If you’ve been an Orlando oenophile for any significant period of time, you’ve probably been to a Tim’s Wine Market.
Tim Varan is a cornerstone of Central Florida’s wine community. Since he opened his original bottle shop on Orange Avenue across from Lake Ivanhoe almost thirteen years ago, his empire has grown to six stores sprinkled around Central and North Florida.
Over the past few years, I’ve heard Tim hint at his desire to sell wine by the glass, but nothing came of it … until this spring.
The Wine Bar at Tim’s Wine Market in East Orlando’s Avalon Park celebrates its first-quarter anniversary on Saturday, three months after opening its doors in March.
Comfy Space, Plentiful BTG Offerings
Franchise owners Mark and Keisha Hoerrner moved to Central Florida almost two years ago from Georgia. They’d been interested in wine for years – both hold qualifications from WSET and other organizations – and last year, they approached Tim about the possibility of a wine bar franchise in downtown Avalon Park.
“My wife and I looked at this place in particular because it was near our home,” Mark said. “Tim and I both feel that you make a better impact in a community of which you are an integral part.”
When I stopped by this past Tuesday evening, the community was out in force. The cozy space boasts a long bar, several tables, and a couple of comfy-looking couches, and most of the seating was occupied by jovial customers, happily sipping the night away.
“We pour about 30 wines by the glass and offer about 700 different wines by the bottle with only a $10 corkage fee to consume on premises,” Mark said.
Corkage is waived for members of the top tier Reserve wine club; lower level club members pay half price corkage. Tim’s franchise-wide weekly wine features are corkage-free for everyone, as is a weekly bonus wine chosen just for Avalon Park patrons.
The BTG list is New World-heavy, but I’ve found a few Old World gems too, including an Amarone on Tuesday (Mark is an Italian wine devotee) and a lovely Condrieu when I visited in late March. Mark says he changes things up every week or two to keep things fresh for returning customers.
He uses WineEmotion machines to keep his extensive by-the-glass offerings fresh. They range in price from $6-$15, and he also pours five flights, ranging from $16-19 for four pours.
There’s Food Too!
Tim’s Avalon isn’t a restaurant in the traditional sense, but it does offer a wide range of creative, wine-friendly noshables.
There are several cheese and charcuterie combinations, a few dips – the smoked eggplant is delicious – and refreshing snacky plates for when you need just a little something to keep your glass company.
There’s been a fair bit of trial and error with the food menu over the store’s first three months. Mark offered a couple of salads at first, but they didn’t sell. He just bought a panini press and plans to start offering those this week.
He’s forged a partnership with downtown Orlando’s DoveCote restaurant to provide some of his dips, desserts, and ingredients; other items he sources himself. Everything I’ve tasted has been great.
More Tim’s Wine Bars – Where’s Next?
Tim Varan says he’d been thinking about opening a wine bar for awhile, but Avalon Park was the first place he’d felt the concept was “necessary” based on the area’s demographics.
“I think it will ultimately be a good retail location,” he said, “but the wine bar is a good base of cash flow while that side develops.”
It’s also proving to be a great laboratory.
Tim says Avalon has generated lots of interest from other would-be wine bar franchisees, and he’s already identifying elements of a replicable model.
The club members’ corkage discounts have proved a great way to boost memberships, he says, and he plans to work on a standard food menu based on the results of Avalon’s experimentation.
Tim says a downtown Orlando Tim’s Wine Bar is not in the cards, at least for now. So where might the next one be?
“New Smyrna is a constant point of interest,” he said, and he thinks the demographics there would be better suited to a wine bar than a straight-up bottle shop.
“Lake Nona also pops up a lot too, as does Winter Garden,” he said. “Time will tell.”
Don’t hold your breath, though. Tim says he’s not likely to open another wine bar before the end of the year.
In Avalon — So Far, So Good
Avalon Park franchisee Mark Hoerrner says he’s been pleased with his reception so far. Tim Varan, ever the business guy, has too.
“The preliminary data is really good,” Tim told me, “and the response from the Avalon Park residents has been superb.”
The space itself was a natural fit too. The building was a restaurant in its former life, so there was a bar and plumbing already in place. But the remodel took a lot of work.
“I tore out everything behind the bar and rebuilt it all,” Mark said. He says he also laid new flooring, put in a new ceiling, and brought the space beyond code.
“It will take us a little longer than a typical franchisee to recoup our original investment,” he said, “but we don’t plan on going anywhere for the next ten years.”