wine bar coming to downtown

Brent Finnegan -- September 12th, 2008

wine barThe banner that went up across the former church/clothes closet building on the corner of Market and Mason last week reads: “Open Soon. Franklin’s Cafe & Wine Bar.”

I contacted the owner, Howard Wiener, about the new addition to downtown. He said he was looking to start something a little different; something Harrisonburg didn’t have yet. Wiener, who has a background as a restauranteur, said the renovations started this week, but he hopes to open sometime in November.

45 Responses to “wine bar coming to downtown”

  1. Renee says:

    Cool! I hope it’s like the one in Orlando that Samantha Brown went to on the Travel Channel, which was completely automated and very neat!

    You select a tasting amount, slide in your card, and press the button to dispense, and the amount is deducted from your card. I’m sure that bar makes a lot of money since they’re charging per sip, and people visiting can taste all kinds of wine without spending a ton on a whole glass of one wine.

    I’m looking forward to a Wine Bar in the ‘Burg, even if it’s not automated :) I’m sure it will become a trendy spot.

  2. Sarah says:

    Oh, that’s fantastic. I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be! Downtown is becoming an amazing place.

  3. finnegan says:

    I highly doubt it will be automated. That just makes me think of Automats from the 1930s, or the 80s Cafe from Back to the Future II.

    Of course, because of Virginia’s archaic ABC laws, it can’t really be a wine bar in the strictest sense of the term. The banner says Cafe & Wine Bar. So they’ll have to sell enough food in order to keep their license.

  4. Del says:

    Does anybody know where the parking is going to be for this or the other retail in the new complex?

  5. Emmy says:

    Del, I could be totally wrong, but I think the new complex is going to have parking underneath. I assume most will be for the residents, but I’d expect at least a bit for the general public. I could be way off in that assumption though.

    As for this place, who knows! I think when it was a church, the members just parked in the Wachovia parking lot because it was Sunday. I assume that unless they have something figured out people will be trying to park there and will get towed like they do from the Suntrust lot.

    Parking is just something this town cannot figure out.

  6. Del says:

    Is this building part of the new complex? Maybe most of the Wine/Cafe’s business will be at night and it won’t matter if they park in the bank lot.

  7. Thanh says:

    Emmy is correct. The Urban Exchange will have parking available under the building for tenants and retail customers. Not sure offhand how many spaces there will be though.

    Del, the building which Cafe & Wine Bar is not part of the Urban Exchange. There is a gas station/taxi cab company sitting between the two buildings.

    And as far as parking goes. I’ve never had problems finding a parking space downtown. The Water and Elizabeth Parking Decks always have parking spaces available when I’ve needed them. And just as an FYI – from the Water Street Deck to the Cafe & Wine Bar its 0.3 miles/3 blocks to walk, and from the Elizabeth Street Deck to the shop its 500 feet/1 block. Not far at all.

  8. Thanks Thanh. There are also “surface level” parking spaces for the retail customers at Urban Exchange. The amount of spaces will in part be determined based on the needs of the specific tenants in the retail spaces at Urban Exchange. Different types of tenants have different types of parking needs.

    But beyond the parking specifically located at the Urban Exchange, I think people who live/work/shop in downtown Harrisonburg have already, or are adjusting their perspectives on parking. Big box retailers with huge parking lots in front of them have made us think there should always have a parking lot right in front of our destination — but that’s not a sustainable development strategy. Look at most any city that is larger than Harrisonburg for examples. A thriving downtown urban core does not become such by offering 50-100 parking spaces in front of each retail establishment. Parking is clustered, and located throughout these downtown or urban areas.

  9. Emmy says:

    I agree Scott, and in downtown, I don’t really want to see huge parking lots. However, since I work downtown it is painfully obvious that people will park in very stupid ways to avoid walking to their destination. Part of that is laziness, but part of it has to do with the type of business and how much stuff (or in my case, children) you’ll be toting around.

    I spent most of Saturday at the Smithland soccer complex. Its a beautiful place, but the parking is very inadequate for the number of people. They always make the suggestion that people park at the new school, but that’s a hike with small children and a bunch of soccer gear.

    I’ve lived her my whole life and parking anywhere seems to pose a challenge.

  10. Emmy — I was also at Smithland on Saturday, and I must have arrived between games, as I found an empty spot in the main lot — I will consider myself lucky! :) I agree that walking from the new school is a bit far!!

