RICHMOND – Wendy Espitia doesn’t care much for martinis, but Monday she bought a martini bar.
“To be honest with you, I’m not a huge drinker and there’s so much alcohol in a martini,” she said on the day she officially took ownership of Olive Black Martini & Wine Lounge in Richmond. “I don’t like the alcohol flavor.”
After being laid off from her job of more than a decade as a benefits administrator, Espitia knew she didn’t want to go back to work in corporate America.
“My job was transferred to India, so I basically decided to make a change and go into business for myself,” she said.
Initially, she was looking into a sports bar. But then, on a Friday night, she went to Olive Black. Once there, she knew it was what she was looking for – and that she would own it.
“When I came in here, I just absolutely fell in love with it,” Espitia said. “It’s so much more different than anything else out there. That’s what attracted me to it.”
Despite her dislike of the taste of alcohol and thanks to a recommendation from a server, she found a drink she liked.
Olive Black opened in September 2006 under the ownership of Charlie Mormino Jr., his wife Llonda, mother Linda and father Chuck Mormino Sr. Operations partner Jeff Popp joined the business in 2009.
The building at 5607 Broadway St. was in horrible shape and had to be completely renovated, Charlie Mormino said.
“Everything inside is custom-designed by us and our team,” he said. “We’re really proud of how it turned out. We’ve had thousands of compliments on how modern and retro it looks at the same time.”
Now, just shy of the bar’s seventh anniversary, the Morminos have sold it.
Selling was always part of the plan, Charlie Mormino said.
His oldest daughter was recently married, while his youngest graduated high school and is starting college in Arizona – where the family is now moving.
Mormino’s advice for first-time bar owner Espitia is to enjoy the moments.
“She’s inheriting an operation that has just a ton of great people who we call not just customers, but friends,” he said.
Mormino said he knows of seven marriage proposals at Olive Black (all of them said yes), and five of those seven had their first dates there. Then there were the hundreds of anniversaries, birthdays and bachelorette parties.
“Enjoy those moments, because when they come along, they’re not just special for those people; they’re special for you, too,” Mormino said. “Olive Black brought us all together and it’s been a [heck] of a ride.”
That being said, being a bar owner isn’t one big celebration, and it certainly wasn’t during the worst of the recession.
“That 14 months from May 2010 through August 2011, that was a tough time,” Mormino said. “People’s disposable income dried up and we had to come up with new ways to bring people in.”
That included reinventing some of the bar’s core concepts, changing over from an appetizer base to a full tapas spread.
The hours, of course, can also be challenging because it’s a late-night business. That can be strenuous on a family, when it means showing up late to school functions or missing a sporting event.
Espitia knows it won’t be easy.
“There are so many different aspects of it … I’m overwhelmed right now with paperwork and the licensing,” she said. “There are so many things I really had no clue about until I started this process.”
In addition to the paperwork, (“There’s so much paperwork!”), Espitia is preparing to enter what is historically the bar’s busiest season, from September to January.
She also must be prepared for when things slow down again.
Olive Black is successful in its own right, Espitia said, so she doesn’t plan to make many huge changes.
Her general manager, Dan Prinn, used to own a bar in Chicago and has been helpful throughout the process, Espitia said.
“We’re just going to add a few things to the menu and add a personal touch,” she said. “We’re thinking we’re going to add paninis and fondue, and some wild game.”
Venison is one possibility, as is alligator, which Espitia said she’s had before and thinks is quite tasty.
Espitia, who lives in Antioch, said she looks forward to becoming more familiar with the Richmond area.
“It’s a new community and I’m just really looking forward to meeting everyone and making this a place that everybody wants to hang out,” she said.
Olive Black Martini & Wine Lounge
Where: 5607 Broadway St., Richmond