It’s only 2pm on a recent afternoon, but the wine is already flowing at Wilibees.
Wine buyer John Kirchhoff is behind the bar sniffing samples being poured by a sales rep, while co-owner Vikram Badhaan offers a visitor something to drink.
Since taking over Lakeville Liquors in 2008, Badhaan and business partner Gagan Boparai, have transformed the previously divvy quick-stop into a wine and beer connoisseur’s paradise, with more than 350 types of beer, including craft brews, and many local wines.
“This is kind of like a toy store for grown ups,” says the 38-year-old Badhaan. “We wanted to create a place that you could be proud to bring your boyfriend or girlfriend to...You won't find any magazines or baseball caps for sale here."
Although Wilibees is centrally located on D and Lakeville, it’s easy to miss with its unimpressive brown façade and wrap-around parking lot. But once inside, visitors are treated to tastefully arranged displays of wine (85 percent comes from Sonoma, Napa and the surrounding region), an astonishing selection of beer (local, craft, imported) as well as every imaginable liquor.
Every Thursday night, Wilibees hosts tastings, where residents can connect with local wine makers and try their latest offerings. There’s also something called “brown bag” events in which customers try out wines without knowing what they are or how much they cost.
“It gives them a chance to really identify what they like without automatically assuming that it must be better because it costs more money,” Badhaan said.
All proceeds from tastings are donated to Partners for Sustainable Pollination, a Santa Rosa organization that works with farmers and beekeepers to improve the health of honeybees and support native pollinators.
(The store’s name, an amalgamation of the words “wine, liquor and beer for bees,” is a nod to their philanthropic mission.)
Both Badhaan and Boparai are from India and came to the United States to attend college. Badhaan graduated from Sonoma State University with a degree in business, while Boparai attended Cal State Hayward.
Upon graduation, Badhaan joined his father, who owned a liquor store in Rohnert Park, learning the ins and outs of running a business. But he also realized he wanted to do something classier, a place that would offer customers a first rate shopping experience and quality wines typically not associated with the corner store.
Customers also appreciate the owners’ willingness to procure (or at least try to) favorite labels, which they write down in a spiral-wired notebook that sits on a counter. They don't promise to get that amazing beer you had on your roadtrip through Wisconsin, but they will certainly try!
“We’re aiming to be a beverage specialty store where the motto is ‘Get Your Party Started,’” says Badhaan.
Judging by the steady stream of customers, the pair is well on its way.
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