“People say how lucky we are to work in wine and food, and we are,” says Kevin Raborn, manager of Martin Wine Cellar’s Mandeville location. “It’s definitely a lot of fun.”
Open since 2005, the Mandeville store is the third location, and the first outside the southshore, of this long-established business. Martin Wine Cellar started as a neighborhood wine shop in Uptown New Orleans 60 years earlier, when David Martin opened a storefront in half of a shotgun house at Baronne Street and General Taylor in 1946.
Cedric Martin now helms the business started by his father, whom generations of New Orleanians may remember from TV commercials as “the steely-eyed wine merchant.” Cedric’s daughter, Hope, who represents the family’s third generation in the enterprise, is in charge of marketing and promotion.
By 1953, business had grown so much that Martin bought the other half of the house, demolished it and built a large store on the site. This started a trend that would continue for Martin’s: outgrowing itself and expanding its physical operations. Locations now include the main store, which opened in Metairie in 1989; a store on Magazine Street; the Mandeville shop; and one in Baton Rouge. The landmark Baronne Street store was put out of commission by Katrina. Its construction prohibited simply raising the structure to the new flood elevations, and it was demolished. The foundation has been poured for the new store on Baronne that Martin’s hopes will be up and running for the 2012 holiday season.
The Mandeville, Baton Rouge and Magazine Street stores came about as a way to both establish the business in new markets and to retain employees after the Uptown store was closed. “I had so many qualified people working for me that I couldn’t promote them in one location,” Cedric says.
Cedric recalls that his dad’s biggest challenge in getting the business off the ground was simply introducing the city to fine wine. “People back in the 1940s drank a lot of spirits. His goal was to educate them on wine,” he says. Educating customers—and the sales staff—plays a big part in Martin’s success today.
While in college, Cedric had spent summers working in some of the great wine houses of France and in some of the best restaurants in New Orleans. After graduating from LSU, he attended the Viticulture and Enology program at Fresno State University, where he was classmates with some of the country’s top winemakers. He brought his experiences home to help his father expand the business and establish its food operations.
The company began its deli Uptown in 1977, serving customers who could now enjoy lunch while they shopped and purchased otherwise unavailable gourmet cheese and other food items. It proved very popular, and the demand at the Metairie deli—now bistro—prompted a total renovation of the store. Dinner is now served Monday through Friday. Of course, customers can buy any of the beverages available in the store to have with their meal. “It’s the best wine list in the city,” Cedric says, with a grin.
Martin’s long-established relationships with its suppliers all over the world are a great benefit to its customers. “We get great allocations each year and buy futures,” says Cedric. It’s not uncommon for Martin’s to buy stakes in wine futures, locking in prices while grapes are still on the vine in years when growing conditions indicate an exceptional vintage is in the works.
David Martin never stopped educating his customers and Martin’s continues the tradition. Product tastings and wine classes are held throughout the year. Cedric says samples of many of the wines and spirits are available; customers at the Metairie store, for example, can try virtually any of the spirits in stock before buying, including a large selection of single-malt Scotch whiskies.
All of the locations carry a custom selection of wines called “Cedric’s Six-Packs,” a box of six different bottles of wine for the price of five—white or red, each with tasting notes, a history of the wine maker and food pairing suggestions.
Rayborn says the Mandeville store features complimentary tastings every Friday. “We always sample some type of spirit and some type of wine.” A recent tasting of 24 Cabernets drew 90 people. “It was our biggest event all year. Also very popular is our beer tasting. We have it the same day every year, the Friday before Father’s Day. It’s 80 beers, plus food, for $20 a person. That’s a deal!”
Martin Wine Cellar is located at 2895 Hwy. 190 in The Village Shopping Center in Mandeville. Call (985) 951-8081 for more information. MartinWine.com.Filed under: Culinary Arts, Food and Drink, IN Good Company, January-February 2012