Ten years ago, a cop with a taste for wine was busy making his retirement dream come true: opening a wine bar in his hometown, Huntington Beach.
“I’d been thinking about having my own place for quite a while,” said Dann Bean, who founded Main Street Wine Company in September 2009. “I’d already worked out a business plan way before I retired. I knew I wanted to stay in the downtown area.”
Bean found a spot on Fifth Street, a block over from the main drag.
“But I backed out of that lease,” he said. “The place they wanted to stick me with was in the back of the building. It would have been a disaster.”
Bean started looking at other places downtown and contacting landlords. Eventually, he settled on a space that would shortly become vacant in a newish building on Main Street, three blocks up from the pier and Pacific Coast Highway.
“I had heard about this opportunity,” he said. “I went to the landlord and he said, ‘We love your business plan and your vision.’ And I was in.”
Bean, a former Fountain Valley police officer, had never owned a business.
“I didn’t know a lot about that world,” he said. “I was taking a leap of faith, and it’s been a learning experience all the way along. We’ve had our little hurdles along the way.”
But Main Street Wine Company’s 10th anniversary party was proof that Bean’s vision was sound. The place was crammed with longtime patrons, many of whom have grown to be close friends with Bean and his associate, Oscar Carrillo, who has been with him from the day the wine bar opened.
Carrillo is a generation younger than Bean — he’s now in his early 40s — but he came to Main Street with plenty of experience, having worked at Costa Mesa’s Hi-Time and David Wilhelm’s Chimayo at the Beach, among other places where quality wine was sold. He already knew what O.C.’s wine drinkers wanted.
“Dann convinced me that he wouldn’t lose his house or his shirt if he opened up what he thought would be this sleepy little wine shop with a small tasting bar,” said Carrillo, shouting to be heard above the full-house din at the party. “He said, ‘I’m thinking of opening it down on Main Street somewhere.’ I said, ‘That’s not gonna work, man.’ ”
Downtown H.B. is a gathering spot for the under-30 crowd. It’s always been more of a beer-and-shots destination than a place for wine connoisseurs.
Perhaps that’s the reason the place succeeded. In my many visits to Main Street Wine Company over the years, patrons have told me time and again that they appreciate it partly because it’s an oasis of low-key civility.
Many of them live within walking distance, and the neighborhood is pedestrian-friendly.
Carrillo has an amazing memory for remembering what regulars like to drink, and he’s constantly making the rounds. He spends as much time in front of the bar as behind it.
“None of this would have been possible without Oscar,” Bean said. “Everybody loves him. And Shellie [Carrillo’s wife] takes care of the events. They’re a dream team.”
Bean is being modest, of course. At the anniversary party, he was surrounded by well-wishers who’ve been regulars for years. And I know from personal experience that he runs a tight ship. (An ex-cop knows a thing or two about maintaining a chill vibe.)
Prices for bottles and pours are reasonable, the inventory of California wines is impressive, and several nearby restaurants allow you to bring in a bottle from Main Street without charging a corkage fee.
The good-neighbor vibe also means you can go to Sushi on Fire, the popular restaurant next door, order your meal to go, then spend your waiting time at Dann’s bar. When your order is ready, a restaurant employee will walk it over to you.
“We’re like Mama’s waiting room,” said Bean, referring to the nickname for the locally famous woman who runs Sushi on Fire.
Main Street offers other homey touches: a weekly hamburger evening (it doesn’t have a kitchen, so a chef sets up on the small patio), regular specials on high-end wine from Duckhorn and other California winemakers, and local craft beers on tap. Bean even relented a few years ago and installed a small flat-screen TV in the back, for those who just can’t do without their sports.
Bean is gradually disengaging himself from the daily grind of running a bar.
“I want to do a lot more traveling,” he said. “I just got back from Costa Rica. I’ve got friends in Reno and Lake Tahoe who I want to see more. There’s a lot of places that I’d like to visit that I still haven’t seen. Life’s not over yet.”
In the meantime, though, there are loads of fans at the anniversary party who want to spend time with Dann. As I wave goodbye, he’s surrounded by a throng of people with wine glasses in their hands. After 10 years, nobody wants him to go anywhere.