2008-07-10 / News

Grapes & Gourmet celebrates fifth anniversary

By Sam Bari

Frank LaPere, left, and his sister Paula LaBarre celebrate five years of being in business at the East Ferry store. LaPere owns the store and LaBarre oversees all food and gift items. Photo by Jeff McDonough Frank LaPere, left, and his sister Paula LaBarre celebrate five years of being in business at the East Ferry store. LaPere owns the store and LaBarre oversees all food and gift items. Photo by Jeff McDonough Titillating customers' taste buds is not only company policy, it is a passion with the employees at Grapes and Gourmet, Jamestown's go to place for fine wine, exotic liqueurs, and epicurean delights for the past five years. And let's not forget the unsurpassed selection of microbrew and craft beers, single malt scotches, and other premium liquors. As if that were not enough, they even offer imported ceramics, custom made baskets and other fine gifts.

"Our success starts with the staff," says Frank A. LaPere, owner of the successful East Ferry establishment. "Without our talented personnel we wouldn't have the outstanding selection of everything from fine wine to a good representation of the world's best cheeses. Our employees are truly experts in a variety of areas."

This is not only important in the buying of the best products, LaPere said. "It is most important when customers come in seeking help. If they want to know about the best wine to go with a particular cheese, or the best beer to serve with a favorite dish, all they have to do is ask. I guarantee they will always be rewarded with a satisfying answer," LaPere said.

Then he gave a Frank LaPere tip - "When you want to match a wine with a cheese, you usually won't go wrong if you pick a wine from the same area as where the cheese is made." This wise bit of information is actually posted on the wall of the gourmet department at the back of the store. Nonetheless, it's good to know if you're out in the world where Frank's staff of specialists arenot available for consultation.

Getting back to the knowledgeable personnel, LaPere boasts about his two wine experts, Marnie Crawford and Brian Buck.

Crawford has been with G&G for over four years, LaPere said. She had 25 years of experience selling fine wine before she came on board. "Marnie has an unbelievable memory. Not only does she know every wine we have in stock, but she also remembers customer's preferences. And, she has an excellent palate," LaPere added.

Brian Buck, the other wine expert, is a retired schoolteacher and waiter at Castle Hill Restaurant. "We are so fortunate to have him," LaPere said. "He knows and appreciates good wine from all over the world. I should say we are fortunate to have both Marnie and Brian. They could easily be sommeliers in any five star restaurant - they just lack the title."

LaPere said that the store only has room to stock 600 bottles of wine. "Either Marnie, Brian, or I sample every wine we stock before we place an order. We can honestly recommend everything we sell because we've tasted it."

LaPere praised Paula LaBarre, his sister, who oversees all food and gift items. "She not only buys all of the exotic cheeses and imported delicacies as well as the gifts, she is also a fabulous chef."

LaBarre makes the G&G private brand of salsa fresh every few days. "We call it Palsa," LaPere said. "And customers love her torta, a blend of Gorgonzola and mascarpone cheeses with walnuts. It is to die for," he said.

LaPere could not say enough about, "Our beer guy, Will Wilson." Wilson is a craft brewer who, according to LaPere, makes an excellent brew. He selects all micro and craft brews in the store and holds beer tastings every Saturday or Sunday afternoon. "Will can recommend a good beer to accompany any dish or cheese," LaPere said.

Because of a quirky Rhode Island law, Grapes and Gourmet is the only store of its kind in the state, LaPere said. Since the town has a population of under 10,000, G&G can sell food as well as alcoholic beverages. If the Jamestown population were over 10,000, the only food they could sell would be potato chips and pretzels. "The law allows two liquor stores per municipality, and this municipality is large enough to support two stores, plus we can offer gastronomic delicacies as well," he added.

In addition to exotic spirits and food, LaPere said that G&G also carries the complete line of Venda Ravioli products. "Save gas - no need to go to Federal Hill," he saidd. "We have it all right here."

Since Wickford Gourmet closed a few months ago, LaPere said they are now enjoying customers from across the bridge to the mainland as well from across the other bridge to Newport. Since the influx of customers, G&G has expanded their services to accommodate customer requests and special orders.

While speaking of special orders, LaPere couldn't help but boast about their gift baskets. "Since we have a liquor license, we can include any alcoholic beverage a customer wants in the basket. At most places, they have to bring their own," LaPere said.

He told the story of a gift basket they prepared for a vodka lover not too long ago. It contained six bottles of high-end vodkas, martini wafers, and a martini kit. "Everything needed for the perfect Martini," he said.

Frank LaPere was born in Westerly. "The name is Ellis Island Italian," he said, adding, "My grandfather shortened it when my family arrived in America back in the early Twentieth Century."

He went to college at the University of Arizona and earned a degree in entrepreneurship. La- Pere has been married to Caroline, his wife of 16 years. They live in Jamestown with their son Nico, 13, and daughter Pava, 11. Before buying Grapes and Gourmet, LaPere was a printer.

"But I was always cooking, and I loved searching for just the right wine to put with just the right dish. It was a passion. I think it was my calling," he said.

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