Frank's Wine hosts parking lot tastings, live music and food trucks
What started as a lark to get people out of their houses has become a growing go-to destination in Wilmington.
For the past year, Frank Pagliaro, owner of Frank's Wine at 1206 N. Union St., has been hosting lively wine tastings in the parking lot of his city liquor store, complete with bands and food trucks.
He plans to continue the festivities at the least through March 2022.
Well, that's how long he has approval from the city and state alcohol control commission to host the parking lot parties.
But Pagliaro said even as the public continues to get vaccinated and begins to feel more comfortable venturing out, he would like to see the boozy events extend beyond 2022.
"Hopefully, it will just continue," he said.
Frank's al fresco "patio" wine tastings have been a bright spot in a bleak year that saw many food and drink establishments struggle due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Looking to do something to cheer people up, Pagliaro said on a gorgeous spring day on April 20, 2020, he decided to hold an impromptu event. There was little to no planning.
"Everybody was quarantining then. We just needed to get people outside again," he said.
A band, made up of employees from a Delaware liquor distributor, brought their instruments to the roof of Pagliaro's store near the corner of Union Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
As they began playing, store employees chalked out areas in the parking lot where people could stand 12 feet apart and listen to the music.
Since the store didn't have a gathering license, the staff served non-alcoholic beer to anyone who showed up..
"It was so cool to hear the music," Pagliaro said.
The pop-up concert was such a hit, Pagliaro said "we went with it."
By June 2020, he was granted a variance from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission and the City of Wilmington Licenses and Inspections Office to move his store's tasting license outside.
Pagliaro said he usually holds wine tastings indoors, especially for people planning weddings, but since so many events were canceled, moving outdoors seemed to be a smart move.
The three-hour, outdoor parking lot events have attracted anywhere from 60 to 100 people who come and go. Visitors must follow mask and social distancing rules and COVID-19 outdoor dining guidelines as mandated by Gov. John Carney.
"It was a great time with friends," wrote one visitor to the Frank's Wine Facebook page after an event earlier this month that featured jazz musicians, rosé wine tastings and barbecue from Chef Gerald Allen, who also makes food at the SIW Vegetable Stand in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.
The fee to enter the Frank's events is $5 and all of the money collected goes to a designated charity. Charities interested in having Frank's host their organization can contact Pagliaro at email@example.com
The only cost for organizations is a $5 application fee for a gathering license. Frank's then donates wine, beer and spirits for a gift basket, which charities can raffle at the end of their event.
The tasting events are held on random days, usually on weekdays from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m.
There's no set schedule. Pagliaro said he usually checks the weather and, if it's going to be a nice day, he will start planning. He posts events on Frank's Wine social media accounts, including Instagram and Facebook, as well as the website, frankswine.com/
"It's now blown up," said Pagliaro.
Tastings of wine and beer are limited to 1-ounce pours and spirits are limited to half-ounce pours. The store owner tries to pick themes and introduce unusual wines.
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"We're tasting cool stuff, things that people won't come in to buy like Georgian wines," Pagliaro said. (That's Georgia, the former Soviet republic, not the U.S. southern state.)
On May 5 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Pagliaro has planned a Cinco de Mayo celebration with a flamenco dancer and the Olé Tapas food truck, which serves traditional Spanish and Latin American cuisine.
Employees will pour wines from Baja California, Mexico, along with a variety of Honor Tequilas and Cerveza Monopolio of Mexico.
Before a person enters the outdoor tasting area at Frank's, employees check their temperature. Masks must be worn when walking to a seat, while visitors are at a table (except when eating or tasting), when a Franks' employee approaches a table, and when they leave the area
Guests must remain seated at tables (with provided hand sanitizer), which are shaded with umbrellas and set a minimum of 8-feet apart. If it gets chilly, the store has outdoor heaters and provides blankets.
Pagliaro asks that once visitors taste through a “flight” of featured wine, beer or spirits they leave and give others the opportunity to also enjoy the music, wine and atmosphere.
There's no need to tip Frank's employees, Pagliaro said, but he asks that guests give gratuities to the musicians who perform at the events.
"A huge part of why we have our musicians here is to not only enjoy great music, but to keep them working during our pandemic. They’ve suffered financially as much as our industry friends have that are in the restaurant and catering businesses," he said.
Tip jars are set on each table.
The caliber of the musicians has been impressive over the past year. Pagliaro has had Frank Sinatra impressionist Sean Reilly along with local musicians like Sam Smick, Diamond Swing Jazz and one of his favorites bands, Genesis Z & The Black Mambas.
"They are so great. I'm like, 'How are these guys playing in my parking lot?' " he said.
A variety of local food trucks rotate in for the tastings. Pagliaro invites one to each event.
"We want to let that guy tear it up," he said. Trucks have included the Cafe Riviera pizzeria, Plum Pit, Uncle John's BBQ, Wandering Chef, Kapow and Koi on the Go.
Pagliaro said he enjoys seeing people enjoying food and beverage pairings. "It's given me this restaurant itch all of a sudden," he said.
"It's just been super cool for the neighborhood. We just started to do this as a way to get people out of the house and feel some sense of normalcy. Now, we're seeing all these new faces. It's been cool all around," Pagliaro said.
"I've hired three people since last year that I met on our patio."
For upcoming tasting events, visit frankswine.com/events/