The Wise Old Dog has moved to a much larger space, just one storefront over on South Quaker Lane in West Hartford.
By Ronni Newton
Exactly five years after opening the Wise Old Dog at 610 South Quaker Ln. in West Hartford, the business has moved right next door – nearly tripling in size while keeping ties with the neighborhood and the unique charm customers have come to expect.
When he learned that Lindy’s Laundromat would be closing, Wise Old Dog owner Jacob Studenroth began a conversation with the building’s landlord. In January he signed the lease for 612 South Quaker Ln.
Studenroth had opened the Wise Old Dog on May 12, 2012, after purchasing South Quaker Wines and Spirits. On Friday, May 12, 2017, he officially opened in the new space, which at 2,800 square feet is about three times larger.
He knew for a while that he wanted a larger store, but didn’t want to leave the neighborhood.
“We are just so connected to this immediate community,” Studenroth said. Not only are people who live in the area his customers, but he’s also gained quite a following throughout West Hartford and other towns from parents who spend weekends watching their kids play soccer on the fields of the Glover Soccer Complex right across the street.
Moving next door was ideal for many reasons, Studenroth said, including not having his customers live through a renovation. The store was closed for just four days last week while inventory was moved and the new space was set up.
“I wanted to have folks walk in the door as they did on Friday to their new space.” He said it was purposely built in “darkness” with papered-over windows and only little glimpses of the new elements appearing on the Wise Old Dog’s Instagram posts.
The larger location provides the benefit of ample event space while maintaining the intimate charm of the original spot.
Tastings can take place at the spacious and inviting farmhouse table – topped with jars full of flowers – that’s situated in a bright and open area in the front of the store.
Antique elements include what Studenroth believes was a barbers cabinet, c. 1925, now in use as the “nip case” and an early 19th century apothecary’s counter repurposed as the checkout and register are. The original pressed tin ceiling was uncovered and restored.
Window seats were custom-built, but meld perfectly with the rest of the decor.
Studenroth is fascinated with the history of the building – which even made an appearance in We-Ha.com “Thursday Throwback” column a few years back. The space he’s in now was opened by Glenn Smithers as Foodtown in 1951, and his former store was originally the Quaker Lane Pharmacy, complete with a soda fountain, he said.
Foodtown served local and organic meat and produce before anyone paid attention to things like that, Studenroth said. During the renovation, a wall was uncovered that had cured meat labels stuck to it in deliberate pattern. He guessed that was the wall behind the former butcher counter.
After Foodtown closed, the space was a video store and then Lindy’s Laundromat was there for years before closing in 2016.
New to the Wise Old Dog is the wine room – a glassed-in, temperature-controlled space where customers can browse an impressive collection.
“We’ve accumulated a really wonderful cellar collection, but before the shopability of it was limited,” Studenroth said. The former location had a cellar that was naturally temperature-controlled, but it couldn’t be used as retail space, and because the new store is on a slab the wine room was a necessity.
Studenroth is clearly a wine specialist, but Wise Old Dog offers an extensive selection of beer and spirits as well. Unique craft beers, many of them local (sometimes they even have Sip of Sunshine, Lawsons’ beloved but often-hard-to-find IPA), many packaged in growlers, line a wall of the store. A refrigerator lines another wall, and a center section of the store showcases a wide range of spirits at all price points.
When asked how he gained his knowledge of wine, Studenroth said it was far from a direct route.
He’s originally from Long Island, and grew up in a “restaurant family.” For decades his grandmother managed the iconic El Morocco in Worcester, he said.
When he was 18, Studenroth said he was lucky to land a job as a waiter at Jonathan’s Ristorante in Huntington, NY. As low man on the totem pole, he served the owner and other chefs every night and paid attention to the wines they were drinking. “That’s where it started, and once you get bitten …”
Studenroth moved to the West Hartford area to attend UConn law school, intending to have a career as a lawyer, retire early, and own a restaurant.
“I didn’t love the law,” he said. He practiced for two to three years in Hartford, but soon accelerated his plan to change careers.
“When I decided to leave the firm, I looked at the restaurant landscape but I had only been married for a year,” Studenroth said. Owning a restaurant at that point would have been tough, but he also had the interest in wine.
Studenroth said that’s when his dog provided inspiration.
“I was in my office in downtown Hartford, working on a Saturday because that was what all associates did, and I had brought the dog with me. I had an epiphany moment,” Studenroth said.
“I called my wife and told her I needed to find something else. Then I looked down at Duncan, my Boston terrier, who was lying at my feet chewing a bone,” Studenroth said.
He recalled that he said to his wife: “This wise old dog is sitting here as happy as can be, while I’m sitting at my desk, completely unhappy.”
“Then I knew,” Studenroth said. He wanted to do something in the wine industry and whatever it ended up being, he told his wife, “I’m going to call it the Wise Old Dog.”
“South Quaker Wine & Spirits was up for sale. I got lucky, and the rest is history.”
Although Duncan passed away in 2014, his image as the store’s logo will always remain part of Wise Old Dog’s legacy. (See below for a video of Duncan, taken when the original location opened.)
And what makes the Wise Old Dog special, Studenroth said, is service.
“It’s like I’m almost inviting myself into your house, to your dinner table. I want to help you find what’s best to go with your casual Thursday night dinner.”
When told that this writer had eaten a bowl of cereal for dinner the previous night, Studenroth said that a juicy Pinot Noir would have been the perfect complement.
“When you have all these bottles it can be challenging to navigate. This is a lot to look at, even if you are passionate and knowledgeable, but it’s our niche. We almost always start a conversation by asking if you are pairing with a couch and Netflix or a recipe,” Studenroth said.
He said he’s been fortunate to establish great relationships with distributors, and is always learning and tasting.
That’s not to say that the Wise Old Dog deals only with expensive wines. Studenroth said recently they were lucky to snag seven of the 35 available cases of Clisson Muscadet. Sounds exclusive, but it sells for just $22 a bottle.
“It’s really good with scallops and adobo shrimp,” piped in Wise Old Dog General Manager Thomas Hadis.
Studenroth had to learn to reconcile the taste for fine wines he developed at a young age with a young person’s budget, and he shares that approach with customers.
“If we start out with, ‘What are you doing, what are you eating?’ then we can find something to go with it, find something to go with grilled cheese, to get you away from just going straight to the Sauvignon Blanc section.”
On a recent warm night Studenroth said his wife were grilling salmon glazed with honey sriracha. He took a risk and brought home a Sancerre Rouge. It was perfect, he said.
If you don’t know what you’re eating, Studenroth has some favorite “bistro” wines, reds and whites, that he will recommend. They’re flexible enough to go with most things, but are different from ordinary “go-to” wines.
A few examples include a Cheverny (white, predominantly Sauvignon Blanc mixed with unoaked Chardonnay); Fatalone Bianco Spinamarino Greco (Studenroth got a great deal because it will no longer be imported); Cahors (from an area in France which was the original source of Malbec); and the classic French Bieler Père et Fils Rosé.
The Wise Old Dog, at 612 South Quaker Ln. in West Hartford, is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. and from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sundays.
For more information, call 860-523-5779, or for information about weekly tastings follow them on Facebook or Instagram (@thewiseolddog).
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