Sarah Cyr was 25 years old when she first opened the doors to The Wine Cellar & Bistro. Her husband and co-owner Craig was 26. The couple saw that the space at 505 Cherry St. was full of new potential.
Now 10 years later, the Cyrs are seasoned restaurateurs who crafted, refined and transformed the little bistro on Cherry into what it is today: a distinguished Columbia dining destination.
Much can change in 10 years in the restaurant business — something Sarah knows very well. Currently, she works as The Wine Cellar & Bistro’s sommelier. Prior to opening The Wine Cellar & Bistro in 2003, she and Craig worked in restaurants for years.
“I think we had enough experience to know what we were getting into,” Sarah says. “But I would say the amount of work and how much hard work it was overshadowed everything in the beginning.
“So for the first three years, we just worked our tails off to figure out how to stay in business, how to crunch the numbers, and how to watch our pennies and nickels.”
Early on, Sarah would fill in wherever she was needed at the front of the house. She bartended, hosted and waited tables. Executive Chef Craig worked tirelessly in the back of the house, working the line every minute of every day the bistro was open.
Over time, the duo hired more staff to take on some of those responsibilities. The Cyrs began focusing on the finer details of their restaurant, specifically its wine list and its menu. Craig began developing and expanding the menu to reflect the couple’s ever-evolving culinary philosophy.
“What’s changed is our involvement in the locavore food movement,” Craig says. “When I began here 10 years ago, I just featured local product. Now, my focus is using as many local products as possible.”
Chef Cyr’s commitment to serving adventurous, seasonal food is just one of the reasons people keep coming back to the bistro again and again. Diners aren’t just served — they’re taken care of, Sarah says.
“We talk a lot about hospitality here,” Sarah says. “Whenever Craig and I go on vacation, which isn’t terribly often, we really like to go to places that take care of you and have a really great, hospitable feel to them so you can relax. That’s how we want people to feel when they eat here.”
Servers at The Wine Cellar are trained with this focus on hospitality in mind. Diners are invited to relax and enjoy their meal while at the bistro, but Craig and Sarah are mindful of every detail of their diners’ experience — from the temperature of the room to the volume of the music.
This attention to detail and premier service is frequently enjoyed by a group of regulars.
“We have a couple that comes every Saturday, unless they’re out of town,” Sarah says. “They’ve been coming since the day we opened. We have lots and lots of regulars that we’ve known over the years that still connect with us. They’ve watched us grow up; they’ve watched us make mistakes. Our customers appreciate that we really do care, that we really do care what they think and that every customer does matter to us.”
The duo constantly imagines and implements new ways to serve their customers. Last year, they sat down over a glass of wine to imagine what the next 10 years at The Wine Cellar & Bistro would entail.
“We had a whole bunch of ideas, and then we started talking about if any of them were possible, if creatively we would make any of them work,” Sarah says.
From that conversation, the couple developed a gardening class program, created the Pantry List as a resource for foodies to use the bistro’s fresh ingredients, and planned many more projects. Craig has one goal in mind for the restaurant’s future.
“We just want to keep on rocking.”