Michael Dorf’s, founder and CEO of City Winery, story started back in 1986 with a club called the Knitting Factory in East Village. As an entrepreneur, he remembers sleeping under his desk for the first two years of business, and what he calls “living and breathing in an avant-garde rock and roll life.” In 2002, he left the club, and in 2004 he made his first barrel of wine—leading to the eventual opening of City Winery’s first NYC location in 2008. Here, Dorf talks opening his seventh location in the City of Brotherly Love, and what makes him so excited to be here.
Why did you choose Philadelphia as your seventh location?
There's great things that have always been here, but the city really seems to have taken off on the entertainment front. On the culinary side, there is phenomenal restaurants here. It's gone way beyond what Stephen Starr deserves credit for raising the bar in this town. I didn't want to have Philadelphia be number two because I felt like I needed to get on a plane to actually convince both myself and investors that if I can create a chain, I had to go to outside of the sort of the Eastern Seaboard. Then, Nashville happened to just come up because we bought a building and it was just the right timing. That led to Atlanta. At that point, the ease of being able to do Philadelphia didn't even hit me and next thing you know, we had Boston and DC. Between these locations, I take Amtrak all the time—I love Amtrak—and I'm often going through Philadelphia. It's one of those things where it's like...why not? I need to rethink about Philadelphia. It all made a lot of sense and fell together nicely.
What do you hope to bring to the market?
First of all, no one's crazy enough to do a winery and music venue together, so that always makes us unique. From a programming standpoint, we're able to bring an artist who maybe would play in a bigger theater in town, but we’re able to bring them into the smaller environment because we'll do a two three four day run. We're bringing artists with fairly large names, whether it's Joan Osborne, Sinead O'Connor or Graham Nash. We also are going to be doing wine programming that is really unique to what we do. We'll do a tour with a great winemaker from California. Obviously, we can't sell 350 tickets, but we can use any of our private rooms for a tasting. We serve as a wine promoter in that way.
What does it mean to you to become a part of the revitalization of East Market?
We like being part of a positive story of urban renewal, and leveraging our brand of culture and culinary to bring people to a newly revitalized neighborhood. It is confirmation that our brand has value and we are proud of that.