Almost a decade after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans should be running low on storm-related comeback stories. But finding a gleaming and new Martin Wine Cellar (3827 Baronne St., 800-298-4274; martinwinecellar.com) open again at its original Uptown address does seem to rewind the clock a bit.
Of course, this combination wine retailer, deli and caterer didn’t go away after flooding and looting wrecked its Baronne Street store. Its Metairie location reopened within weeks of Katrina, and the company quickly went into expansion mode, opening new stores in Mandeville and Baton Rouge. In the meantime, a much smaller Martin Wine Cellar appeared on Magazine Street (it closed last week as employees moved to the newly opened location).
But it all started on Baronne Street when the late David Young Martin Jr. set up shop in half of a shotgun double in 1946. In the early days, the business was mostly a liquor store with a sideline in imported wines, reflecting tastes of the day. By the time his son Cedric Martin joined the family business in 1975, however, things were changing.
“People were traveling more, becoming better educated about wine, California was just starting to take off,” said Martin, now the company president.
The younger Martin fixed on ways to make his family’s wine shop a hub for New Orleanians to tap into the trend. He and David Gladden, now the company’s CEO, soon began introducing wine education events. And one day, after picking up yet another takeout lunch from nearby Pascal’s Manale Restaurant, Martin said he decided to develop a New York-style deli in the wine store, one that would grow into the counter service cafe and, eventually, the busy catering service that are now major facets of the business.
“That made it a social thing, and more accessible,” Martin said. “It became an adult candy store as we added all these things.”
In-store wine tastings and seminars are now commonplace at New Orleans wine shops, many of which double as wine bars and serve their own food or host pop-ups. But a generation ago, this was innovative territory and the shop at Baronne Street was where New Orleans explored it.
After years of delays in rebuilding, Martin said the Uptown store’s return feels like a homecoming. For New Orleanians who learned about wine here, it may feel the same way.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.