Downtown New Bedford Wine & Tapas Bar on its Game!

Investing with Style

Despite an economy that has taken its toll on restaurants, Richard Cardoza’s downtown New Bedford fixture — Cork Wine & Tapas Bar — remains as vibrant as ever.
Cardoza opened the popular night spot in December of 2006, hoping, he said, to give the downtown a shot in the arm economically even when others had closed or shied away from locating there.
The city, although in an on-going state of revitalization was still a risky investment.
“It was a leap of faith at first,” said Cardoza. “But I have always had a lot of faith in Downtown New Bedford and have been a supporter of historic preservation and the arts since I returned home in 1987. I also had a strong vision of the way the neighborhood might grow around us.”
“Cork opening in the Downtown Historic District from the beginning was always a field of dreams for me,” he continued. “All the while I was thinking, ‘If I build it, they will come’. It didn’t hurt that the concept included fine wines along with the great food; something that Cardoza’s Wine & Spirits had built it success on.”
But how can a restaurant survive in this kind of economy? What’s the secret to making it through?
“We are in an awkward economy I will give you that. People have cut back wherever they can; holding off on projects and large purchases and possibly foregoing a vacation. But people are still treating themselves to what I call affordable luxuries,” said Cardoza. “If a family cuts out a weekend ski trip and saves $2,000 they can afford to go out to dinner and spend $100. Cork is an experience and you don’t have to travel far for it.”
Building up their sales mostly by word of mouth, Cardoza said Cork has also been helped by receiving numerous awards from the likes of Yankee Magazine, Rhode Island Monthly Magazine, Cape Cod Life Magazine and The Standard-Times. They also host a number of specially-themed events and on most Tuesday nights in the fall, winter and spring feature themed dinners, sometimes with guest speakers from winemakers to distillers and brewers.
“There really is no secret to our success,” said Cardoza. “The building is amazing. The décor is soothing, extremely comfortable. The food is all made from fresh and is creative and delicious. The beverage program is like no other. All of our top shelf spirits and fine wines (40 by the glass) are served in fine crystal. The food and beverage prices are extremely reasonable.”
“But most importantly we have a wonderful staff,” he added. “When you come to Cork our staff makes you feel like you are at home. We really appreciate the fact that you have come to spend time with us.”
Asked for advice he would offer to people thinking of opening up similar businesses, Cardoza said to go on as many business field trips as possible.
“Do research. And don’t be afraid to ‘borrow’ ideas from other like businesses,” he said. “Our bar is made of ‘staves’ from wine barrels, an idea we borrowed from a bar in NYC. Our bathrooms from a bar in Chicago. Our communal table was an idea I saw in Philadelphia.”
A recent recipient of the New Bedford Area’s Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Award, Cardoza said since Cork opened many new businesses have sprung up around them in the Historic District and Downtown.
“I like to think that the size of the investment that we made in Cork helped others to decide to invest in New Bedford as well. Today we have more than 14 restaurants and bars in a small area and it continues to grow, and a new hotel is being built as we speak,” said Cardoza. “The Chamber recognized Cork for this investment in our community which they feel sparked interest in others to not just build or open in New Bedford, but to do it with ‘style’ befitting the Whaling City.”
New Bedford Economic Development Center Executive Director Matthew Morrissey recalled the origin of the Cork concept, one he said set the stage for many others to follow.
At a public open house in 2005, inspired by the exposed granite and original timber, building developer Peter DeWalt and Richard Cardoza developed the concept of Cork, said Morrissey.
“Richard purchased and built-out the first floor and basement shell from unfinished warehouse space into the area’s finest wine and tapas bar—creating an atmosphere that is only experienced in the finest cities of the world,” said Morrissey. “Cork Wine and Tapas bar is an outstanding example of how well executed private development can induce and spur additional economic growth.”
Morrissey credits the initial vision for vibrant new uses in the old stone warehouse with now City Councilor Kathy Dehner and DeWalt, who he said was responsible for actually redeveloping the historic structure for new retail opportunity at street level while the upper floors became extraordinary residences.
“The development of Cork has indirectly helped catalyze and inspire other investments in the immediate vicinity such as the Waterfront Grille, Café Balina, and the Rose Alley Ale House, among many others in the Downtown,” added Morrissey. “In addition, Cork has served to define a higher standard of historic preservation and fine customer service to a growing audience in the region.”
And where does Cardoza see his business and historical downtown New Bedford 10 years from now?
“I dream big. Even though New Bedford is a small city, I see at least 15 more restaurants opening in the ‘greater’ downtown with many more shops and galleries. A new restaurant opened just today on Purchase Street,” said Cardoza, speaking recently. “I see outdoor dining. I see more live music and performances at some really cool venues. I see more being done in the National Park. I see many more tourists making New Bedford a ‘must see’. I see many more people living in the downtown area.”
October 23, 2009
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