Dio, H Street’s go-to natural wine bar that flipped into a bottle shop during the pandemic, just sent its last drop of wine out the door.
Sonoma County native Stacey Khoury-Diaz’s homegrown wine bar debuted in 2017 with “all natural” wines, focusing on wine produced from organic or biodynamically grown grapes. She tells Eater the decision to close at 904 H Street NE, at least for now, was driven by uncertainties and a steady stream of challenges tied to COVID-19.
“We thought this would be much more temporary — a month or two. It didn’t take me long to realize it would be longer,” says Khoury-Diaz.
Her small business dealt with a particularly high series of setbacks since the dawn of the pandemic. Khoury-Diaz’s general manager contracted COVID-19 in mid-March, so the wine bar closed for a month for precaution and came back as a temporary wine shop. That same week, the bar was hit by a break-in and lost $3,000 worth of wine.
While its fans immediately showed sales support for the bar, a “roller coaster” of unpredictable weeks followed as D.C. protests got under way and Phase 1 went into effect, creating instant competition from newly opened restaurant patios.
“People are cooped up and want to spend dollars outside of the home. On top of that a lot more bars are converting to a shop model,” she says.
A few wins are helping keep Dio afloat. She says she did receive a PPP loan and D.C. micro grant. And a liquidation sale of its remaining inventory last week was a major sell-out success. Proceeds from hundreds of bottles will help pay staff for a few more weeks and cover rent for a few more months on Dio’s 900-square-foot home. At the earliest, she would reopen during Phase 3, or at a time when more certainty around the coronavirus is hopefully known.
“We have got some time covered,” she says. “It just depends — if there is any changes in terms of safety [during Phase 3] ... we will definitely look at reopening. It’s still on the table 100 percent. It’s time — will the timeline allow us in a way to do that?”
After dealing with COVID-19 internally firsthand, it’s made her rethink every little move. Her small four-person team, which did all the wine deliveries themselves to cut out third-party apps, sanitized their cars and bottles around the clock. An employee who recently went on vacation didn’t return to work right away, as precaution for potential exposure.
“I’m not going to tell someone they can’t go somewhere,” says Khoury-Diaz. “There’s a lot of odd calculations that have to happen right now. A lot of decisions that were once very simple — going on a trip or deciding to go see family — have magnitude now because of the pandemic.”
Khoury-Diaz plans to keep Dio’s social media account active and promote and partner with small businesses around the city.
“It’s sad to work so hard on something and feel like it’s slipping through your fingers. But it’s a pretty great tradeoff to spend time with my daughter,” she says.