The Wine Experience Café and Wine Cellar
Innovation & Creativity During COVID Award
The pandemic struck a gigantic blow to the fine dining scene, but Eldon Larson and his team at The Wine Experience Café and Wine Cellar didn’t skip a beat. In the wake of public health restrictions, the restaurant at Southlands quickly pivoted from hosting lively dinner parties and packed special event nights to wine dinners to go, upscale takeout and socially distant outdoor patio dining concerts. This family owned business, which has served as the flagship for upscale cuisine in southeast Aurora since 2007, is known for its wines—a selection of 350 from all over the world. Over the years, Eldon and his staff have established a wonderful rapport with the community, hosting creative events indoor and out, with live music, a variety of gastronomic delights and plenty of fun. It’s a place that Eldon calls the “Cheers” of Aurora because of his personal connection with his regular customers. And during the pandemic, his customer base rallied, taking advantage of take-home five-course meals featuring Zoom calls with international winemakers and an online speakeasy event featuring classic cocktails to go. Small catering jobs during the holidays also provided a new line of business to keep the business going when they were closed and down to only seven employees. When the doors opened again, Eldon leased an adjacent vacant storefront he dubbed the “Bordeaux Room” to expand his capacity to serve more customers and hire staff back while still adhering to public health guidelines and keeping everyone safe.