Bubbles floated through the air, live music drifted down the street, the smell of Sword + Skillet drew the crowds in and Auburn met its newest business — Cerulean at Midtown wine bar.
Cerulean opened in April as Auburn’s only wine bar with a covered patio, indoor seating and choices galore to fill your glass. And to think … Auburn would have had the bar sooner if not for everyone’s favorite pandemic — COVID-19.
The idea for Cerulean was originally meant to accompany the Sword + Skillet Food Truck, an idea by owners Torrey Hall and Jordan Whitley.
Hall was a San Diego chef long before he started whipping up food on The Plains. But he and his wife, Jordan, moved back to Alabama where they had family. While they run Sword + Skillet, Hall is also the chef at the Landing at Parker Creek. Hall and Whitley reached out to Chris Kennedy about consulting on the Cerulean project.
“The more we talked and the more we grew a relationship, they asked me if ‘hey, would you be interested in working out a partnership with us,’” Kennedy said. “I had wanted, years earlier, to do a wine bar downtown but the timing and logistics didn’t work out.”
Kennedy knew his wine. He worked as a wine rep for years.
“I worked for a wine distributor for five years before this,” he said. “I was one of the original employees at Acre and worked there for four years and before that I was in the restaurant and bar business, not only in Auburn but also down in the Daphne/Fairhope area.”
Although Cerulean is finally open, there are still challenges to be faced.
“As you know, if you’ve read anything over the last couple of years since COVID hit, the hospitality sector was really difficult and there were some awesome hospitality employees that decided to move onto different career paths,” Kennedy said.
He said he was worried at first that he would not be able to hire enough bartenders to keep the business running.
“I took all the positives and negatives I had from people above me about what not to do, or how not to act or how not to treat your employees,”he said. “So once the word got out about how I was treating my first two employees I now have, I’ve gone from ‘oh, am I going to have enough bartenders?’ to I have a waiting list of people who want to bartend there.”
Kennedy said he is pleased with the timing of opening Cerulean.
“Technically, we could have probably opened a little sooner than we did, but it actually worked out that we took our time because it allowed kind of these waves of COVID and kind of get to a point now where people are either comfortable and vaccinated or they are going out more so, the timing of opening — it is also a good thing for us, for the community,” he said.
Cerulean is located in Midtown on Opelika Road.
“Midtown is such a growing area for people to have between not having to go to the large crowds of downtown or they don’t want to go Opelika, it gives them that segue,” Kennedy said. “And it’s just a great place that comes a long way from there being an old motel and a RaceTrac gas station there.”
Next to the wine bar sits the Sword + Skillet Food Truck.
“You have a great food truck that is not just serving run-of- the-mill food,” Kennedy said. “So, long term, we want to be a hub for a lot of different things.”
The menu at Cerulean will change from time to time, also accommodating a wide range of people, Kennedy said, novice to expert wine drinkers. The bar offers ‘Wine Down Wednesdays’ from 4 to 9 p.m. with $2 off glasses of wine and 10% off bottles. The bar also offers wine flights, giving patrons a chance to sample new things.
“We want to be able to do wine dinners,” he said. “Let’s just say someone comes in from a winery and says ‘wow, this would be a unique way to do a wine dinner, coming out of a food truck.’”
Cerulean serves as a private event space, Kennedy said.
“We want to be a multi-faceted tool for the community,” he said. “And also we have a full retail license, so, my vision for this is that if you’re not getting the wines that Kroger and Publix have, you’re getting them from us. So, I want to corner that market of the slightly more boutique, or just not as commercialized, wine.”
Kennedy said he feels Cerulean is just a natural fit to Auburn’s expanding amenities.
“The Auburn food scene has grown immensely in the last eight years,” he said. “It started with Acre and Hound, and then the addition of The Depot and Lucy’s. The Auburn University hotel was thriving alongside the university’s hospitality program and kept building and building and it’s become quite a little foodie scene. So when you think about towns and cities you go to that have a great foodie scene, one thing they all have is a wine bar that represents a lot of those wines.”
Find Cerulean online at its website, www.ceruleanmidtown.com, or on Instagram @ceruleanmidtown.
“Everybody that I have talked to and everyone that my bartenders have talked to have been just so exuberant,” Kennedy said. “Being able to see the look people have when they come in and see it, they feel the vibe, they give positive feedback, has just been humbling, to be honest with you.”