There are many popular restaurants around the ZIP that are BYOB. If you need a recommendation for where to pick up wine before you dine, check out Provenance Food and Wine .
The local shop has two locations: one in Logan Square, and one in Lincoln Square. It specializes in wine and cheese and hosts many classes as well as tastings. The shop also has local and international products like sauces, breads, crackers, and more stocking its shelves, as well as containers handy to create your own gift basket or hostess gift.
Provenance’s location in Lincoln Square, owned Tracy Kellner by (2312 W Leland), opened in 2007 — was second to open. The first location in Logan Square is run by Kellner’s husband, Joe. A similar shop occupied the space before they purchased it, and as Kellner’s explains, the timing was right to expand Provenance.
“[The Lincoln Square] location was kind of time and place,” said Kellner. “We were passively looking to expand, and we just had on offer we couldn’t refuse… When you look at how quickly small businesses should expand, [we took] on a lot of risk opening that second store, but if we weren’t in it together, I don’t think I would have opened [in Lincoln Square].”
Even though the shop in Lincoln Square has been open for over five years, she feels that the business is still young.
“We’ve been doing it for seven years now, but we’re young in terms of [the feeling that] we can’t not be at our business,” said Kellner.
The prospect of working at the shop herself is one that Kellner enjoys. She says she’s able to get to know a lot of community members at both locations and create a more personal relationship than just on a customer basis.
“I think it’s good for our customers to see the owners behind the counter,” said Kellner. “We know a lot of our customers on a first name basis. We’ve seen their first kids born and their kids grow up, and some of them are 4 or 5 years old now, and older. I think that has worked to our advantage as a small business because people see that it’s not just a company coming in and owning a place.”
Kellner says the biggest challenge with the shop is cash flow and licensing in Chicago. Aside from those, striking a balance between business and personal life can sometimes get in the way.
“You still want to have time to see your family and do things with your friends and take care of your personal health and well being,” said Kellner. “[Because of our] great staff, we finally are able to step back and breathe for a little bit take a little bit of time off so we don’t have to be here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, open-to-close anymore.”
One of those staff members is Nicole Benjamin, who has worked at Provenance for almost four years. Besides teaching classes and learning more about wine, she has found a deeper passion for cheese.
“It’s so much fun working with customers on their cheese needs, making the case less daunting for them, sharing stories about the style or the cheese maker… I love it,” said Benjamin.
Provenance holds a lot of variety within its products. From wine to cheese, the shop also has dry goods, syrups, desserts, and more. While there is a focus in small, local products, the store boasts items from around the world, like Italian pasta.
“We do try to carry as much local as we can in our very small space,” said Kellner, “but we try to also incorporate that philosophy worldwide. We try to travel as much as we can to meet the people that make our products, too.”
For the staff to stay on its game in terms of product knowledge, staff members undergo training to educate themselves about items carried.
“We have monthly staff trainings where we learn about [and] taste new products and dive into specific topics,” said Benjamin. “All of this continuing education positions us to be equipped to engage customers thoughtfully in their purchases. We simply love talking about food and wine!”
With the training and discussion of wine and food products, staff at Provenance can help customers try products he or she may have never expected to try and enjoy. Benjamin shares that she also likes this aspect of working at the shop.
“When a customer is looking for something we don’t carry or is out of stock, it’s such a blast to turn them on to something new they may not have purchased [otherwise],” said Benjamin. “For example: there’s a ghost pepper mustard on the shelf that’s not a heat bomb at all — the addictive tangy flavor balances the kick of heat beautifully. Most are leery at first, then try it, and it becomes a pantry staple.”
During this time of the year, Jeni’s Ice Cream from Columbus, Ohio sells well for Provenance.
“Talk about super artisanal,” said Kellner. “It is the most expensive ice cream you’ve probably ever had, but the texture is amazing. She has really interesting flavor combinations.”
Provenance focuses on products like Jeni’s Ice Cream because they are worldly and health-conscious when it comes to its production and the carbon footprint left by it. Kellner shares that there’s an importance of its customers knowing that and understanding the price amount because of it.
“I think that people are really starting to realize where their money goes to, especially when it comes to food,” said Kellner. “We’re more than ever able to read about and learn about what it is we’re actually consuming… and [they] realize that we really need to change the way we make and eat food especially when it comes to kids. We’re also reading more and more about disease and all kinds of ailments with health and wellness now, and a lot of it is related to food, and a lot of it can be changed.”
Wine tastings at Provenance on Thursdays are one of the events the shop has happening right now. This allows for the vendors that have products in the shop to not only get more exposure, but to also interact with customers and get their feedback.
“A lot of our clientele isn’t that familiar with wine,” said Kellner, “and that’s one thing that we really try to make sure that we do is bring in interesting, affordable stuff. It’s a good opportunity to taste some new things, learn a little bit and have a little social time.”
The shop also has casual wine and cheese pairing classes that are taught by its staff members. According to Benjamin, classes vary with the season throughout the year and are always educational and fun. Classes run small, between six-to-eight people. The store also caters to local businesses for team building events.
Provenance also devotes time in giving back to the community. The store is currently accepting donations for Common Pantry on Damen. Food donations can be brought to either store from now until the end of August, and all those who donate are entered in for a $50 shop gift card.
Whether you’re hosting a dinner party and need to make some appetizers paired with a good wine or just looking to find something different you haven’t seen before, Provenance has an owner with passion that can help with whatever you may need help with along with a staff who will educate anyone who walks through the doors. Kellner enjoys her job, and she appreciates the pride Lincoln Square residents seem to feel toward their local businesses.
“We genuinely enjoy what we’re doing and are excited about the products, and that’s going to come across to our customers,” said Kellner. “A lot of people in our neighborhoods want a small business here doing good. They know we support other small businesses and that’s just as important to them as well.”