by AMELIA WEDEMEYER
In a vacant building on West Third Street downtown, renovation plans are underway to transform the abandoned space into a wine bar. “We’re starting some construction pretty soon,” said Kelly (Peter) Welti, who owns the building with her husband, Jeridiah. “When the new year begins.”
The Weltis bought the space, formerly Dibs Cafe, and before that, part of Rock Solid Youth Center (RSYC), and the adjoining upstairs area this past summer. The couple plans to concentrate on opening the wine bar before moving on to the upstairs area, which they plan to renovate into a large space for performing arts, stand-up comedy and community rental space. “The people we’ve told are very excited because we don’t have anything in town like this,” Kelly said.
Moving into the location has been a homecoming of sorts for Kelly, who fondly recalled her days of directing youth plays for RSYC in the West Third Street location. “I auditioned for the production of ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ and that’s how I got introduced to RSYC,” she explained. Kelly directed both her daughter and son in plays throughout her time with RSYC before the center eventually closed in 2010. Although she had moved on, Kelly found herself yearning for her former days as a director. “The theater closed for a while and I really missed it,” she said. “I saw it for sale and my first thought was ‘let’s do another RSYC.’” The Weltis changed their plans for another youth center after looking at all of the regulations and liabilities associated with starting one. Newly married and with children of their own, Kelly and Jeridiah decided that they weren’t ready to tackle such an intense undertaking at the moment. Undeterred, the duo began to dream about all of the potential opportunities that would work in Winona as well as within the space, and decided to pull ideas from their own interests. “We like wine and we really enjoy going to wineries,” Kelly explained. “Jeridiah makes his own wine, and we noticed that other people also enjoy wine and wineries.” The Weltis also noticed that downtown Winona was missing a place for adults to socialize in a relaxed setting, noting that they knew a sizable number of Winonans who didn’t want to hang out in college bars, but who also didn’t want to take up space at local restaurants. “There are plenty of college bars,” Kelly said. “We need something for those of us who don’t want to hang out at the bar.” Not wanting to compete with nearby sandwich shops and restaurants, the Weltis plan to create a menu primarily of wines, craft beers and some high end spirits, while also offering customers a small menu of hors d’oeuvres and tapas. Although nothing is set in stone yet, they hope to include and feature local wineries, building off of a sense of community and exploring all of the great things the Winona area has to offer. “We want it to be a social, community place,” Jeridiah said. “A mature adult venue.” Added Kelly, “We don’t want people to rush and get out. We want people to feel like they can have a glass or two and hang out with their friends.”
As for the wine bar’s name, Kelly and Jeridiah have not decided on one yet, but they have been thinking about several names and different themes to go along with it. The couple said that they have been inspired by a trip they had taken together about five years ago called the Great River Wine Trail, which is a tour of 11 wineries along the Upper Mississippi River in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, as well as various trips to wineries and wine bars throughout the state and country. “We’ve gone to a couple [wine bars] in La Crosse,” said Jeridiah, who proposed to Kelly outside of a wine bar/restaurant in Dallas.
In a larger sense, the Weltis hope that their wine bar will help revitalize the downtown area as well as inspire others to follow their own entrepreneurial dreams. “I think people in Winona are ready for different things,” Kelly said. “I think Winonans will take to it, and those who have other ideas will think ‘hey, I can do this, too.’”