Vibe Out: ‘Unwine’ with McQueen
Written by Nakia Cooper on May 2, 2021
UnWine is a hidden jewel nestled in the heart of Houston’s thriving Third Ward community on the Almeda corridor. The upscale wine bar has become a mainstay for locals since it was opened in 2014 by clothier Lawrence McQueen.
McQueen began hosting small events monthly at his store, McQueen’s Custom Tailoring and Clothing, where people could listen to music and sip while they shopped. The events became so popular that McQueen decided to expand with a second business.
He opened “UnWine,” a swanky bar where wine lovers could listen to jazz, relax and educate themselves on the large collection of wines featuring vineyards from all over the world, including Africa.
Guests can also choose from the Tapas menu of small plate food items as they sit out on the rooftop and enjoy the views of downtown Houston.
A native of Detroit, Michigan, McQueen considers himself a modern-day Renaissance Man, which is expressed in the art and décor beautifully designed throughout his venue.
We had a chance to speak with the “hippest cat” in H-Town, who’s managed to stay on top as an entrepreneur for over 20 years.
Vibe: What do you feel is the best feature of your restaurants…the food or the atmosphere, or is it something else?
McQueen: I have to give most of the credit to my managing partner, Shearone Lewis, because she makes sure the energy is always spectacular and everything is of the highest quality. We offer specialty plates that can’t be found anywhere in the city like our Spinach and Collard Green Dip. We also educate our customers on the best food and wine pairings, like our smoked chicken and cranberry scallions with cranberry drizzle that’s paired with our Rosé wines from California. Another great feature we have is our large rooftop bar, where you can enjoy casual conversations, have a cigar and listen to live music.
Vibe: How have you adjusted during COVID?
McQueen: We were shut down for a period, but for the most part, we scaled back our hours and cut back on everything. We are just now increasing hours, but the hardest part for us — and a lot of hospitality businesses that I have spoken with agree — is that the workforce became extremely fragmented. It’s hard to find people who want to work in the service industry. We need chefs and bar backs, but a good majority are not willing to work because the government is paying them unemployment. So at the moment, trying to move to full capacity has been the biggest adjustment.
Vibe: What do you do to give back to the community?
McQueen: Prior to COVID, we would offer the venue to charities, fundraisers and political organizations to host their events free of charge. We also make it a point to seek out Black-owned wineries who actually make their own wine. And we are very big on inviting local artists and musicians to come out and host shows and perform, or display their art inside the bar.
Vibe: How do you feel about the renewed interest or national push of supporting Black businesses? Do you think it will be short-lived?
McQueen: I certainly hope not! A lot of individuals are sympathetic to small businesses that may or may not have survived COVID, but it’s a shame that COVID had to happen for more people to support us. We definitely have seen an influx of people coming out, now more than ever. They say good things come out of hard times. So hopefully this will be one of those good things that will come out of this pandemic.
Vibe: Any advice to entrepreneurs or small business owners fighting to stay afloat during these challenging times?
McQueen: I would tell them to let this be a teachable moment to stack your money while you can, and be strategic in how you move at all times. If you are fortunate enough to get a PPP or EIDL loan, or had a good stock pile pre-COVID, I would advise you to invest wisely so you can at least keep your business afloat when things like this happen. This should be a lesson to entrepreneurs to save and invest wisely when you are up, so you won’t ever get down.
More information on UnWine:
Address: 4420 Almeda. Houston, TX 77004
Click here to visit the website.
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