On the corner of West Davis and North Tyler streets sits a monument to one man's mid-life career shake-up.
“I’m in a totally different industry; I’m in construction [and] development, that’s my real life. So the winery thing was a mid-life crisis — you start getting old, you have to have something,” says Elias Rodriguez, who owns Bishop Arts Winery with his wife, Delores.
He came up with this idea for a winery in Bishop Arts six years ago. Three years ago — after acquiring the space and getting the proper licenses — the storefront opened.
“The first three years have been very tough; the food industry is very tough in general,” he says. “I think I was a little premature coming out with a winery when I started it, because timing wasn’t right, the area wasn’t being developed to the extent that it is now. So I think that impacted a lot of the revenue that was coming in, which wasn’t nothing, so we had to pair it up with something in order to make this thing move forward.”
That something came in the form of Italian food added about a year ago, when Inforzato’s was closing. Rodriguez connected with the chef, Jill Inforzato, and she developed a menu for Bishop Arts Winery. It’s all one storefront, but they’ve labeled the menu under Abruzzo’s. Inforzato remains a consultant chef; she still prepares pastries and does some of the prepping in the morning.
Rodriguez waxes poetically about the lasagna, how the red sauce is cooked slow and low for 12 to 16 hours.
“That’s kind of how I ended up with an Italian restaurant in a Texas winery,” Rodriguez says.
His winery side is a micro-winery. He gets together with other small wineries, then they all go to one large winery during harvest, pulling their funding together to gather grapes for wine.
“It’s no different than microbreweries; the smaller ones popping up, the cider places, the sake places. You got to get your juice from some place. Some of it’s concentrate, to be honest, some of it is actual grape juice,” he says.
The best seller in the shop is the cabernet, one he says they always run out of.
“All of our wines are [from] Texas,” he says. “So I was trying to avoid bringing in wine from other countries, other states because of the fact that, we’re in Texas, we’re not in Italy, we’re not in France, so that’s kind of where we’re at.”
The staff is small, with a kitchen that’s only about 10 feet by 10 feet with no walk-in freezer or cooler.
“My wife works for the school district in Duncanville, and my office is on Jefferson [Boulevard], so we end up there every day at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, until closing time,” he says.
A couple of weeks ago, he arrived at the winery to find broken glass.
“Nothing was taken, just broke a plexiglass [window]. It cost me more time and headache to go replace it than them breaking it,” he says. “There’s people that walk up and down the street, and I know most of them because they walk up and down Jefferson, and there’s at least four of them that are pretty consistent that walk up and down Davis. I know what they’re doing, but I don’t ever catch them in the act. But it’s the same people. It’s either vandalism, or there’s theft.”
This isn’t the first time his tiny winery found difficult footing in the neighborhood. When the winery was under construction, someone took wine and a bicycle that was inside; the second time, cans of tomato sauce that were on the back patio were taken.
“I think [vandalism has] gone down with the exception of a few bad apples running down that street that are just looking for an opportunity,” Rodriguez says.
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Rodriguez, who is from the Oak Cliff area and has had an office on Jefferson Boulevard for about 20 years, says he doesn’t bother filing a police report when these kinds of events happen, because police have “more important things to do,” and it’s less expensive and less of a hassle for the owner to fix whatever is damaged.
“Three times in six years is not too bad. We feel fortunate,” he says.
In the coming years, the neighborhood will see a lot more change, particularly now that construction has begun on a massive mixed-use development down the street in Bishop Arts District. In coming months, the street in front of the winery will change even more when North Tyler street is taken from one way to two. In the meantime, Rodriguez will continue producing wine and selling old-fashioned Italian food to a neighborhood where the only thing that’s certain is change.
Bishop Arts Winery, 838 W. Davis St.