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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

From merlot to minnows, Taylor’s Wine Shop shifts with the times


When Taylor Cash bought a country store on Six Forks Road in north Raleigh in 1980, it was in the middle of nowhere. The street hadn’t been paved, and Interstate 540 was just a dream, more than two decades away. The nearest residents were miles away.

Cash made the business work by adapting to the times. When construction started on nearby neighborhoods, he did a brisk lunch business selling hot dogs and hamburgers to carpenters and electricians. In the 1990s, he switched to movie rentals and then video games.

Now, the store is called Taylor’s Wine Shop. In addition to the BP gas available at the pumps outside, the spot carries 1,500 types of wine from all over the world, plus a healthy selection of breakfast sandwiches, made by longtime employee “Biscuit” Bill Brown. There’s also typical convenience store fare. Some of Raleigh’s largest residential neighborhoods, such as Sutton Estates and Bridgepoint, now surround the property, reflecting one of the fastest-growing U.S. cities over the past 30 years.

And fish bait is still available for those going to nearby Falls Lake.

The store is now run by Taylor Cash’s son, Ben Cash, and manager Kelli Beck, and it ships wine purchased through its website across the country every day. It also partners with local restaurants on wine dinners and holds wine tastings on Fridays, when customers can sit in a rocking chair on the front porch. Cash and Beck visit the Sonoma and Napa Valley areas each year to check out the latest wines. Taylor’s sells about 140,000 bottles a year, and the best sellers are California cabernets.

Taylor Cash, his son Ben Cash and manager Kelli Beck.

How did the store get into shipping wine nationally through online sales?

Kelli Beck: It mainly came about because of COVID. It really ramped up then because people weren’t able to get wine, or were not comfortable coming in to get wine. They would pick up in the parking lot, and then we just expanded across the country, any state that allows wine to be shipped.

How did your dad get into wine and expanding
the business?

Ben Cash: In the late 1990s, once [Interstate] 540 was finishing, all of the construction had shifted to the north, so the lunch business wasn’t prominent any more. For years, we had movie boxes on the walls, renting videos. We did that for 10 years, and then Blockbuster opened up down the street. So then we had a full videogame arcade with Joust and Donkey Kong, and that was a lot of fun as a kid. But then people started to stay home to play them. So in the late ‘90s, my dad was kind of thinking, we need some kind of profit center that is a draw for people. My dad got into wine, and he started with a little end cap. It quickly grew, and he started making trips to California with this wine group and met these boutique winemakers that pretty much only sold from their location. He convinced them to send him two or three cases a year. Once those wineries sold out in California, the only place you could get it was here. People would come in and say, “Gosh, I can only get this in California.”

Do the wineries now come to you?

Cash: They do. We met with four wineries last week. They’re just coming back to the state post-COVID for distribution and want partners that can give them exposure. Kelli and I try to go every year, or every other year, and my dad goes the year we don’t go. We refer a lot of people when they travel and help a lot of customers set up tours. Wine is just a lot of fun. When I was a kid, it was primarily a bait shop and a convenience store.

Do you still sell a lot of bait?

Cash: Just worms and nightcrawlers. The minnows just weren’t working. Kids would go by and put their hands in, and minnows are communal. If one gets sick, they all die. So almost weekly, you’d lose your whole batch. And crickets are so noisy. It just wasn’t worth it.

Does gas bring in customers?

Cash: Fuel is like an amenity. Since we only have one location, there’s really no profit. You can sell 3 million gallons of fuel, and if you break even, you’re in good shape. We did a pretty substantial remodel, right before COVID, in October 2019, and shifted the pumps from the front to the side of the building. That opened up the front for parking lot parties and wine tastings. With the fuel customers lined upfront before the remodel, it was kind of chaotic.

How have you partnered with others?

Beck: We have great relationships with restaurants around here, and we love supporting other family-owned restaurants. So we would partner with them to do wine dinners and work with the chefs to make custom menus. Our customer base loves those off-site wine dinners. They crave them. We just got creative during COVID, and we’re working with large venues. It’s a way to create more business outside of this footprint. It does take a lot, me, especially, to work it in our schedule.

Have you considered adding another location?

Cash: Oh yeah. I have two picked out.

Beck: We go back and forth on this. My personal opinion is I don’t want to own a bar. Staffing has been an issue since COVID, and we have employees who have been here 10 and 15 years. I feel like if we were having to staff a later evening establishment, I would be stuck working that. If we had another wine shop, that would be fun and most likely not involve a gas station.

How difficult has staffing been?

Beck: It has been extremely difficult. We want people that want to come to work, be reliable, work hard, and return. We will pay well. We want to pay people what they’re worth and are great with our customers. We are such a small family business that it’s important that everyone gets greeted when they come in and gets great service. It’s not a convenience store where you come in and get your coffee and then check out and leave. Every person that comes in here is important. We need someone who can manage the cash register and sell a $500 bottle of wine. We need those kinds of employees. The reason we have weathered COVID well is because we have these long-time employees who are like family.

Chris Roush
Chris Roush
Chris Roush is executive editor of Business North Carolina. He can be reached at croush@businessnc.com.

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