Are you hosting a dinner party? Looking for a one-of-a-kind Vermouth? In the mood for a unique, European-inspired dining experience? MUST Wine Loft has exactly what you are looking for! MUST Wine Loft is a European-inspired artisanal wine and cheese store and cafe located in downtown St. Petersburg, FL, specializing in selling all the wine, cheese, and charcuterie essentials you could want. They sell everything from cheese spreaders and wine glasses to curated gift baskets and retail wines. MUST even prepares full lunch and dinner menus incorporating local produce, fresh-baked breads, and artisanal products. The visionary behind this operation and business is Jessica Arkwright, Founder of the company and Mother of MUST Wine Loft.
After working in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years and gaining years of buying experience, Arkwright decided it was finally time to open her own specialty store and cafe. She teamed up with retired cheesemonger, Raymond Cotteret, in 2020 and got to work on a business plan that would make their dreams come true.
RangeMe had the pleasure of interviewing Arkwright to discuss the inspiration behind MUST Wine Loft, how she uses RangeMe to discover new suppliers and products for her customers, insights on the wine and cheese industry, and advice for female entrepreneurs.
RangeMe: How did you come up with the name MUST Wine Loft?
Arkwright: MUST is a play on words. “Must,” the unfermented mixture of juice and pulp of grapes, is the first step to making wine. Once the must and its skins are fermented, it is considered wine. We like to explain to people that you must make MUST to make wine, which is why we named our business MUST Wine Co. We’re located on the first floor of the 5th Avenue Lofts apartment building, so we added Loft to our first location’s name.
RangeMe: Can you tell us about your customers?
Arkwright: Our target market is anyone and everyone who appreciates and desires artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, local products, and small or large production wines from all over the world. We tend to attract people who have traveled to Europe or locals searching for a “wine bar” on Google. Customers seem to love the intimacy of our space and the Alice in WINEderland meets Mucha/1920s art nouveau vibe. Whether our customers are dining in or shopping for a dinner party, they trust our advice and opinions on products. Our customers tend to be very engaging and curious, so most of our products are hand-sell items, which makes our customers’ experience truly unique compared to our competitors. We are also one of the few European-inspired cafes that creates our own pintxos and tapas daily and uniquely offer a large selection of vermouths, aperitifs, and digestifs, and craft cocktails.
RangeMe: Sounds like you have a dedicated following, what are your plans for expansion over the next couple of years?
Arkwright: Once we fill our current expansion of tripling our seating and expanding our indoor and outdoor footprints, we have plans to grow our business even further. We are excited to figure out what ‘normal’ feels like (since we opened in March 2020), double our kitchen size, add events to our service offerings, and grow our team this year. We are also exploring options to expand our online presence by shipping some of our products. Our ultimate goal is to produce artisanal vermouths and become Florida’s first vermouth winery, so stay tuned!
RangeMe: When did you join RangeMe and how has your experience been?
Arkwright: We joined in 2021, and our experience has been super smooth so far! As the buyer and head curator at MUST, RangeMe has been super helpful for product discovery and fulfillment. I love that I can seamlessly search for whatever category or item I need, which is usually inspired by our current menu or customer preferences. We try to use only organic, non-GMO, and low-sugar products and prioritize vegan, gluten-free, and low-carb items. If a brand stands out to me and I want to incorporate their product into our offerings, I’ll simply request a sample directly through RangeMe.
RangeMe: Outside of ingredients, what supplier information do you look for on RangeMe?
Arkwright: When looking at a supplier’s profile, they must list their minimum order amount, shipping estimate, case/pack size, retail packaging photos, an explanation of their product and how it’s made, plus plenty of information on their business. I also like to see where they are sourcing their products from and their business values. We prefer to support women-owned, family-owned, and/or minority-owned businesses that promote healthy, sustainably produced, and delicious products.
Buyers, learn how to search by category on RangeMe here.
RangeMe: When looking through supplier profiles on RangeMe, is there anything you wish more suppliers included to better catch your attention?
Arkwright: I wish more suppliers shared photos of their packaging as it would look on a shelf to give me a better perspective of the product’s size. I also think it would be appealing if brands included a downloadable shelf-talker with an explanation as to how the product was sourced and made for me to share with my customers. If I had to share one tip with suppliers looking to work with a brand like mine, it would be to have good communication. Communication and following through are essential to build trust, especially when dealing with the current supply chain issues.
RangeMe: What brands on RangeMe have you placed orders with and why?
Arkwright: So far, we’ve purchased from Bon AppeSweet, Cherry Lane Organics, Flavor Seed, and Straight From France. Bon AppeSweet’s chocolates with dates were so easy to fall in love with and we will be re-ordering soon! We will also be purchasing from World Seasonings, Botticelli, and more that I’m sure I’ll discover when we expand our retail market this summer. I’m already a Botticelli customer at home so that’s why that brand caught my attention and as for the seasonings, it was their blends and business practices we liked.
RangeMe: What are some current wine and specialty snack trends you’re most excited about?
Arkwright: We are working on making vermouth a comeback trend, so we are excited to see vermouth wines and the snacks that pair well with it as you converse with friends. We do focus on our cheeses and charcuterie products, however, we also search for vegan options. It’s refreshing to see so many new brands and products coming out for our customers.
RangeMe: Throughout March we’ve been celebrating the vast history of women innovating and leading in retail. Do you have any advice for female entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?
Arkwright: Find your team and support system! It’s too hard to do everything and be everything to everyone, even if most women think we can do it all ourselves. Find people who have strengths where your weaknesses are, and ask for help when you need it. Hire and invest in good employees that you can continue learning from and treat them how you want to be treated.
Before launching your business, talk to your friends and people in your community about your product to get them engaged. I would also suggest having a plan and sticking to it, but keeping an open mind that your original idea might not ultimately be what you pursue. If you’re recruiting investors or seeking alternative financing, vet them as people you would want to sit down and have dinner with. Don’t be afraid to have those awkward conversations about money and loan repayments upfront.
Most importantly, keep a positive mindset and remember where your passions came from!
What’s Next for MUST Wine Loft?
The 2022 summer season is almost here and that means expansion plans are kicking off for MUST Wine Loft. Arkwright and her team are super excited to expand their in-store, online, and event offerings in St. Petersburg, FL. A larger retail and dining space means additional shelves to stock, so we can’t wait to see what wine-pairing snacks Arkwright will discover next on RangeMe.