    Toting children or stuff can definitely throw a wrench into parking and walking a few blocks. Sometimes it works fine (my 4 year old and I went downtown this past Friday night, and we ended up parking and walking a few blocks to ODCC and back to the car later) — but there are plenty of times were it doesn’t work well at all. In the heat, with a child or children who isn’t excited about the destination, having to parallel park and then walk several blocks with library books to return (for example) can turn into quite an unpleasant challenge!

  11. Emmy says:

    You did get lucky! I was down with Christa while she was taking pictures and we kept watching the parking nightmare!

  12. Renee says:

    Thanh is right about the existing parking decks. I work in between the two, and there are almost always plenty of empty spaces in both.

    Oh, and Finnegan, the Wine Bar in Orlando wasn’t completely automated, but I can see how my description would make it seem that way. They also had a person at an actual bar to pour some wines if you wanted to sit there to drink. But the automated part was kind of neat and allowed for a lot more wines to be available at all times, without the bartender having to have hundreds of bottles open and at hand. It actually didn’t make it seem impersonal to have the automated dispensers, but lead to a lot of wine discovery by walking around in little groups and trying each one.

    I just thought it was neat to be able to get like $1.00 sip from a very expensive bottle of wine that would otherwise be inaccessible.

  13. ammc says:

    Exciting! Thanks for the info Brent.
    As for the parking thing, if you’re going exclusively to the Wine Bar might be better to walk or take a cab anyway! (wink wink)

  14. Drew Richard says:

    This is awesome! Downtown has been exploding lately and it seems to only be getting better. Once the streetscaping project is done, Spanky’s is replaced, this Wine Bar goes in, and the Urban Exchange is done, it will be even better. It is quickly becoming a nice place to go for everyone with several options. Great restaurants, bars (I mean restaurants), wine tastings, shops…oh how things have changed in the past 5-10 years.

  15. Tina says:

    I just noticed in the HDR newsletter that Franklin’s is scheduled to open November 14!

  16. Renee says:

    I drove past tonight and the drink cooler inside was glowing, so it looks open… has anyone tried it out yet?

  17. David Miller says:

    It is open but I have yet to try them out. Can’t wait though, I saw tons of deli meats in their cooler which immediately made me drool. Competition aside, I’m happy Howard has opened :)

  18. Brian M says:

    I was told that he was informed by the City that he could not have outdoor seating because of danger from traffic at that location. Has anyone heard of this?

  19. Emmy says:

    I don’t know if he was told that or not, but he does have outdoor seating.

  20. David Miller says:

    Brian, there was an ordinance passed encouraging outdoor dining downtown. Plus the owner of the building Franklin’s is in own more than ten feet of that sidewalk.

  21. Patty says:

    The food is DELICIOUS! I give it **** (4 Stars!). Service was very friendly. We can’t wait to go back and try the Wine Bar. A great addition to Harrisonburg.

  22. Renee says:

    Great, I’m looking forward to trying it out! What are the prices like on the food?

  23. Emmy says:

    The dropped off a menu at my office and one of my co-workers ate there today. He said the food was good.

    I haven’t tried it yet, so I can’t speak to the food. However, in my opinion, the prices are on the high side for the offering. A sandwich is about $6 and that doesn’t include anything aside from the sandwich. Maybe I’m just cheap though.

    I am dying to redo the menu because there were misspellings and the alignment was all out of whack. But, you can’t judge a restaurant by the look of the menu.

  24. Renee says:

    Aw, I was hoping it would be less expensive than lunch at Old Dominion Coffee Company. I’ll still try it out sometime. Typos on on menus always bug me, too, Emmy!

  25. J. says:

    Can’t say much about the wine since I do not drink.
    The food however is incredibly plain, simple….and definitely not worth the money.
    The sandwich I ordered was pretty much Food Lion meat and cheese on Wonder Bread.
    Presentation was lame, and the menu is full of spelling errors and seems to have been done in a hurry on a cheap ink jet printer.

  26. Marti Wiener says:

    Thanks for all the comments – both positive and negative. During our pre-opening phase, we look forward to hearing detailed comments to allow us to bring a great cafe and wine bar to Harrisonburg. We plan to announce our grand opening soon, with the hopes that all kinks will have been worked out. Thank you for your patience during our “soft” opening and for continuing to provide feedback. – Howard & Marti Wiener, owners of Franklin’s Cafe & Wine Bar.

