Los Angeles entrepreneur launches Braymar Wines and Top Drawer Distillery.
The pandemic saw many budding entrepreneurs in the shadows finally make that leap to the spotlight as business owners. For Marlo Richardson, already a Black female serial entrepreneur based in California, the pandemic provided a sufficient impetus to power her diverse interests. With years of hospitality experience to inform her next steps, she decided the time was right to launch her wine business.
Braymar Wines is sold in several restaurants in the larger Los Angeles metro area, with plans to sell at retail outlets soon. Richardson offers a 100% chardonnay and a red blend and has a rosé and California brut in the works.
Her wines have received a stamp of approval from celebrities such as Common and Snoop Dogg with Richardson curating the wines herself, sourcing the grapes and producing the wine at a partner winery in Napa. That process also aided her decision to establish a distillery and plans to create more beverage offerings in this space.
Richardson is most excited about Braymar Wines, which became available to the public in July but is a business she began working on during the pandemic. Stressful days would end in relaxing with a glass of wine.“ During those periods, I was spending a lot of money buying everyone else's wine. I figured this would be a great time to start my own,” she says. “I used a lot of information that I had from customers over the years in terms of things that they would ask for, different flavors they liked, and just decided to put all of that together and try to create some wines that everybody could enjoy.”
In planning for her own wine business, she did a lot of research and chose to put her own blend together. That meant several tastings and learning what flavor profiles she liked best or what grapes went well with others. But that experience also set in motion another business.
Together with her mother, she created Top Drawer Distillery, located in the Chatsworth area of Los Angeles, which will now allow for bottling on-site and provide the opportunity to develop their wines and spirits.
Braymar Wines are available for sale online via the website as well as at select restaurants such as Richardson’s Stage 21 Bar and Lounge in Culver City, Delmonico’s Steak and Lobster House in Encino, Fat Tuesday in Sherman Oaks, with other venues and retail stores soon to be added to the list. Meanwhile, Top Drawer has four ready-to-drink margarita flavors currently being tested, also at Stage21.
Onward Bound to Stage 21
Having celebrated a year in operation this July, Stage 21 is a sports bar and entertainment lounge concept from Richardson. The brick-and-mortar space is known for its wings and now serves hamburgers too. “I want to keep enhancing what we're doing there, and once I feel like we built a solid brand, then I might consider other locations,” Richardson says. “But right now, I took something that someone owned for 57 years, and changed the name and recreated it. I'm still trying to build an audience for that brand.”
She confides Stage 21 has been the most challenging of her businesses. “When you have a place that is a brick-and-mortar, you must always figure out new ways to bring people in. The reason Stage 21 made Top Drawer and Braymar Wines easier is because they immediately had a home.”
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Food and beverage pursuits aside, she also has a production company and hosts a podcast focusing on business. “I go through all the different businesses that I've done and do, in addition to having guests that are also business owners or entrepreneurs, and we discuss everything from how to get started, goal setting, finding money, all the ins and outs of business that most people don't ever share.”
Interestingly, Richardson has no educational or professional training in the hospitality space. In fact, her background includes more than ten years in law enforcement, and she was a sergeant at the police department when she entered the industry.
The California native used to play sports and always wanted a sports bar. A visit to an area restaurant and a casual conversation about how to get started in the food and beverage industry led to her finding out that the very restaurant she was dining in was up for sale. She met with the owner the next day and was in escrow the following week to purchase the restaurant.
“That's how it started. Other than going out to eat and drink with friends, I had no clue on how to run and operate a food and restaurant business,” she says. “What helped me be successful was my network. I’ve always had a good network of people that supported me, and they came out, had events, parties, screenings, and so I created that atmosphere for them.”
On her challenges embarking on her restaurant business, she says, “The first thing that I had to overcome was being a young Black female and taking over this massive restaurant not having any experience. But having some common sense and business acumen helped because I'm good with numbers, and so from how I look at business, everything is about the bottom line—profit, loss, investments, marketing.”
The mother of two is enthusiastic about what the future holds, especially with the distillery. “I like flavors and mixed drinks. I would love to be able to start creating my own brand of mixed drinks, and I think that's something that consumers love because there are so many people that don't know how to make drinks,” she shares. At some point, she hopes to do tours and events and sell products on-site.
“I just really want to have people enjoy the space, the wine, the spirits, and know that it came from a single person, a small business. I'm not a company of 10,000 people with a lot of input and hands on deck, and so I think that has been the biggest challenge for me, but it's also the thing that I'm most proud of.”
Stage 21 Bar and Lounge is located at 5401 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230.