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Walking through Bedford-Stuyvesant with Rotimi Akinnuoye is like spending time on the campaign trail with a cheerful politician. It seems like he knows everyone, and everyone knows him. We stopped in to say hello at a recently opened farm-to-table restaurant, and he picked up a pastry at Common Grounds coffee shop. He showed me where to get the best ribs, and if we had come across a baby, I’m pretty sure he would have kissed it.
Akinnuoye is one of four partners who opened Bed-Vyne Wine in 2011, Bed-Vyne Brew in 2013, and Bed-Vyne Cocktail last month. He and his brother Ayo, another partner, have been in the neighborhood since 2000 renting commercial spaces, and the weariness of dealing with renters led them to start their own business.
“We were looking at what the neighborhood needed,” he says, “and people wanted a wine store in Bed Stuy where they could touch and learn. It’s not like a lot of places where it’s very impersonal. We pride ourselves on incredibly dynamic events. We have Oktoberfest on the street, we had Nelson Mandela’s daughter come from South Africa with the Mandela wine. We work with non-profits and schools in the neighborhood. I’m the chair of the board of the Bed Stuy Y, and we always do things with them. We are very involved in the community, and we want to educate people about wine. We have winemakers come from all over the world, we have our own label, Bed-Vyne wine, a red and a white from Portugal and a Lambrusco from Italy, and we’re working on a Prosecco from Italy.”
Michael Brooks, another partner, decided to categorize the wines by taste rather than grape, region, or price. If you know you want a sweet red, or a crisp white, they are grouped together. The store is in the process of expanding into the space next door to accommodate the burgeoning stock of spirits, with a focus on small, independent wine- and spirit-makers.
We head to Bed-Vyne Brew, where the decor is simple and spare yet inviting, with a copper-topped bar and wooden benches made from train tracks. There are ten constantly changing craft beers on tap and a great wine list. The bartender is working on one of Bed-Vyne’s next projects, a brewery in a warehouse space.
Bed-Vyne Brew | via Facebook
Brew features DJs almost every night, and the regulars that fuel the energetic vibe are an eclectic mix, which is what Rotimi loves about Brew. “Bed Stuy is going through a bunch of changes, but Brew tends to attract everyone: older, younger, European, American, black, white. Teachers, businessmen, students, married, single, LGBT. I don’t think there’s anyone who feels they can’t come in here.”
A few blocks away is Bed-Vyne Cocktail, a small, elegant venue influenced by Japanese aesthetics, as seen in the seamless joins of the wooden bar (a 300-year-old oak tree shipped in three enormous pieces), the secluded booths, the shoji screens, and a bathroom you have to see for yourself. There’s a limited selection of wines, sake, and bottled and canned beers, but cocktails are the focus.
An antique samurai warrior ensemble presides over the bar. Samurai means “server,” and Rotimi impresses that idea upon all his staff: “The service component is the centerpiece. At Bed-Vyne Wine, everyone that comes in gets a hello and a thank you for coming. At Brew… as much as we can do it because it’s a little bigger. All of our businesses, customer service is very important. Cocktail has that connection between the design and the service.”
There is a DJ spinning at Bed-Vyne Cocktail Thursday through Saturday, but it’s still a mellower atmosphere than at Brew. We just missed the guy clearing the backyard to ready Cocktail’s outdoor space for the summertime crowds.
Rotimi and his partners are entirely involved in each business, even as they continue to grow. There are plans for a cigar lounge and a delivery car. With so much going on, I couldn’t help but use the word “empire.”
“I love the word empire, the Bed-Vyne empire,” Rotimi said, a starry look in his eye.