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Heath Porter and Craig DeWald on Uvaggio's First Year

They talk wine and accomplishments

Bret Pelaggi, Craig DeWald and Heath Porter
Bret Pelaggi, Craig DeWald and Heath Porter

Just about a year ago, a small European-style wine bar called Uvaggio on Miracle Mile opened its doors. Its selection of unique wines and dishes from Top Chef season 11 contestant Bret Pelaggi got the Miami's food scene quickly buzzing.

Eater Miami sat down with Uvaggio's owner Craig DeWald and its 'Head Wine-O' and resident jokester Heath Porter to hear about the wine bar's first year in business, the challenges they faced and the big party they are hosting to celebrate.

Overall how was the first year?

Craig DeWald: Overall it was awesome, definitely exceeded our expectations for what we were able to do. We were happy to win some honors and awards, we’ve got some great regulars, the business continues to build and people are understanding what we are trying to do, which wasn’t happening at the beginning. But I think a year in and people are seeing what we are trying to do and I am pleased with the response.

Heath Porter: I think we scared the hell out of people to start with and I think we still scare the people a lot, but maybe not as much. People are actually allowing us to take control and do what we do and it took a while to get there. I’ve been saying since day one, a year from now people will come in and won't even want to look at a menu we just want you and your staff to tell us what to eat and drink and how to do it – then we’ve been successful. We saw that a while back and we are seeing more and more. We do things a bit different, but our customers trust us and respect us and let us do what we do.

What would guys say was the biggest challenge you faced your first year being open?

HP: (jokingly deadpans) Spending as much time together as we do.

Well besides that…

CD: I think it was just bringing in a relatively new concept to Miami. The wine bar itself is not a new concept but I think what we were trying to do, putting some wines on the list that aren’t typical of what you’d see around Miami and getting people to be comfortable not drinking a Napa Cab or Chardonnay. The other one, and this goes with any new place, is just getting the word out that you’re there. I’m continually surprised that we have neighbors around the corner that walk by a year in and say, "I didn’t know you guys were here." That’s the constant challenge of getting people knowing we’re here, what we’re doing and getting people excited about it.

What would you say, if anything, has changed over the past year?

HP: Obviously we had some preconceived notions and ideas of what we wanted to do. Some of them soared and some of them fell flatter than any Led Zeppelin ever could. I think I was amazed for the call for happy hour. Every person says, "oh you have a wine bar, oh you have a place of business" and the first thing out of everyone’s mouth is, "what do you do for happy hour?" I’m still in disbelief because we don’t get a huge happy hour crowd but that’s the first thing out of everybody’s face. I think that was the thing that sort of struck me as a little bit odd.

CD: Miami is just such a cocktail culture and the idea of coming to a wine bar for happy hour — I grew up in San Francisco so that’s just second nature to me, that’s what you do there — and here people come and ask "do you have vodka?" and then walk out. It’s still a new concept. It’s still young and people are still trying to figure out what it is.

What would you say has been your biggest accomplishment you all have achieved over the past year?

HP: Again, we could talk about the awards and all the cool write ups, but I think if we do our job we have to respect that and that’s part of the gig — being positive and being professional. But I think it’s been really, really cool for us to watch us do our communal seating, because evidently people around Miami didn’t realize that sometimes they actually had to interact with one another. It’s really, really fun and a really cool dynamic to watch people sit communally because we’re so small. At first it’s standoff-ish. They aren’t making eye contact with each other and then within 30 minutes they are buying each other bottles of wine, sharing phone numbers. I’ve seen people come in here not knowing each other, end up being here 3 hours later and the next night going out to dinner at another restaurant together. That’s really cool. I don’t know if we thought that would happen.

CD: I think what I’d add to that is my biggest accomplishment is that we’re still here after a year. Just in the last year watching the number of restaurants that have opened after us and already closed. It’s a scary thing to watch. Just on our street here we’ve had a couple. For me the accomplishment is the staying power that we’ve had and the response we’re seeing in a somewhat fickle restaurant kind of town.

To celebrate your first year in business, you’re hosting a big bash this Sunday. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

CD: We’re going to be celebrating our one-year anniversary and in conjunction with the party we’re also donating all the proceeds from the event to a local family here that needs some help with their daughter who’s been battling a tumor. She’s all clear now, but she continues to go through chemo and certainly will need some help with some of those bills they will have. In terms of the party of the itself, we’re pouring some amazing wines and we have plenty of our distributors coming out and doing some of that pouring, our espresso guy coming to make us some really strong espresso to keep us going through the whole thing, our blues guy that plays on Tuesdays bringing his band, we have tents and table set ups, a smoker going so chef is going to doing some amazing food. So lots of juice, lots of food, lots of music and a good celebration for our first year. (You can buy tickets to the event here.)

Does it feel like it has been a year?

HP & CD: It feels like it’s been ten.

CD: Everyone said as I was getting into this, "do you realize how much work a restaurant really is?" And I said, yeah, I get it, I get it. One year into it — it’s a helluva lot work. At least for me, the good news is it gets me out of bed every day, I look forward to it and it doesn’t really feel like work.

HP: I’m still in amazement that he actually said that with a straight face. F***ing liar. (Bursts out in laughter.) That’s what gets him out of bed? That’s what drives home to bourbon and go to bed. (Laughs some more.) I guess that’s why we’re the ying and the yang.