By Barbara Salter Nelson
For Hometown News
ORMOND BEACH - From the age of 10, Eric Paone has been immersed in the world of wine and liquor. He practically grew up in his parents' New England wine shop and liquor store. After earning his Bachelor's degree in Business Management, he has held a variety of positions in different areas of the food and beverage industry.
"I've done everything - managing restaurants, bars, wine shops, and liquor stores," he said. "I've also been a merchandiser/sales rep for the Gallo wine company. I've been in or around the business for years."
He considers his newest challenge to be a dream job. He is the new manager of First Crush on Nova Road.
Mr. Paone was managing a big mass merchandise liquor retailer in Palm Coast when a friend asked if he'd be interested in taking over a smaller store. He jumped at the chance.
"The tough part for me as the store manager of the larger store was that even after nine months, I didn't know one customer's name," he said. "I'd rather have the one-on-one relationship with my customers. And on top of that, reinventing First Crush entails using all of my background in one job."
But it's the close customer contact he likes best.
"Instead of corporate-style, I now get to work directly with the customers; learn their taste profiles, then suggest better wines to them, hopefully at a better cost but in a much wider array than I ever could before," Mr. Paone said.
In addition to selling wine, cheese, meat, and desserts, First Crush has a 16-seat wine bar where customers can sit and chat while enjoying a glass of wine or a beer in a casual, relaxed ambiance. It also has wine on tap that's available by the glass or as samples.
"This way the customer can tell me what they like or what they don't like and I can better help steer them in the right direction," Mr. Paone said.
Focusing on the customer is just one of the changes Mr. Paone has made since taking over the store at the end of July. He has also significantly increased the selection.
"When I got here, we were offering 370 wines. Now we have more than a thousand different wines and I pretty much handpicked 700 of them," he said. "I spent the first couple of months tasting a lot of different wines. Because of my background I was able to determine which ones the people here would like. And if there's something I don't have in stock, if it's available in the state of Florida, I can get it.
He is busy learning his new market, Mr. Paone said.
"Ormond has been an interesting area," he said. "It can be pretty finicky at times but there's definitely a demand for a top-notch wine store in the area that offers different things for people and I think that's where our niche is going to be."
Mr. Paone especially enjoys educating people about wine. To this end, First Crush hosts wine tastings from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Friday. It's free for members of First Crush's Wine Club who also get a host of other benefits including discounts. There's a $5 charge for non-members.
Mr. Paone has taken the wine tastings one step further and made them mobile - he will come with several wines to your home or office.
"That sets us apart," he said. "We also host private parties."
Every party, for which First Crush can bring in catered food, is customized specifically for the group who will be attending.
These are just a few examples of the changes Mr. Paone has introduced at First Crush and there will be others in the near future. He's hoping to bring back customers who may have visited the shop previously and were disappointed and is also looking forward to bringing in new customers as well.
"I really think that if people come into the store and see the changes that we've made, they'll enjoy the experience. It's a nice, comfortable atmosphere."
First Crush is located at 175 S. Nova Road in Ormond Beach and opens at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Contact them at 386-310-4873 or check out their website http://www.firstcrushwine.com.