Posted on | January 3, 2012
Written by | Cara McIlwaine
Laura Maniec is known for many things. She is the youngest Master Sommelier ever at age 32, and transformed B.R. Guest Restaurant Group’s beverage program in her decade with the company. In November, Maniec and business partner Frank Vafier opened up Corkbuzz Wine Studio in NYC’s Union Square neighborhood—part wine bar, restaurant, private dining space and classroom.
Maniec learned a great deal under Steve Hanson at B.R Guest: “My 10 years of experience working alongside one of the best restaurateurs in the country set me up for success in running my own place.” While at B.R. Guest, Maniec was known for educating employees about wine, and that joy in teaching is also part of what inspired her to open Corkbuzz. “I am very excited to have created a place where teaching, learning and mentoring others is my primary job,” says Maniec. “I want everyone who comes to Corkbuzz, regardless of prior wine knowledge, to feel welcomed and a part of our community we are building.”
Birth of a Wine Bar
Sometimes from start to finish, an idea changes form. Maniec notes, “Originally, we didn’t plan on having a wine bar as part of the business, and it was only going to be wine classes and dinner parties. We expanded to include this ‘à la carte’ wine imbibing spot because when we told people about the wine studio, they seemed to want it.” She adds, “Why teach people about wine and then make them go elsewhere to enjoy it? It seemed to be a natural fit, so we changed our plans a little.”
Maniec has recruited a strong team to Corkbuzz, starting with Frank Vafier, her business partner and uncle. Vafier brought to the table some serious business acumen. “He built and sold a successful software company and was enjoying retirement when I started thinking about this business idea,” she says. “In the beginning, Frank was an advisor, but we slowly realized that our skills were so complementary, yet contrasting, that we had to partner up to make Corkbuzz the company we both wanted.”
In addition, Maniec has curated a staff of passionate professionals including executive chef Hayan Yi (formerly of Le Bernardin) and editor Stevie Stacionis. “The entire team worked diligently, prior to opening, to build class curriculums and create tasting menus,” she says.
The wine list is extensive: “We offer about 35 wines by the glass, with roughly 250 bottles on the list.” Since opening, “we are selling a lot of red wines, I think because of the colder weather. We are selling unique grapes like Trepat from Spain as well as some more well-known wines like Rioja, and Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley.”
Considering the close proximity to the Union Square Greenmarket, it comes as no surprise that Yi’s menu is seasonally inspired and designed for sharing and pairing well with the wines.
Classes start January 7th, “at varying times and dates—think of it like a yoga studio or gym, where you choose the classes that fit your schedule,” notes Maniec. She and other wine professionals will teach the courses. Classes are offered at the recreational and introductory levels for consumers, but Corkbuzz also offers intermediate and advanced classes geared toward the trade. While the process to open the space was arduous at times, Maniec and her team are happy to have opened the doors in time for the holidays and look forward to many happy returns.
For more information, visit: corkbuzz.com.