PaperCity Magazine

November 2019- Houston

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Page 89 of 115

42 W h e n i s a s u m m e r job not a s u m m e r job. This i s a f a i r question to ask James Havens, who began his career in fashion then flipped a switch and recently founded The Heights Grocer. His summer job after graduation from Kingwood High School was at Zara; he had a few months to kill before his first semester at Los Angeles' Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM). Zara had recently moved into the U.S. market and was opening its first Texas location. His plan was to make a little money before college and get experience in the field. Instead, it became a 12-year career that saw him move to L.A., with college put off, and he found himself tasked with helping shape the brand and its showrooms throughout the country. But years of long hours, weekly work travel, and a grinding lifestyle left him searching for something new. In 2017, he left the corporate world and returned to Houston on a leap of faith, selling everything he owned and making the trek back to Texas. We met with Havens to talk about this journey BY STEVEN HEMPEL. PHOTOGRAPHY ANDREW OKANO. and the launch of his little blue shop on a corner in Houston Heights, named The Heights Grocer. In this shoebox- sized building — formerly home to an automotive shop and later the Mighty Mini Pies shop — Havens handpicks approachable wines in a setting free of pretense and stocks a small but enticing mix of culinary items, from organic jams made by L.A. cult Sqirl to mustards and tapenades from France and the occasional Australian or Italian cheese. The little store punches way over its weight class and has a very sophisticated palate to boot. But Havens has just begun; he opened another tiny shop, Marfa Wine Co., in the West Texas art hamlet in June. The Heights Grocer is ... A place to discover new wines and new local makers in a friendly environment with no pretense. We want people to come in, ask questions, take home varietals they've never tried, and tell us what they love or hate about them. And, we are conscious of price. I don't drink $90 bottles of wine every night, and if you do, that's great (I'm not judging), but most of our bottles are in the $20 range, and we start at $9. I wanted to recreate some of what I loved about L.A. — restaurants, wine shops, and bodegas that are hyper-local. I returned home with a much greater appreciation for these kinds of places —where everything is handpicked. I want to capture this and give others the same feeling I had when visiting those small shops that I loved so much in L.A. Why the Heights. I knew from the moment I stepped back into Houston that I was going to live in the Heights. It's a city within a city. It has a small-town vibe and there are amazing restaurants, new retailers, and beautiful neighborhoods. And, most of all, everyone is supportive of local businesses and wants them to succeed. The difference. We try to keep our selection fresh and turn over products as quickly as possible. It really is like a new shop every week. That's super stressful for us. These are wines that check all the boxes for us — meaning they are sustainably farmed and have minimal intervention in the winemaking process. It's a different style than you find at most wine shops. But that's by design. We go out of our way to find things that are rare but also give our customers great value. We work with our distributors to feature smaller vineyards that produce in limited quantities and who really care for both the wines they make and the land they are grown on. We've also created a wine club where we create a narrative each month, then handpick wines that fit and deliver them to your door. Biggest challenge. The shop is small. It's literally 350 square feet. We outgrew our space almost as soon as we opened. So, keeping the store stocked and ready is definitely the biggest challenge. Managing such a small space is both a blessing and a curse. It makes you focus and regularly change up what you offer. At the same time, we have only the space we have, so we've got to be very creative. And, we need local warehouses that deliver to us on a daily basis. WINE STOCK JAMES HAVENS THINKS BIG … IN 350 SQUARE FEET FILLED WITH UNPRETENTIOUS WINES. (continued on page 106) James Havens at his Heights Grocer Culinary goods at The Heights Grocer

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