Building The Wine School of Philadelphia

The Thrill of the Hunt (Or Not)

I was under strict orders to keep the School in the same neighborhood, one that felt like home and provided a steady supply of outstanding students, not to mention access to public transportation and abundant parking.

Easier said than done.

The next time you stop at the Sunoco on 22nd Street, take a panoramic view of the intersection. Any space for lease was one I considered. The daycare center building you ask? Yes, even the day care center building. (Perhaps better synergy than a recording studio, but less than ideal.)

There was one space a block north that seemed unrentable. In fact, it became a bit of a joke between my wife and I…who would rent THAT? Its curb appeal almost couldn’t have been worse. But the clock was ticking, and our other prospects — a fourth floor attic; a shared performance space; a place on Ranstead accessible only by alley-way — were not promising.

What I didn’t know was that the building had been recently purchased by one Alex Zhou. Alex is something of a legend in our neighborhood: think of an Asian Donald Trump, but better looking and much cooler. He had already rehabbed the second and third floor units into slick new apartments. Now he needed a commercial tenant on the ground level. He loved the idea of housing the Wine School of Philadelphia.

We signed a long-term lease in November 2015.


It Takes a Lot of Beer to Build a Wine School

The space formerly housed a small law firm, and it needed to be gutted. I honestly thought construction would only take three months. It took six, mainly because I was still working as Philly’s sommelier-professor and mad-fermentor.

Take a look at this place before rehab:

Construction dragged into the winter, one of the coldest on record. It wasn’t until February when I could finally repair the heating system. Here’s what I had gotten myself into:


Since the old and future Wine Schools were only a block apart, students would often catch a glimpse of a big, dusty guy in paint-covered clothes rolling down the hallway. That was me. I managed to clean up pretty well when I had to, though.


Meanwhile some awesome things were happening back at the Wine School & Philly Beer School:


As the days started to get a bit warmer, my sign painter Christian Cantiello installed the new sign. My contractor Alex Harel followed with the new barn lights. Alex was amazing. He immediately got my vision and always went out of his way to do an excellent job.

Now we were ready for the most anticipated part of the project: custom designed desks and chairs from a hugely talented local artisan, Don Yacovella. I met Don at Phila Flea, and immediately wanted everything he had for sale. If I could get Don to design the furniture for the new classroom, I thought, it would be a dream come true. Six months after our initial meeting, Don delivered our grand tasting table, stools, and four two-tops. It was all gorgeous. Effing fantastic.


Click on page 3 below for the exciting conclusion.

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