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Domaine LA wine shop tries to break California Chicken Cafe curse

September 28, 2009 |  8:00 am

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On a steadily gentrifying stretch of Melrose Avenue that's tucked between West Hollywood and Hancock Park, wine store Domaine LA quietly opened its doors just before Labor Day. The crisp, modern space that's highlighted by several striking light fixtures in various shades of purple was launched by Jill Bernheimer as a brick-and-mortar addition to her online business, Domaine547.

Between Mozza, Mozza 2 Go, Street, the impending debut of Hatfield's in the former Red Pearl space, the transformation of Divine Pasta Co. into Cube and next door to that, Mark Peel's new speakeasy-themed venture that's slated to open in mid- to late November, Domaine LA is in good company.

And for simpler fare, there's California Chicken Café, which is in the same strip mall as Domaine LA. Sharing a space with the rotisserie chicken juggernaut has proved difficult for other retailers. Before Domaine LA, that space was a laundromat and then a mini-mart. Both failed. So did Tutto Tutti, a hidden gem of a fro-yo shop that was recently replaced by the optimistically named Wow Bento & Roll. Can any business survive in the shadow of California Chicken Café? That remains to be seen. (It's hard to compete with off-duty police officers and yoked bodybuilders flaunting their tank top-perfect physiques.)  

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When many other retailers are launching businesses in the virtual realm after launching them in the corporeal one, Bernheimer has gone the opposite route. A former film development exec who segued into wine sales when her producing partner went on maternity leave, Bernheimer launched Domaine547 in 2006. After a few years, she found that the business had plateaued due to unwieldy state-by-state regulations for selling and shipping alcohol. Also, Bernheimer craved more interaction with people.

For now, she's quietly building her relationships with residents of the neighborhood while increasing her stock of wines prior to Domaine LA's grand opening party on Oct. 21. "I wanted to get my sea legs and figure out what I would need. I couldn't afford to stock every single shelf from the get-go," Bernheimer says. She currently has 225 unique wines, which she plans to double in the next six months.

"The online store was what I would drink," Bernheimer says. "Now I need to have a lot more bottles, including things I wouldn’t necessarily choose." Still, Bernheimer tastes everything before she decides to sell it, selecting less than 5% of the wines she tries. The inventory is heavy on French and American wines, but she's increasing her stock of wines from the Southern hemisphere. 

"Maybe this is a cliche," Bernheimer says, "but there are a lot of places that don't necessarily invite conversation and I want this to be a very welcoming place."

--Elina Shatkin

Photos: Elina Shatkin / Los Angeles Times
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