If you are sitting in one of our cafes, look around you. Aside from the chair you might be sitting on (and in some case even those), everything you see was built by our hands. Every booth, every table, every counter, shelf, wine rack, window and door frame, you name it, it was was built by us. There were no fancy architects or designers or carpenters. Just us, our friends and our families. Economically, this is dumb. Yet, it is the heart of what makes Barriques what it is. These places are deeply personal to us. They are great and they are flawed and we wouldn’t want to have it any other way. When we refer to them as our eight children, despite each having several of the ‘real’ variety ourselves, we are kinda not kidding.
We opened Barriques in 1998. The short version of why we opened our little wine store at 1831 Monroe St, because there is no long version, is that we became convinced there was a better way sell and share wine with people than existed in Madison at the time. This interest was born from experiences we had in wine shops in other cities and, in Finn’s case, during the long hours of selling wine in the many restaurants he had worked at. Shortly after walking past a vacant storefront on what was then sleepy Monroe St., we became shop owners.
Thank god we both had day jobs. Retail, we realized fairly early on, was something we knew virtually nothing about, at least from the point of view of the owner. We were slowly being taken over though by the addition of the daily hand-to-hand combat/selling/sharing that is at the core what being a retail/cafe business is all about. Fundamentally, we tried to give the customer more than what we were asking for in return. That proved to be the steady, albeit slow, way to build a business and the only option that makes any sense to us. Coffee became our primary drug of choice as we moved from our jobs during the day, to our shop at night and all through the weekends. Between the java and our virtually every Friday late evening staff dinners at Greenbush Pizza, there was pretty much no money left over at the end of the week, but we were learning and having fun.
We entered the coffee business in 2003. It was fate, I guess, that led to a business relationship with another Madison cafe pulling out of our plans to share a seating area next to the second wine store we decided to open in Middleton. All our trips to the coffee store three doors down from our first location told us that:
a. we really did love coffee and…
b. so did all of our wine drinking customers and...
c. we could do this better than what we were seeing around us
So, we took these two beverages under one roof and here we are today. If wine proved to be a great beverage to share and tell stories about with our customers, coffee was that on steroids for us. Instead of twenty or thirty opportunities a day to give a customer more than what we were asking of them, coffee lets us do that with thousands.
We are coming up on the Twenty Year anniversary of Barriques. In my mind, I can still smell the grease from El Charro, the business that occupied the space on Monroe St. before us, that coated the ceiling when we first walked in and required hours and hours of scrubbing to remove. I still have blue paint on my favorite old sweatshirt from the week I spent hand rolling the ceiling in Middleton. Finn I am pretty sure still has nightmares about walking into Fitchburg on Thanksgiving Day, shortly before we opened in 2003, and realizing the concrete stain had failed and needed to be redone asap. Like I said, these places are deeply personal to us and we sincerely hope that you enjoy your experience at Barriques.