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Grape Expectations 

Since it opened last March, The Wine Loft (752 Tchoupitoulas St., 561-0116) has made a name for itself via the grapevine in more ways than one. Though the Warehouse District wine bar, owned and operated by The Doyle Restaurant Group, is home to a variety of fine spirits, trendy cocktails and light fare, its focus -- as its name suggests -- is on wines from all over the world. There are more than 80 wines sold by the glass and 200 by the bottle. Business has been strong from the beginning, thanks to customers who've generated a steady stream of positive reviews.

Partners (and cousins) Jason and Justin Doyle credit the success of the venture to increased availability of good wines, a more sophisticated consumer and a variety of other factors. "Nationally, wine is becoming more popular," says Jason. "There's more production than ever, and if you look at the forecast for the future, it's going to continue to grow."

Wines from countries including South Africa and New Zealand also have come on strong as the result of marketing tools such as the Internet, they say, and some foreign wines have the added cache of being made with grapes grown exclusively in those countries.

With more of a selection to choose from, the average person has become more knowledgeable and adventurous about wines. For those who aren't, The Wine Loft removes the intimidation factor by educating its customers. All of its employees are trained through wine tastings with vendors, and customers can purchase group wine tastings, which feature three reds, three whites and a champagne, for about $40 per person.

The Wine Loft's menu and relaxed, urban-chic atmosphere have been integral to its success as well. Because it was conceived as a before- or after-dinner destination, it offers a selection of hors d'oeuvres and desserts that pair well with its various wines. Each of the appetizers on the menu, which includes delicacies such as baked oysters topped with Brie, mushroom, artichoke and tasso ham sauce, is listed with a suggested wine. Melissa Doyle, Jason's wife and the company's third partner, designed the space, which features intimate seating areas and a VIP area that can be reserved for private parties, though Justin emphasizes that The Wine Loft "treats everyone who comes in the door as a VIP."

In less than a year, the upscale wine bar concept has done so well that The Doyle Restaurant Group is developing a franchise model in hopes of expanding. "It's been one or our most successful endeavors ever," says Jason. "It fits with what New Orleans was looking for."


Teacher's Aide

Christy Williams is a teacher through and through. You can see it in the way she explains things with analogies and examples and in the way she enthusiastically offers her customers an endless stream of ideas.

As owner of The Teacher's Stop (4315 Bienville St., 483-7867), an educational supply store in Mid-City, Williams doesn't reserve her know-how for those who spend their days at the head of the classroom, however. Her philosophy is that "everyone is a teacher at some point in life," and her goal is to supply the tools to make that possible.

Williams found her calling as an educator while teaching Sunday school during her college years. After graduating from Loyola, she taught in the Orleans Parish school system and earned a master's degree in curriculum and instruction at University of New Orleans. When she heard about the closing of Rowley's, the only school supply store in Orleans Parish, she seized the opportunity to make a difference. "The difference between my store and other educational supply stores is that when people shop here, they will receive reasons why a book is helpful, opposed to just being told that the book is helpful," says Williams, now in her seventh year of business. "I take time with each customer. When I'm helping a parent, I try to see exactly where the child needs help and then I tailor the help to the child's individual learning style."

Williams personally orders every item in the store, keeping in mind the benchmarks and standards mandated by the state, and tests out much of her inventory. With nearly 4,000 square feet of retail space, the store stocks everything from early-childhood puzzles and musical learning CDs to high school workbooks and office supplies.

Williams, who likens herself to the Internet's omniscient Ask Jeeves site, is also a prolific source for creative ideas. "If there's a resource that you have at home versus a book in the store, I'll help you with that, because the most important thing is the child being educated," she says.

In the coming year, Williams plans to initiate workshops for parents on subjects from standardized tests to math. "I think of us like a prescription ... that parents and teachers need to help children learn," she says. "Teacher's Stop is just what the teacher ordered."

click to enlarge Bartender Felicia Cox pours a glass of wine while - Michael Doyle, cousin of owners Justin and Jason - Doyle, readies libations at the bar of The Wine Loft.
  • Bartender Felicia Cox pours a glass of wine while Michael Doyle, cousin of owners Justin and Jason Doyle, readies libations at the bar of The Wine Loft.


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