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Bob Bacco – Owner “Bacco’s Wine & Cheese”

🔉 Listen to Audio Excerpt: 

This is Bob Bacco, owner of Bacco’s Wine and Cheese. Bob, can you talk a little bit about how you ended up opening your business?

Well, it started back in college. I worked at a store across the street from Northeastern University here in Boston, and immediately fell in love with wine and food. I worked there for years. After that, I moved to a store primarily focused on French wines and spent a few years there. Then, I moved to the North End, where I gained an Italian wine background. After a few years there, I went to a store that had everything— a wide variety of wines and a gourmet market that brought everything together. This experience illuminated my path. I realized that this was something I truly wanted to do. I decided after a few years that I needed to start my own store, and that’s how Bacco’s Wine and Cheese came about.

And when did you open Bacco’s Wine and Cheese?

Fourteen years ago, in 2010.

Was it always both wine and cheese, as the current name indicates?

“Our location appeals to three customer bases: residents, hotels, and office towers.”

Yes, we originally started as just a wine and cheese shop. I initially thought about franchising and putting stores on different corners, but I quickly realized that you couldn’t buy the wines I wanted—small producers who care more about the land than profits. These winemakers care about passing their winery to the next generation and maintaining natural winemaking methods. To achieve this, you can’t open multiple stores because there’s just not enough product available. Some producers only have a couple hundred or a few thousand cases if you’re lucky. So, we started with wine and cheese and then expanded to include more prepared foods and grocery items. This led to the next expansion: a food store next door with fresh produce, meats, and specialty grocery items. Everything in the store also serves as the pantry for our kitchen, which is crucial for our prepared food side. Our location appeals to three customer bases: residents, hotels, and office towers. This allows us to cater to different needs, from lunch sandwiches to grocery items.

What is your method for choosing the wines you carry and the cheeses you display?

The first thing we consider is the season. For example, people tend to drink more white and rosĂ© wines in the summer and prefer heavier reds in the winter. We think of our wine selection like a restaurant’s wine list, ensuring we have the right wines to pair with cheeses. Similarly, with cheese, farmstead cheeses are not always available year-round because animals have specific breeding and milking cycles. We consider these factors to ensure we offer the best seasonal selections.

Regarding the grocery side, how do you effectively manage your inventory, and do you donate any items close to their expiration date?

We try to donate to the Women’s Lunch Place here in Boston whenever possible. They prefer fresh items over canned goods, so we give them extra bread and other items they can use. When products near their expiration date, they go to our kitchen, which uses them to prepare meals. This approach minimizes waste and shows customers how to use these products at home. In a small business, you can’t afford to waste anything.

You mentioned the three different areas of your customer base. As a specialty store in the Back Bay, of Boston, you rely on foot traffic rather than being a destination location. How do you effectively market your business to justify this?

Initially, we advertised in local papers to reach residents. Many of them were already my customers from a previous job, so they followed me to the new store. We reached out to hotel concierges to let them know about us, and businesses in the area discovered us because we offer something unique compared to other local options. We provide natural meats and freshly made products, which attract people looking for healthy, delicious lunch options.

You have a large corporate business, always packaging boxes to send out. How did you develop that side, and what does it entail?

It grew naturally from our lunchtime customers. They saw what we offered and realized we could provide customized holiday gift packages and corporate gifts. We work with their input to create unique gifts and send them to their staff or customers. This level of service and quality isn’t available on big online sites, which makes us stand out.

I’ve been in the store during the lunch hours and am always impressed by the long lines for sandwiches. Did you expect this part of your business to be so successful, and what do you attribute it to?

Initially, I didn’t expect it. I thought I’d focus solely on retail. But as we expanded, the restaurant side took off. Our lunch business was crucial during the pandemic, as it reached out to corporate offices. When the pandemic hit, we reinvented ourselves as an online tasting site. We sent out packages with wine and cheese for virtual tastings, which helped us survive. Without the lunch business, we wouldn’t have made it through.

Speaking of the pandemic, in June 2020, as the pandemic was just getting going, Boston was one of many cities across the US that experienced protests in response to the George Floyd incident. As a result, your business was one of many damaged. How did you stay focused and move forward during such a challenging time?

It wasn’t easy. It took a couple of days to process what had happened. My entire store was destroyed—there was wine everywhere, and most of my product was gone. However, since it was during the pandemic, we weren’t expecting walk-in customers. We lost three tastings scheduled for the next day, but we called our customers, explained the situation, and rescheduled for the following week. We continued our operations while rebuilding the store.

With all these ups and downs, what advice would you give to a new business owner in Boston who has just opened a standalone storefront?

First and foremost, do something you understand and have a passion for. Many businesses fail because owners open something they like without fully understanding it. You need passion because you’ll spend the first year working every single day. I was there from open to close every day for the first year.

To learn more about their weekly wine tastings or corporate gift package options, visit their website.

Bacco’s Wine and Cheese is located at 31 Saint James Ave, Boston, MA 02116 617-574-1751

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