After being married for 25 years, raising two children and excelling in their respective career fields, John and Michelle Bisson were not about to let a little thing like a global pandemic stop them from following through on their empty-nest goals. They began construction for their “wine to whiskey” bar, Vinifera, just days before COVID-19 closures were ordered last March.
Through 2020, the Bissons remained calm and kept their eye on the ball. Now they’re the proud owners of a beautiful new addition to our community.
John and Michelle are a match made in bar-business heaven. John worked for years as a sales representative in the craft beer and wine industries. Michelle is a marketing professional. On top of that, John grew up working at his parents’ Akron-area grocery stores — Bisson’s — which were known for their large wine selection.
The idea for the Vinifera concept came from their favorite place to go out while visiting their daughter in Phoenix. The Bissons ended up meeting the owners of that crostini bar and getting some tips and tricks to bring with them back to Akron.
Vinifera (vin-IF-fera) feels like a swanky hotel bar without the steep prices. The dining room is clean and sleek — everything looks brand new. The white horseshoe-shaped bar features a beautiful enomatic wine system, which gives off a futuristic, high-end vibe. There are couches and comfy chairs to relax in, and the wine is displayed on a shelf that you can walk right up to and check out for yourself.
You would never know that much of the construction had to be done by the Bissons themselves, or that they encountered shortages and obstacles at every turn while they set things up during the pandemic. It’s hard to believe that just a year ago this space still had dirt floors.
The Bissons don’t take all the credit for the success they’ve experienced since opening. They got help with their plans from Bounce Innovation Hub, and they say their staff members are the ones pulling everything together. Michelle said the team at Vinifera “feels like a family” — then she laughed and added, “but without the drama.” John boasted, “We have one of the most experienced staffs in the business.”
What John is great at is selecting wines. He has years of experience and passion in this department. He likes all kinds of wine, but he finds deep satisfaction out of discovering a really special bottle at a reasonable price. “Wine shouldn’t be pretentious,” he tells me. “There are a lot of $10 to $15 wines out there that are great.”
The wine selection at Vinifera is always growing and being updated. John likes to guide his customers in new and interesting directions on their wine journey, but he is also guided by them. He listens to feedback from his employees and customers, and he aims to have great wine for every wine drinker who comes in.
The staff at Vinifera are not picky about how you choose to drink your wine, either. Pours are available as two-ounce samples, six-ounce glasses, or nine-ounce glasses. Of course, the most economical choice is always to go for the whole bottle. Unfinished purchased bottles can be taken home, and there’s a 10% discount on all carryout wine (15% if you get 6 or more bottles.)
The whiskey selection at Vinifera is also impressive, with more than 100 different bottles available as half-ounce tasters or one-and-a-half-ounce pours. They also have a seasonal cocktail list, developed collaboratively by the bartenders.
The food menu, created by Chef Xavier Smith, is perfectly paired to the rest of the atmosphere. It’s simple yet thoughtful and made with high-quality ingredients. There are pressed sandwiches, salads, and 12 options of crostini toppings. The crostinis can be ordered in flights to snack on while you sip.
Despite their all-star employee lineup (Dave Glenny, former owner of Bricco, bartends there, for example), and the glamorous ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mayor Don Walters in November, the opening of Vinifera was actually pretty low-key. Since then, word has spread around Akron and they’re getting busier all the time. John is already working on plans to expand the capacity of the kitchen for patio season.
This summer at Vinifera, we can look forward to seasonal menu updates on the food and cocktails; lunch service on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; and sitting on their new, dog-friendly patio. As restrictions ease, John and Michelle are excited for more wine and whiskey tastings and educational events.
Visit Vinifera at 3236 State Rd Suite A in Cuyahoga Falls. The restaurant is open Monday-Wednesday from 4-11 pm and Thursday-Saturday from 11:30 am-midnight.
Emily Anderson thinks everyone should go out and treat themselves often.
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