The ticket for 9/11’s Flight 93 resides in Margie Raimondo’s safe-deposit box, a tangible reminder that life is uncertain and you better make it count.
Raimondo is working to open in downtown Little Rock the second location of her Raimondo Winery LLC. The winery/deli/trattoria will be at 615 Main St., in the old Fulk-Arkansas Democrat Building, built in 1916 and designed by prominent architect Charles Louis Thompson.
Raimondo, a native of Southern California, worked in telecommunications marketing for more than 20 years. She had her own marketing firm, but she also served stints at BEA Systems (later acquired by Oracle), Lucent Technologies and Adobe Systems.
The terrorist attacks in 2001 prompted some soul-searching in Raimondo. She lost two co-workers, one aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, killing all aboard, and the other in the attack on New York City’s World Trade Center.
In addition, a mentor, Jim Campbell, barely escaped the collapse of Tower Two of the Trade Center.
“I have a ticket for the plane that my colleague was on that is in my safe-deposit box,” Raimondo said. “I could have very easily been on that plane and chose several weeks before not to use it.”
Rethinking her priorities resulted in a career shift. Raimondo comes from an Italian family that has been in the wine business in California’s Central Valley for three generations. Her family taught her that food is a celebration of life and wine is an extension of that celebration. “There’s a respect for food and there’s a respect for wine that is nurturing,” she said.
Raimondo wanted to share that experience with others, and a road trip brought her to Arkansas. She fell in love with the state. “You can come here for the lakes and the rivers and the beauty of the mountains, but you stay here because of the people, because the people are so incredible,” she said.
Raimondo opened a winery and retail store in Gamaliel (Baxter County) in 2008. She later moved the operation to Mountain Home, but said the Little Rock location will be her flagship store.
“The wine is actually produced in California, through the fermentation and settling,” Raimondo said, but it will be aged and bottled at the 615 Main location.
The 15,000-SF building is being developed by Moses Tucker Real Estate at a cost of $2.2 million, according to Chris Moses, president and CEO. The architect for the project is Cromwell Architects Engineers and the contractor is Central Construction Group.
In addition to Raimondo’s operation, the building will house eight loft-style apartments. Moses expects to complete the project by the spring or summer of 2016. Raimondo hopes to have her 3,200-SF winery and store open by October of this year. Ed Sergeant of Fennell Purifoy Architects is designing Raimondo’s space.
Raimondo Winery will seat 42 inside and about 20 in an outdoor seating area at the front of the building. Upstairs will be an event area, which will seat about 30.
Raimondo said her winery produces 1,200 cases annually, but the 2015 harvest will push that to 2,100 cases. In addition to wine, Raimondo will offer a variety of imported olive oils and balsamic vinegars, gourmet foods, soups, salads and “small plates” to take out or eat on location. She’s aiming for a trattoria feel.
Raimondo has three workers in Mountain Home and expects to employ four or five in Little Rock.
She declined to reveal the amount of her investment, saying only that it was “big.”
Early word had her opening at the corner of River Market Avenue and Third Street in Little Rock, but Raimondo said market research indicated Main Street, the so-called Creative Corridor, would be a better fit.
Raimondo, who lives over the river in Argenta, described downtown Little Rock as a perfect place for an urban winery. “I love the vision of what’s happening here on Main Street,” she said. “I really love the community idea of this downtown area.”
“There are some things that you can’t see and you can’t touch, that you have to feel with your heart,” Raimondo said. “And that’s really the experience that I want to create.”