have a built-in, affluent neighborhood crowd that made it through the recession and have become revitalized supporters of our local shop owners, and we’re drawing the attention of outside visitors because of all the exciting things now happening here.”
And there’s more activity on the horizon. Nguyen says talks with a farmers market organization are underway. Streetscape improvements will include the planting of more than 20 trees. Eventually, she hopes to see additional year-round lighting on the Mile. Free parking is plentiful throughout the district.
Marsh is thrilled to be part of the Miracle Mile’s revival. During his Stockton residency, he has witnessed some locations turn over two or three times. Today, not only has stability set in, but several new businesses — including transplants from the nearby Lincoln Center — have taken up shop concurrent with his arrival.
“It’s just a wonderful place to be and be actively a part of,” Marsh says. “I have open-heartedly accepted all the work and hours it has taken to get this far and to open the business. I look forward to the day I find an even keel here. Then I can spend even more time with my kids. Perhaps be able to be a tee-ball coach.”
And that’s really the key to the whole business, he says. The shop is walking distance from the home he and Cindy share with their two young children, Bacchus and Fiona.
“The five and a half years I spent working at The Firehouse under the tutelage of Mario (Ortiz) was a great chapter of my life,” Marsh says. “But my wife and I have a family now, and family is the main thing. My children know Daddy loves his wine shop, but unlike before, I also get to spend special time with them.”
After a favorable article by Stockton Record columnist Mike Fitzgerald, the protest of alcohol sales was withdrawn. Marsh reports that after six months, financials for the business plan are within $500 of projections.