Wine shop's empty, restaurant shut

Staff WriterJanuary 28, 2009 

— Two businesses that share an owner and a reputation for good wine have closed, leaving regulars disappointed and some customers owed thousands of dollars for unfilled orders.

Carolina Wine Co. closed its store on Hillsborough Street at the beginning of the month. Now it sits dark with a mostly empty showroom and wine boxes strewn about the counters.

Glenwood South restaurant Enoteca Vin closed Monday. A staple of the city's restaurant scene for almost a decade, Vin helped launch the careers of two of the Triangle's most prominent female chefs.

Both businesses are landmarks, attracting accolades and customers from all over the country.

Chrish Peel, who is a part owner in both, said Monday that the two closures are independent of each other. Peel said that he wants to sell the restaurant but hopes to reopen the store. However, he could not say when that might happen.

Peel did not say why the restaurant was closed, but he blamed the closure on problems with its computer and point-of-sale register system. Without that, new transactions can't be processed and old transactions can't be verified, Peel said.

"Without all our equipment, we can't do anything," he said.

Peel declined to give a phone number or e-mail address where customers could reach him.

Customers have been frustrated in their efforts to reach the store, which operated both a storefront and an online business. The Web site no longer works, and phones have gone unanswered. E-mail is bouncing back to the senders undelivered.

Charlotte resident Tom Ricks, who said he is out $800 in wine, set up an e-mail address, Carolina, to collect information from other customers who are owed orders and interested in joining together to file a lawsuit.

In 24 hours, Ricks said, he'd heard from 16 people. Their outstanding orders total about $60,000.

"The economy's one thing," Ricks said. "We all understand businesses go out of business. But if you go out of business, you call your customers and you say 'Sorry.' You don't just under the cover of darkness run away."

The situation is harder to navigate for the store's numerous out-of-state customers.

Kenneth Roberts, who lives in Houston, said the Carolina Wine Co. owes him $2,500 in wine. As of Tuesday, Roberts was the only person to have filed a complaint with the N.C. Attorney General's Office about the company.

"I've done business with them for years, and I've never had any problem with them till recently," Roberts said.

A retired attorney, Roberts said he's afraid he may just have lost the $2,500.

"It costs a lot of money to file a lawsuit, and I live out of state," he said.

In an interview at his Enoteca Vin restaurant Monday evening, Peel would not comment directly about the unfilled orders or any problems -- other than the computer system -- that led to the store's closing.

Some of the wine shop's regular customers say they had noticed changes in recent months.

Dean McCord is a Raleigh attorney who also runs a blog and a Web site called Varmintbites for Triangle-area foodies. McCord said he visited the store around Thanksgiving and noticed there were fewer bottles in stock. He also saw for sale some rare bottles of wine that Peel would normally sell by special order.

"The front room was bare; there was hardly any wine there," he said. "It was different."

Still, the closing of the Carolina Wine Co. and Enoteca Vin is a sad occurrence for area wine aficionados, McCord added.

The restaurant, which had been open for almost a decade, was once home to both Andrea Reusing and Ashley Christensen, chefs who now own their own restaurants (Lantern in Chapel Hill and Poole's in Raleigh).

"It just evolved from a wine bar with food to a restaurant that had great wine," McCord said.

On Tuesday, a sign on the door of the wine store read: "We are closed for repairs to our phone, computer and point of sale systems. We apologize for the inconvenience."

Even loyal customers aren't holding out hope that the shop will reopen.

"I just felt like it was a really solid business," said Bonnie Hancock, who drove from her Wake Forest home to shop at the store.

"I expected things would slow down for it, but I never expected it to go under. Now where am I going to buy my wine?" or 919-829-4649

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