The midst of the worst recession in decades was Volkan Muti’s opportunity to open his own wine bar in Manhattan’s Murray Hill neighborhood. Wine:30 was originally named for its 30 seats and 30 wines available by the glass and in only three years has grown into a 120-seat wine bar and restaurant popular with tourists and locals who live and work in the neighborhood.
Muti started his epicurean journey 10 years ago and 5,000 miles away in Bodrum, Turkey. He worked his way up from wait staff to restaurant management as he traveled from Turkey to Malta and eventually the United States. While working in Manhattan, Muti came across the ideal location on East 30th Street that was previously occupied by a small cell phone retailer.
“I approached the landlord with my idea and my life savings. Since the economy was shaky and he didn’t have other offers, he agreed to rent me the space. I continued working my job as a restaurant manager and started putting my plan together,” explained Muti.
Muti turned to Rawle Brown, a business counselor at the Pace University Small Business Development Center (SBDC), funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). At the SBDC, he studied the neighborhood’s demographics, learned the table turnover required to make a profit, and developed a tapas-style menu to pair with the perfect wines. Muti built on his working knowledge of wines by taking wine classes at WSET while still working two jobs at different restaurants. With Brown’s free and expert assistance, Muti developed a thorough business plan and SBA-backed loan application with the New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC). But Muti’s initial prospects to build a reputation among diners had quite the challenge when his liquor license application took months to pursue.
“I started out serving food at lunch only while waiting for the liquor license to come through. By July, my life savings had been spent down to the last $5,000. When my liquor license was finally approved, my loan was approved the very next day and allowed me to invest in the wine list I had planned. For me, it was the best day ever because I had the support and confidence to do what I wanted,” recalled Muti.
Muti hasn’t looked back since, with full dinner service seven days a week. The wine and food menus were a hit and locals quickly turned into regulars. Glowing reviews from the New York Magazine also helped raise the profile of the wine bar. Within the first year, Wine:30’s growing popularity created a demand for more tables so he expanded the restaurant space into a second unit on the same floor. During demolition of the studio apartment’s shower, Muti discovered a basement to the building that wasn’t on the original architectural drawings. The landlord agreed Muti could use the space if he completed the required renovations, which involved removing hundreds of buckets of dirt by hand. It took Muti a year to empty the basement by himself, revealing 700 square feet transformed into a true wine cellar for his 6,000 bottle collection and a private dining room. Muti also expanded into al fresco dining with tables in front of the building and the small outdoor courtyard.
Fortune has certainly favored Muti, a bold entrepreneur who leverage his life experiences and savings into small business success. With his hard work, Volkan Muti has secured his future as a small business owner and in the process, created a Murray Hill mainstay and over 20 jobs for his fellow New Yorkers.