Last year, when husband and wife Alex and Kelly Rodriguez adopted Lola, a Golden Retriever/Louisiana Catahoula Hound mix from Golden Retriever Rescue of Mid-Florida (GRRMF), they had no idea it would drive them and friend CF Hawkins to open a wine bar. You see, Lola is sassy and has a penchant for trouble. “When Lola is bad, we call her ‘Lolita’ and when she is bad, she causes us to drink. So, in order to afford to drink good wine, we had to open a wine market. So here’s to Lola!” says Kelly with a grin.
Lolita’s Wine Market quietly launched last week at 16 18th Street South in the Grand Central District of St. Pete. The space is a cozy 974 square feet — just enough room for around 25-30 people. And the vibe is comfortable and laid-back. “We want people to feel like they are coming to somebody’s house, not necessarily to a restaurant that they have to get dressed up for. We like to describe it as a wine shop meets coffee shop concept,” says Kelly.
Lolita’s specializes in wines from all over the globe, not just American or regional wines. The focus will be on boutique wines and interesting blends and varietals. Kelly, who is developing the wine program, said she wants to take a good-better-best approach by offering a little bit of everything — everyday drinking wines, mid-tier wines and some pinnacle wines.
Lolita’s is starting out with a smaller wine inventory with plans to grow their offerings after assessing local preferences. After all, what’s the sense of loading in 100 wines and not knowing that the community will enjoy those wines?
For those in the mood for something other than wine, Lolita’s also carries a mix of favorite local beers. Some water and sodas are available as well.
The food side of Lolita’s is being helmed by Alex. The menu consists of artisanal fare and encourages a sharable community experience – offering create-your-own (CYO) charcuterie, small plates, salads, and paninis. All menu items are priced under $10.
Some early favorites include the Italian panini (burrata, sopresatta, salami, peppadew peppers, tomato, and kale pesto), Pan con Tomate (Ciabatta bread, garlic, tomato, shaved manchego, and prosciutto), and the Carbonara (prosciutto, truffle mac and cheese, and a quail egg).
If Lolita’s herb-filled window boxes, designed by CF, and quaint purple interior is not enough to keep you indoors on a beautiful day, all bottles of wine and food can be taken to-go. Say you are going to Movies in the Park or you want to enjoy the sunset at the beach, Lolita’s encourages you to grab a bottle of wine and create an antipasti platter for the road.
The trio are also planning to host numerous events at Lolita’s Wine Market. Wine dinners will be held once a month, which will allow Alex to spread his culinary wings and offer new food items paired with exceptional wines. Various other events include a series of monthly hands-on classes such as “How to make burrata”, bi-weekly wine tasting events, and also a Service Industry Night on the 3rd Monday of every month.
The space is also available for private events — for everything from rehearsal dinners to groups who are simply looking for a cozy place to gather without having to host at their home.
This entire operation is starting to sound a little too polished for first-time restauranteurs, isn’t it? As it turns out, Alex and Kelly owned and operated a 6,000 sq. ft. Italian/Mediterranean restaurant, Luce Enoteca in Powell, OH which had a 450+ bottle wine list. In 2012, they sold the restaurant and moved to Miami. And many locals may know CF, who in 2011 began and operated the cafe at ARTPool Gallery on the corner of Central Ave. and 20th Street.
As a high schooler, Alex started cooking at hotels in Puerto Rico where he grew up. At 18, he journeyed to New York City and landed a job at Geoffrey Zakarian’s Forty Four at the Royalton New York Hotel. As Alex’s career progressed, he added many celebrity chefs to his resume including working as Executive Chef for Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill Atlantis and learning molecular gastronomy at The Bazaar South Beach by José Andrés.
In 2015, the couple decided it was time to leave Miami and come to the west coast of Florida. The only place they were really drawn to was St. Pete. Family in the Tampa/Clearwater area had them visiting many times over the past few years. “St. Pete reminds us of the East Village neighborhood in New York City,” says Kelly.
Additionally, the growth of the city and the huge emphasis on small businesses really drew the duo to the area. Shortly after moving to St. Pete, the couple met CF and his husband, Rusty Smart. The foursome who share a love of travel, great food and art quickly became friends.
With Alex’s culinary skills, Kelly’s love for wine and experience in design, CF’s eye for detail and love of baking, the trio was born with a desire to bring an eatery to St. Petersburg that encompasses fantastic food, fabulous wines with a neighborhood vibe.
When you visit Lolita’s, be sure to explore the neighboring local businesses, historically referred to as The Corner. You can make an entire night out of it — experience live jazz and blues music at The Hideaway Cafe, then grab a burger at The Burg Bar and Grill, next catch a late night improv comedy show at Spitfire Theater and cap the night off with a glass of wine at Lolita’s.
Stay up-to-date on current events (such as brunch beginning at 11:00am on Saturday July 8th) and the latest food and drink offerings by following Lolita’s Wine Market on Facebook. Their address is 16 18th Street South and their hours are as follows:
Wednesday: 4:00pm - Close*
Thursday: 4:00pm - Close*
Friday: 4:00pm - Close*
Saturday: 3:00pm - Close*
Sunday: 11:00am - Close*
*Close - If they have guests, they will be open!