  27. David Miller says:

    Marti and Howard, I can’t wait to stop in although I’m the kinda guy who eats the two dollar hot dog deal at Midtowne (shameless plug) to often because I am cheap and don’t look after my health enough. Otherwise I’m really looking forward to your sandwiches and I don’t think that $6 is much since the Dodger’s lunch special/sandwich is $6 and you’re lucky to find anything that comes close (besides the $5 sandwiches at Midtowne of course) . I don’t what everyone else thinks but I know for a fact that you can’t stay open if you’re charging less so don’t sweat it (for consumer info, wholesale food prices have gone up by at least 50% in the last two years). Can’t wait to see you all there and try the wine bar too.

  28. David Miller says:

    fresh from HDR to your screen
    Press Release:
    Grand Opening of Franklin’s Café & Wine Bar

    HARRISONBURG — Franklin’s Café & Wine Bar will hold its grand opening on December 12th and 13th. The newest restaurant in downtown Harrisonburg will offer a variety of salads, sandwiches, pizza and desserts. Seating options include outdoor, café-style indoor seating, in addition to a second-floor lounge. The restaurant is equipped for order-in, carry-out, delivery and catering for private events. Wines by the glass as well as domestic and imported bottles of beer will also be available for customers dinning in.

    Valley transplant, Howard Weiner, moved his family up from Florida to Harrisonburg become a part of the downtown revitalization movement. Within months of arriving in Harrisonburg, Howard has completely renovated a low-profile, two-story corner building, into an eye-catching corner café and wine bar. The business concept doesn’t stop at great food; Howard wants to make sure that the restaurant is a part of the community. “We’re trying to give people a break by offering downtown delivery free” and, in addition to food on the go, he also hopes the community will take advantage of his 1000 square foot lounge for private functions.

    Grand opening menus are available now and the restaurant’s website will be up and running within the week. Contact details listed below.

    Franklin’s Café and Wine Bar

    20 South Mason Street

    (on the corner of E. Market and Mason Streets)


  29. David Miller says:

    Emmy, you’ll be relieved when you seen the new menu. It’s done well.

  30. Emmy says:

    Glad to hear it! I will say that I was over at Christa’s a few days back and some boys came in and gave her some coupons to pass out. She relayed some problems she was having getting through to them on the phone and told them to relay that to the owner. Mr. Weiner showed up in the store just a few minutes later. That’s good customer service!

  31. Josh says:

    I went to Franklin’s Cafe & Wine Bar for lunch today. I had the “Franklin’s Steak & Cheese,” my friend had some sort of hummus pita sandwich, we split Route 11 chips (yes, my $7 sandwich didn’t even include a $0.25 handful of chips) and both had bottled drinks. Total damage around $20. We both thought the food was tasty but not a very good value.

    The staff was friendly and the decor is pretty nice, especially considering the history of the place. The owner stopped by to thank us for coming out and invited us to the grand opening this Friday and Saturday.

    Since Franklin’s bills itself as a wine bar, I counted the selections on display: 10. I was disappointed because I thought it would be closer to other wine bars in the region (e.g. I hope they look to expand their offerings and include more Virginia wines (maybe local wines?).

  32. seth says:

    anybody know whatever happened to that pencil?

  33. Emmy says:

    I forgot about that Seth. I wonder.

  34. David Miller says:

    Josh, I haven’t been yet and can understand about the wine offering yet I have a question. Besides this one place I’m kinda partial to, where can you get a cheaper lunch? I eat out way to much and struggle to stay under $10. Example, yesterday I spent over 10 on bfast at the grill.

  35. Emmy says:

    You can get a 1/4 hamburger, steak fries and a drink for $8 at Smokin’ Pig. I get a pita, fries and a huge drink for about $12 at Dave’s. I’m not sure it’s the cost, I think most people expect to pay more these days, it’s just what you get for the cost.

  36. Renee says:

    Yeah, any “hometown” restaurant is going to be pricey compared to fast food or eating in. I think Franklin’s can be successful if they expand their offerings and create a certain “atmosphere”.

    There are certain expectations people have when they hear “wine bar” and I don’t think sandwiches and chips and only 10 choices of wine is it…. I hope they do expand their selection, and I hope they do offer some local wines.

    Looking forward to trying it out anyway! Are they having any great specials for their Grand Opening?

    Also, is there anywhere online where their hours are listed?

  37. Josh says:

    David, Your question reminded me of the Rocktown Weekly cheap eats article:

    And you’re right. It’s hard to eat for less than $5-8 or so without going the fast food route.

