A lot of uniqueness and trailblazing is packed into the 1,300 square foot 1920s craftsman bungalow with a lodge style front porch that houses the Red Door Wine Market.
The patio filled with seating and umbrellas is as popular for diners and drinkers as the inside seating. It’s a favored locale for couples and families to dine, and community groups to hold fundraisers. More than 100 runners meet there every Tuesday night for a 5K fun run, and they stick around for craft beer, food specials and socializing.
Today’s trendy dining, wine and craft beer locale is rooted in owner Richard DeAngelis’s childhood. Cooking has been a part of his life as long as he can remember. Some of his earliest memories are of standing on a red stool between the stove and sink at age 4 and cooking with his grandparents, where he and his mom spent almost every weekend.
While other kids watched Rawhide to follow the challenges of life faced by men on a cattle drive, DeAngelis loved the scenes that included the chuckwagon.
His career in the restaurant business began with a little white lie. At 13, the Manchester, New Hampshire native who grew up in Concord lied about his age to get a job at DeNauw’s, a family-owned seafood restaurant.
Hired as a dishwasher, he quickly got promoted to busboy. He loved watching the prep guys in the kitchen and worked as a prep cook his last summer there. He hated it.
What he enjoyed most about working at DeNauw’s was the level of expectation others had in him.
“It seemed like people believed in you before you believed in yourself,” he said. “They would give you a task to do and expected you to do it. For me, it made me feel like I could do it.”
That approach gave DeAngelis a lot of early confidence. Even if he didn’t know exactly how to get something done, he knew he could make it happen somehow.
In those days, there was no Food Network; no Emeril Lagasse on TV. Restaurants were family style and there weren’t a lot of fine dining options in his part of New Hampshire. It wasn’t until he went to college at the University of Miami that he was exposed to fine dining.
He began working for the Chart House his sophomore year, cutting meat and fish during the day and returning at night to bartend or wait tables. He also cooked a bit. He quickly learned he liked working more than he liked school.
A dinner at the Phoenix in Satellite Beach sparked a new interest. He realized there was an intricate dance between food and wine. Prior to interviewing for a job there, DeAngelis spent a weekend in the library cramming wine knowledge into his brain. The first question asked during the interview was about burgundy, and he didn’t know the answer. But DeAngelis offered to find it. The manager hired him on the spot.
Experience gained in fine dining establishments gave DeAngelis the experience necessary to eventually purchase his own restaurant in Melbourne, called Kipling’s, in 1987. It ran successfully for five years before he closed it when his lease ended.
He went on to become a wine buyer and founded a company called VinoVibe in 1994. He worked with wineries and small importers to find markets for them, and he became a specialty wine seller focused on burgundy and South African wine. At the time, no one had South African wines, which were a great value. DeAngelis eventually expanded his French and South African offerings to include California wines.
DeAngelis moved to Lakeland in 2001, and sold VinoVibe in 2006.
In 2009, DeAngelis got the idea for Red Door Wine Market. When he told people whose opinion he valued that he wanted to open the business at the corner of McDonald Street and Tennessee Avenue in Dixieland, they begged him not to do it. No one thought it was a wise move. But DeAngelis sat in a lawn chair at that corner and counted cars. He also looked at the make and model of those cars. And he opened Red Door at that location in December 2009.
DeAngelis wanted the restaurant to hug you when you walked in; to make you feel welcome. He also wanted it to appeal to women, because studies show women make more than 75 percent of dining decisions.
The initial community response was overwhelming. It was as if DeAngelis had satisfied a craving in Lakeland no one knew they had.
“The first time I went, I learned Richard was stocking wines I tasted every winter in California,” said Lakeland resident Mellisah Bruce-Weiner. “I never thought Lakeland would ever support anything like Red Door. It felt like a little piece of vineyard life had been picked up in California and dropped into Lakeland.”
The tiny building couldn’t house all the people who came to taste lesser-known wines and foods from his limited – but tasty – menu.
He started a fire one cold night because he had no sign and wanted people to know Red Door was open. A group of Argentinians was standing around drinking wine and they wanted to be outside.
“We’re gifted by luck a lot of times,” DeAngelis said.
People began to spill out onto the patio. He hadn’t planned for outdoor seating, so he brought old furniture from home to give people a place to sit. He quickly incorporated patio furniture.
It was apparent Lakelanders wanted a neighborhood wine bar where they could hang out, drink wine, listen to live music and visit with friends. The Red Door became a favored destination; a gem in the neighborhood.
“There was always a really unique crowd,” Bruce-Weiner said. “You had old Lakeland people, new Lakeland people, the college crowd; it was a really good melting pot.”
Once DeAngelis realized what he had and what he wanted it to be, he tried to buy the location. A deal couldn’t be reached, so he purchased the Christian Science Reading Room in September 2012. Red Door opened at its current location, 733 E. Palmetto St., in January 2013.
“I feel like we’ve got a good thing going here,” DeAngelis said.
Red Door isn’t on a busy highway. It’s in a small business district adjacent to the historic Lake Morton Neighborhood District. People frequently walk or bike to the restaurant.
“That in itself creates a great vibe, and we look forward to continuing to build on that,” he said.
DeAngelis clearly is on to a good thing. Since he opened his restaurant in 2009, similar establishments have popped up in Winter Haven, and even at his former location.
“There is enough business for us all to do well,” he said. “There is a real movement underway for supporting local businesses and locally-sourced restaurants over chains. If people feel like we’ve been instrumental in opening the community’s eyes and palates to high-quality, unique foods paired with excellent wines and craft beers, we’ll take that compliment.”