GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids’ only Black-owned wine and jazz bar will welcome customers through its doors for the first time Monday.
GRNoir Wine and Jazz began selling wines curbside and online in early December. As soon as the state announced it was lifting the ban on indoor dining, owners Shatawn and Nadia Brigham were ready to share their new space at the corner of Division Avenue and Weston Street SW.
“We’re excited about it. You know, it’s been a long time coming for us, to open up, and we’re finally here. And so we want people to see what we’ve been laboring over and why we put so much time and energy and effort into creating a space, not just for us but for the community. We want people to feel like this is their space, like they have a stake in GRNoir. They can come and unwind and feel like they can get support and meet new friends,” said Shatawn Brigham.
What was once a hole in the ground has been replaced by a posh lounge area dressed in gold, black, white and aborigine tones reminiscent of crushed grapes and old jazz cafes.
“We did a little bit here and there. Not much,” Shatawn Brigham joked.
A trip to New Orleans’ wine and jazz bars served as the catalyst for GRNoir. Grand Rapids-based Tiffany Eden Design brought the Brighams’ vision to life.
“We wanted it to be grown and sexy,” Nadia Brigham said. “We wanted a place that was warm, where people could feel like they’re being embraced when they came.”
Velvet seats await customers ready to sip on wines made by Black and women-owned businesses.
Shatawn Brigham says his favorite piece of GRNoir is the wine dispensers, which record the details of each bottle, when it was opened and how quickly it sells. The machines also control how much wine flows into the glass, eliminating overpours.
GRNoir also serves up small plates of food pairings, including brisket sliders, Jazzy Shrimp, Billy’s Brussels, salmon tartine, full-bodied bruschetta, Saxy Chocolate cake and a banana pudding.
“We had a lady who called me and said ‘I saw a picture of your banana pudding online and I live about 20 minutes away. I’m coming down just to pick up a banana pudding,” Shatawn Brigham said with a smile.
Jazz piped in through speakers fills the space. A piano and drum set sit at the front of the lounge area, ready to strike up a riff.
GRNoir will celebrate its grand opening week with live jazz performances Monday, Thursday Friday and Saturday. After that, they plan to line up two to three live performances each week.
ADDING EQUITY, EARNING SUPPORT
The Brighams are applying equity lessons from their consulting company to how they approach wine and jazz at GRNoir.
“We are unapologetically Black. We are proud to be Black people even as we witness injustices in our society, we’re proud to be Black,” she said. “But just as proud as we are of who we are, we want others to feel proud of who they are and what they are. And so we try to make space… we are trying to create that space here at GRNoir.”
“We want people to experience something cultural. Not Black cultural, not American cultural, but just universally cultural experience where people can feel like they can come in, relax, unwind, commune with one another,” she added.
Shatawn Brigham says all aspects of the wine and jazz bar are seen through an “equity lens.” That includes ensuring all tips go directly to the staff, and are not shared with the owners. Nadia Brigham says the goal is to bring employees as close to a living wage as possible for their small business.
The Brigham’s business approach is already leading to an outpouring of community support.
“We have people come by and say, ‘You know what, we heard about you guys. You’re Black-owned, you’re highlighting and showcasing Black-owned wines. I want to support that, I want to buy that,” Shatawn Brigham recounted.
“They will call and say, ‘We just called to tell you we’re proud of you,’” Nadia Brigham added.
‘TAKING THE SNOOTINESS’ OUT OF WINE
While Shatawn Brigham was intrigued by wine as a child, he and his wife never tried a glass until a last-minute Christmas shopping trip brought Shatawn to a wine shop near Woodland Mall.
The couple was in their mid-30s when they popped their first cork.
“We grew up in Benton Harbor, one exit away from a vineyard. We never had access. It was just culturally inaccessible,” Nadia Brigham said.
“Growing up, if you drink you were rich or you were famous. You had money and you looked a certain way,” Shatawn Brigham explained.
He says GRNoir’s goal is “taking the snootiness” out of wine.
“We want people, no matter who you are, where you, what your background is, we want you to be able to enjoy and be comfortable around wine. (That) doesn’t mean you need to know everything about wine, because none of us do. We want to be able to make it accessible to as many people as possible.”
As a sommelier, Shatawn Brigham tastes every wine GRNoir considers for its menu. He also spends countless hours researching each of the vintners, including how they treat their staff and the environment.
Shatawn Brigham says the Tintero Muscato D’Asti that kickstarted his taste for wine is on GRNoir’s wine club list for February.
FALLING IN LOVE WITH JAZZ
Shatawn Brigham’s love for the soothing tones of jazz also started early in life.
“We’d go on road trips and it was my turn to drive, I’d put jazz on. Because we’re busy … we’re always talking and on our phones and responding to people. And I’d just say, ‘ You know, I don’t want to hear anyone singing or talking at me. I want to put the music on I’ll allow the instruments to speak to me,’” he explained.
It was during the “game-changer” trip to New Orleans’ Congo Square that Nadia Brigham committed to jazz.
“I had to understand the birthplace, the story behind it, and I just fell in love,” she explained. “It’s an amazing source of music and it was birthed out of dire oppression, yet my ancestors developed it and gave it to the world and totally revolutionized American culture but also global culture. And I think that’s the gift of jazz. And we wanted to create, it deserves a space to live.”
“And that’s what we want GRNoir to be. We want people to feel like they can grow not only in wine but also in jazz,” Shatawn Brigham added.
If the journey to opening GRNoir was a jazz song, Nadia Brigham says it would be melodramatic yet warm, like Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” Shatawn Brigham’s pick is “My Favorite Things” by John Coltrane because of all the features – from purse hangers to wine dispensers – that make GRNoir special.
OPENING DURING A PANDEMIC: ‘WE WANT TO FEEL SAFE’
GRNoir was on track to open last spring, but the pandemic changed that. Before COVID-19, the Brighams never anticipated offering wine curbside or online or waiting to open with restrictions.
“Once we get through COVID, we can’t wait to get back to the mingling and the enjoying each other’s company and talking and learning and growing with each other,” Shatawn Brigham added.
GRNoir will celebrate its grand opening with a ribbon cutting at noon Monday. When the bar and lounge area opens to the public at 3 p.m., visitors will notice the following COVID-19 precautions:
- Placards placed at “closed” tables to facilitate social distancing and uphold the 25% capacity restriction.
- Sanitation stations including one at the entrance where guests will need to “scrub in.”
- Mandatory face masks for all guests when they’re not seated. Servers will only help a customer when they’re wearing a face mask.
- All staff will be masked and gloved.
- Portions of the communal table will be closed to keep groups small and limited to the people that came in together.
- Performers will be masked with horn playing restricted for now.
“We are committed to making sure that when people walk in here, they feel safe, because we want to feel safe, we want our staff – we all have families to go back to – we want them to feel safe as well. And we want our patrons to feel safe,” Nadia Brigham said.
GRNoir will be open 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with private event opportunities on Sunday. The wine and jazz bar will continue to offer its wines curbside and on https://www.grnoir.com/.