By Carlo Wolff
As BARNONE Wine Café does blockbuster wine business, owner Michael Resnick plans to spend the next few years beefing up the food side of the Shaker Heights operation. A seasoned entrepreneur, he’s a “stubborn,” patient man who knows how to pick his battles – and bargains, he tells Jstyle.
Resnick’s operation on Chagrin Boulevard just east of Warrensville Center Road occupies the former Juma Gallery & Boutique, a jewelry and clothing store owned by Erica Weiss, the late wife of Shaker Heights Mayor David Weiss. The mayor decided to close it in summer 2020, several years after Erica died of breast cancer. Another factor: the COVID-19 pandemic. The storefront stayed vacant for about a year.
At the same time, Resnick was looking for a new spot after 30 years of operating his previous venture, Barnone Wine Beer Spirits, in a similar kind of strip mall at South Green and Cedar roads in University Heights. A liquor store had moved in next door and sought to expand.
“When my last lease was up, the liquor store wanted my space,” Resnick says during a recent interview at BARNONE Wine Café. “So my landlord said, ‘OK, you have to leave.’ And we had redone the place. We needed a spot and happened to see this and thought it would be a fabulous location.”
Resnick signed the Shaker Heights lease in February 2021 and, after some COVID-19-related delay in state licensing, opened that July. Because the strip BARNONE is in is dry, he couldn’t acquire a liquor license without putting it to a required vote, a process he decided against initiating. He makes better than good with the beer and wine license that was already in place there.
He also hopes the restaurant’s recently redesigned website boosts business, and there are signs it might. And, being a full-time mentor and a very part-time worker appeals to him.
“Hopefully, in the next two-and-a-half years, I can get the cafe profitable,” he says. “My lease is up in February of 2026. I’ll be 73 years old. I’ll be done. I mean, 35 years – I’ve had enough. I have had many inquiries to purchase, to take over, and should that work out and they want me to stay and work a little bit, no problem. I want to fade, and if nobody wants to move in and take over, the fading becomes abruptly gone.”
WHAT IS, WHAT WAS
In the first year of COVID-19, Resnick’s convivial establishment in University Heights did booming business. The bar was closed, and Resnick had no on-premise expenses or events. His bartender became his delivery driver, “and he made lots of tips,” Resnick says.
That changed with the move to Shaker. His followers come primarily for the wine, which Resnick sells at discount. Resnick deals in closeouts and is dedicated to the bargain.
“I was a sales rep for a long time,” he says. “One of my big accounts was Marc’s, and the deal is very simple: Move product quickly. Get somebody the best product you can possibly get for the cheapest price you can get.” As with other businesses, there’s a surplus of product in wine, too. “It’s just the name of the game.”
His reputation of offering good deals has built up his customer base.
“People have come to me for years and years and years,” Resnick says. He is a fan of red wines from Portugal, Spain and Italy, and of white burgundies from France.
Even though the great majority of his business comes from wine sales, he won’t give up on BARNONE Wine Café’s dine-in operation
“I’m stubborn and I still like to see the cafe succeed,” he says. “Now, at the other place, we were probably 70% off-premises and 30% on premises. Here, we’re probably 85% off-premises, 15% on-premises.”
He wants restaurant traffic. The bar should be a draw.
There are bargains at the bar, which offers 90 wines by the glass. And the wine is always fresh, thanks to a Coravin unit that punctures the cork, shoots argon into the bottle, and reseals the cork upon needle withdrawal after the pour.
Resnick knows his field deeply, suggests a sales representative who has done business with him for a good 20 years.
“He buys great wines that have been overlooked at good pricing,” says Cole Davis of Cutting Edge Selections, a beverage distributor in Cincinnati. “Michael is a staunch supporter of his clients. He works very hard to find the best value.
“He looks for older vintages – Bordeaux, old Spanish Riojas. … His business model is shopping pricing, not so much brand.”
A DIFFERENT PATH
A lifelong Lyndhurst resident, Resnick is the oldest of three sons of working-class parents. His mother was a bookkeeper, and his father worked in maintenance at a hospital. He’s a former congregant of B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike and now occasionally attends services at Chabad of Cleveland in Beachwood.
He’s not a trained chef; he learned to cook by putting together ingredients his mother set out for him when she went to work.
Resnick attended Youngstown State University as an undergraduate. He did post-graduate work at Cleveland State University and has a master’s degree in music from the Cleveland Institute of Music. He plays French horn.
“I was good, but not good enough,” he says, noting he auditioned for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. While he didn’t make that cut, he was good enough to play professionally “here and there as a stand-in musician for local groups.”
“It’s kind of like being a quarterback on a professional football team,” he says. “Believe it or not, there’s thousands of French horn players. There’s thousands of quarterbacks, and there are only four positions that actually pay money. I played for the Cleveland Philharmonic, which was the amateur orchestra in Cleveland at that time.”
But fill-in work didn’t add up to a career, so when Resnick told a fellow French horn player he’d gotten a job offer to be a sales rep for health and beauty products, his friend said, “Go for it.” “And that was it,” Resnick says.
Turns out wholesaling such products as Vidal Sassoon shampoo and Softsoap hand soap and body wash suited Resnick very well. After 10 years, he had money saved and was ready to move on. His business went through quite some permutations over the next 30 years.
For a time, he owned two video stores, one in Stow, the other in Kent. He closed his Kent store and moved the Stow VHS emporium into the former site of Four Sons, the clothing store at Cedar-Green where he got his bar mitzvah suit.
In the 1990s, Resnick’s operation, which evolved into an all-purpose general store selling everything from tobacco products to comic books to lottery tickets, occupied two locations including the former sites of Four Sons, Heights Pharmacy and Cheese World, the immediate predecessor of Barnone Beer Wine & Spirits. ”I took over the spot after Cheese World,” in the plaza next to the liquor store that’s been there since 2016, he says.
BUILDING THE BUZZ
The events and sales Resnick mounts do very well, he says. He has hosted political victory parties. But he draws the line at extremism. “We’ll do pretty much anything,” Resnick says. “Will I want the (Ku) Klux Klan here? No, that’s what I’m saying.” Civil conversation is the goal.
Despite competition from nearby beverage stores and, above all, grocery stores, BARNONE Wine Café is unique as a full on-premises account with a full kitchen – which was not the case with its predecessor – and 1,500 selections of beer and wine.
With a fresh website, a loyal customer base, a user-friendly menu and his deep wine selection, the BARNONE Wine Café buzz should surely build.
“You have to have the buzz,” Resnick says. “That’s what life is all about. If you’re in the buzz, you have the traffic.”