Elevating the Party: Specialty Drink Stores

Specialty drink stores: What are they, exactly? Unlike a typical party store, specialty drink stores offers customers a curated experience. Party stores offer you the same things you can get anywhere else. Specialty drinks offer those things, too, but they also offer products that are different—that are special. And they’re staffed with knowledgeable people eager to help you find what you’re looking for or what you didn’t know you wanted.

Grand Rapids is fortunate enough to have several specialty drink stores. Recently, Revue spoke to staff at three of them: Rishi’s, Siciliano’s, and Martha’s Vineyard.

Bryan Gomez, who’s worked for Rishi’s for three years, said that two things set the store apart: outstanding service and outstanding selection. When it comes to service, the goal is to be warm, welcoming, and helpful. When someone comes in the door, they’re greeted warmly by staff members who are more than happy to help.

Rishi’s has a wide selection of beer, wine, and spirits, including those of the non-alcoholic variety. Non-alcoholic sales can be somewhat seasonal; Dry January has become popular in recent years. But it’s not limited to one month. Year-round, customers who appreciate the taste of alcoholic beverages but who want to avoid alcohol can find a strong selection at the store.

Mezcal has also increased in popularity over time. Gomez describes it as tequila’s smokier cousin. “If a customer mentions wanting to try mezcal, I let them know what to expect. I don’t give them a TED talk,” he said, laughing, “but I talk about the flavor profile, how some are smokier than others, some not as fruity as others.” The store has expanded its selection of the drink in the last year or so.

In terms of wine, Rishi’s highlights many regions, including Spain and Portugal. Both offer big, bold reds. While the store carries wines from traditional regions like France and California, it sees an opportunity in educating customers about great offerings from other areas.

Rishi Makkar, owner, is humbled when considering the 26 years the store has been open. “In some cases, I’m now serving a third generation of a family. That’s amazing.” 

While he’s running a business, and knows that profit is essential to providing employment opportunities for his staff, he said that the business’s role is ultimately not about money but about relationships. “Learning about other people, valuing them, ultimately growing those relationships: that’s what it’s all about.”

Katie Spayde, the manager of Siciliano’s, has worked at the store for 16 years. “We try our best not to carry items you can find everywhere,” she said. “We offer a higher quality product.”

When she started at Sicilano’s, the beer selection was a quarter of the size it is today. The expansion in variety, and the sheer amount of products available, has grown significantly. “It’s been very interesting to watch as new styles have come about. Milkshake IPAs: those weren’t a thing ten years ago. It’s been fun to watch the evolution.”

She said of the store’s beer selection that “we carry all the imports we can get our hands on, but we particularly like German beers, Czech lagers.” Asked to describe Czech beer, she said, “Think of Budweiser but actually really good.”

Each Wednesday night, Sicilano’s offers wine tastings. There are various beer and/or liquor tastings on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. And the store has a large annual homebrewer’s competition. Homebrewing is an important part of what Siciliano’s supports; anyone looking to get into the craft can find all the ingredients and equipment he or she needs at the store.

Will Sanchez, who’s worked at Martha’s Vineyard for five years, has seen real growth in people’s interest in natural wine. The term itself is hazy; “no wine is unnatural,” he said. The hallmark of natural wines is minimal intervention by the winemaker. Something as simple as leaving the skin of a white grape on (something not traditionally done) makes a huge difference, resulting in what the industry terms an “orange wine.”

But Martha’s Vineyard offers traditional wines as well. The bread and butter of their business remain traditional wine, from inexpensive bottles to the most luxurious Beaujolais and Burgundys.

As do Rishi’s and Siciliano’s, Martha’s Vineyard prides itself in the knowledge and helpfulness of its staff. That knowledge extends not only to the drinks themselves, but to the customers and their preferences. “That’s how we set ourselves apart,” Sanchez said. “We hang our hat on knowing what our customers enjoy.”

That individualized service is something the big box stores, for all their endless shelf space, can’t offer. By knowing their customers, curating their selections, and offer warmth, guidance, and human connection, specialty drink stores have earned their place in the community, one interaction at a time. 

Rishi’s International Beverage

3839 28th St. SE, Grand Rapids

Siciliano’s Market

2840 Lake Michigan Dr. NW, Grand Rapids

Martha’s Vineyard 

200 Union Ave. NE, Grand Rapids