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John Keife 

Wine merchant, co-owner of Keife & Co.

In August, business partners John Keife and Jim Yonkus opened Keife & Co. (801 Howard Ave., 504-523-7272; www.keifeandco.com) with a focus on wines from small producers and specialty liquors, bitters and barware geared toward the craft-cocktail trend. The design and format of the shop, with wine displayed in tall, library-style wooden shelves and an assortment of cured hams, cheeses and jugs of olives, was inspired by a favorite wine shop in Barcelona. A Houma native, Keife previously worked at Martin Wine Cellar, Marcello's Wine Market in Baton Rouge and at Rouses Market.

Is there a particular niche or taste profile you're aiming for here?

Keife: The New Orleans market is pretty savvy in general. Look at the (wine) selections people see at restaurants here. We're not talking about chains, these are local restaurants by and large, so it's not the same nationwide wine brands. The (wine) lists can be more esoteric. So your New Orleans dining customer gets exposed to a lot of different wine. For liquor, we saw that cocktails were taking off, and people seemed to be looking for specialized products all the time, but there wasn't a retail outlet for that locally. We wanted to have service, selection and presentation — all three of those combined, like the shops we'd seen when traveling in Europe.

What do you wish consumers understood better about wine?

Keife: It would just be about being less varietal-specific. Someone comes in and says "I only drink cabernet sauvignon." I hear that and think, "You're looking for a dry, full-bodied red." It doesn't have to be cabernet sauvignon. I try to encourage people to open their minds a bit and try something else that will fit that category. There doesn't have to be this varietal tunnel vision.

Mardi Gras parades are passing a block from your shop this week. How does that impact your business?

Keife: This is our first year, so we'll see. But the Christmas parade passed by here, and we were just amazed. People were coming in nonstop buying $10 or $15 wines for the parade route. So we're stocked up on plastic cups and screw-top bottles and more quality canned beers, stuff you can't get at the Exxon across the street. — IAN MCNULTY

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