Carlie Steiner, the entrepreneur and bar expert behind two of Petworth’s most prominent hospitality businesses, is trying to save them from the novel coronavirus pandemic the best way she knows how: with whimsy and wine.
While cuisine-hopping small plates restaurant Pom Pom and the Dos Mamis bar are closed during D.C.’s dine-in ban, Steiner has started an online business that sells to-go packages of wine bottles branded with comical themes, like a “Baby Makin” collection or a “FML The Kids Aren’t Going Back To School This Academic Year Survival Kit.”
Seco Wine is Steiner’s best shot at supporting her staff and paying her bills. Wine collections in shipments of six to 24 bottles play up small producers, featuring classic to cult varietals, skin contact, Pet Nat and more pours. It comes with the tagline: “Life is weird right now — it’s a good time to try new things.” It’s quickly grown to include groceries and cocktails. All D.C. orders carry no delivery fees.
“I am waking up at 8 a.m. and I have something to do to provide for my team that is out of work, and pay my landlord rent,” she says. “I am working my tits off. I’ve been able to do a decent job of selling a nice amount of stuff.”
The “Baby Makin” collection, which sold out last week, is restocked with a trio of bottles to “get freaky to.” For $160, customers get bottles of “Quickie!” sauvignon blanc, “Send Nudes” rosé, and a “Casual Encounters” Rhone-style blend, as well as lube, chocolates, and “access to a sexy ass playlist.” The “FML” kit ($250) contains supplies that cover seven nights of drinking: four bottles of wine, a pre-batched cocktail made by Steiner, and a customizable cocktail package (with recipes) that makes up to 15 drinks.
A “mood wine” section also includes a three-bottle “astrological collection” that’s based on the customer’s sign, complete with a customized horoscope and fresh citrus.
“They can taste different stuff to get to know themselves and palates in a fun way,” Steiner says. “It’s a much more approachable way to purchase wines.”
“We are really doing the whole gamut,” she adds, “which I think is the cool thing. You can call us and tell us what you want, and we can get anything.”
Wines from Greece, Georgia, and Bolivia get their own tabs on the site. Steiner’s colleagues pitched in to come up with kits in a section for “somm and friends picks.” A pack from Casey Rath (Pineapple and Pearls) promises “hidden gems, cult finds, and experimental oddities.”
Cocktail packs include Manhattans, daiquiris, margaritas, and more. The list of food and supplies swings from everyday items to more random attractions. There’s a bundle of mixed hardwood for building outdoor fires, lemons, a pound of seasonal ramps, flour, black bass, navel oranges, heirloom tomatoes, and whole chickens.
Steiner is also offering free cocktail recipes to Instagram followers. Venmo tips help buy groceries for her staff every week.
“I’ve been working so fucking hard to make money,” Steiner says. “We’re a female [owned], 20-foot restaurant — that little engine that could.”
Steiner co-founded Himitsu, a 2017 pick for Eater’s 12 best new restaurants in America, with chef Kevin Tien. After he decamped last summer to focus on his solo project, Emilie’s, she assumed full ownership and rebranded it as Pom Pom. The name reflects her love of the Mexican and Bolivian pom poms that adorn her nearby apartment and Dos Mamis, the bright cocktail bar across the street she opened with Taqueria del Barrio owner Anna Bran-Leis.
Both Dos Mamis and Pom Pom opened in the second half of 2019, drawing positive attention from local media and setting up Steiner for a big year. But with the virus depleting business across the hospitality industry at large, she has no idea what the future looks like.
“I don’t have the answer of when or will we reopen — it depends on so much,” Steiner says. “Not only Seco and what I’m doing in the interim, but it also depends on grants, loans, and length of time. My biggest fear when we can reopen legally is, who is going to go out?”