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A physical outpost of the Grape Crush Wines online pickup and delivery service, the new spot is an affordable and unpretentious gateway into the world of wine
It’s an understatement to say COVID-19 has been rough for restaurants in Toronto, but there have been silver linings.
One is the ability to offer alcohol for takeout and delivery. The regulation has opened the door for Juice Box – a new wine bar concept that could not have existed before the pandemic.
Juice Box is replacing SoSo Food Club, the lounge-y, eye-catching restaurant and event space that combined cocktails, DJs and Chinese food. The owners of SoSo (some of whom are also behind Otto’s Bierhall and Otto’s Berlin Doner) decided to transition the spot at 1166 Dundas into a brick-and-mortar outgrowth of their Grape Crush Wines. The online delivery and pick-up program has been running out of the space since the restaurant closed its doors in March.
“This is the next step for wine in Toronto,” says co-owner Daniel Tal. “It’s not a new concept, but a refreshing option that the city has never really had before.
“We have a really vibrant wine scene that’s growing quickly, but there are barriers: the price point and the perception that [the culture] is pretentious or expensive,” he continues. “The idea here is to recontextualize and mould [the culture] for a younger, more savvy generation and give them the option to experience and afford it.”
The other biggest barrier to wine culture in the city, says Tal, is the primary place to get it: the LCBO. Prior to the pandemic, the Ontario crown corporation had a near-monopoly (outside of the Wine Rack and the few grocery stores) on take-home bottles of wine.
“Something like 90 per cent of wine drinking is controlled by whoever is curating the LCBO,” says Tal. “That’s often the result of all sorts of lobbying and backroom deals. And it’s just not very well curated.”
Other than driving to a winery, you can often find more interesting bottles at restaurants, but with major markups that intimidate casual wine drinkers. Restaurants have suppliers, but those selections aren’t usually available to the general public unless they order and drink at a restaurant. Suppliers usually only sell in orders of 12 bottles or more.
One of Tal’s partners, Thomas Masmejean, found himself buying whole cases from agencies and from tastings and splitting them with friends. With SoSo closed and the liquor rules loosened, he started putting the individual bottles up for sale through Grape Crush.
Juice Box is essentially a version of Grape Crush: you can sit and drink the wine you just bought from the bottle shop. The menu is paperless through a QR code and all ordering happens online through Ambassador. Staff will guide you through the selections. From there you can either take the wine home or drink it there for a service fee of around $20 for a regular size bottle or $40 for a “magnum.” If you don’t finish, you’re free to recork it and bring it home.
Masmejean says a bottle you’d find for $90 would go for around $55 at Grape Crush/Juice Box. The focus is on full bottles, but there will also be daily glasses of white, red and rose available for $10 and likely a glass of orange for a little more. There’s also beer and bottles of Dillon’s negroni. As for food, the selection includes local cheese, charcuterie from Europe, plus olives, bread from Enoteca Sociale and likely a few other wine bar style snacks.
The online menu is designed to be user-friendly and let you sort by categories like tasting notes (e.g. bright & light, elegant and complex), sustainably farmed, vegan, unfiltered, biodynamic. You can search by region or support local. The idea is not to be pretentious or act like gatekeepers to wine.
“This allows people to get something really good quality from a variety of different approaches, different styles, different countries, even different political approaches,” says Tal. “You can go really deep with wine. We want to give people an opportunity to do that.”