    The LG isn’t as affordable as it used to be since they got rid of the lunch menu, same with places like Taste of Thai.

    Still, the BLT at LG works out to be pretty affordable and tasty.

    The Smokin’ Pig BBQ special is a good deal but not something you’d want to eat everyday

    I like doing the $8 wrap and soup combo at Earth and Tea (it’s enough for 2 lunches/people).

    Vietopia’s $3.50 sandwiches are a bargain.

    As far as chains go, Subway and Qdoba have good deals on occasion. Five Guys is expensive but not too bad if you go with the smaller size burgers and split fries between a few people.

    You can eat a cheeseburger + side at Ham’s for around $5 on Tuesdays ($3 cheeseburger day w/ drink purchase).

    Mr. J’s is my breakfast spot of choice since bagels are filling and reasonably priced. I’m also a fan of the Waffle House. :)

    Ordering water is a big help. I sometimes eat fruit before/after going out to help cut back on pricing as well.

    I wish more places offered a flat-rate lunch special like you do. What if every spot downtown had some sort of $5 or $6 tax included lunch special M-F? Would you be prone to eat out more often? I know I would.

  38. David Miller says:


    Many people are copying our $7 lunch, not many are matching it though- to include a drink + side + tax that is. That’s why I like doing it that way, you know exactly what you’ll pay, every time! We all forget that the 11% meals tax really adds up when your steak and cheese is $8.25 and your drink is $1.50, it comes to $10.83 plus tip if you dine in.

  39. Brad says:

    Someone asked where the old pencil is. Don’t ask how I remember this (because I don’t know), but it’s on display at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society in Dayton ( Hopefully more of these kinds of things will be saved as places are restored downtown, or maybe they will be incorporated into the new uses.

  40. The Valley Progressive says:

    When are people going to understand the importance and power of their purchasing dollar? Do people really think that a dollar spent at McDonalds is the same as a dollar spent at a locally owned restaurant/eatery? A dollar spent in a corporate fast food place gets you high fat, processed quasi-food that supports some CEO in another state.

    A dollar spent in a local eatery gets you flavorable, usually healthier fare, where the owner has a vested interest in your satisfaction. These people live here, pay taxes here, and spend their money here. It is the unique, not assembly line mentality, that makes America great.

    Most importantly, a dollar spent in a local eatery supports your community and your local economy which makes us all succeed. Your dollar spent locally has much more power than your dollar spent at some faceless international corporation.

    Support your local businesses. Its good for you, good for us, good for Harrisonburg.

  41. Emmy says:

    I believe that most of the examples given were in fact locally owned businesses.

    I understand the issues facing the local eateries. I have a friend who has owned a restaurant for 31 years and I’ve seen him feel bad about raising his prices to eek out a small profit. I’m willing to pay more to support a local business, but that’s assuming that they provide a product that’s worth it. By product, I mean the whole package, not just the food.

    I’m not going to weigh in on whether or not Franklin’s is “worth” it because I haven’t eaten there yet. I want him to do very well and it seems like he’s trying to listen to his customers. I give local places ten more chances than I’d ever give a chain.

    There are several places downtown I will return to over and over regardless of price because the total value is good. Midtowne Market is one of those places. David provides a good service. He listens to his customers, and hires friendly people. I know I can go other places and possibly pay a bit less, but I’d rather go there.

    But there are/were two places downtown that I won’t go to because the service is so bad that I’m not willing to pay extra for bad food, and bad service.

    I think it comes down to a good product. If you have it, people will pay for it.

  42. Josh wrote: “I hope they look to expand their offerings and include more Virginia wines (maybe local wines?).”

    I’m a supporter of local farmers markets and locally-owned eateries, but not local wine. Having worked at a local winery and a locally-owned wine shop, I can make an honest generalization: Virginia-produced wine is overpriced. I don’t typically drink Virginia wine for the same reason I wouldn’t eat Virginia pineapples or coconuts.

    Thomas Jefferson said of growing wine grapes in Virginia, “The vine is the parent of misery.”

  43. Marti Wiener says:

    Thank you for comments about Franklin’s Cafe & Wine Bar. Yes, we are listening and have added chips to all sandwiches, still providing Route 11 chips for purchase (which are somewhat costly) at the lowest price in town. We will be running daily lunch specials to keep the cost of lunch below $10. We always offer a deli sandwich for $5.50, and when paired with a $1.50 soda, amounts to under $8.00 with tax included. We will be increasing the wine selection as we grow and are presently offering all glasses of wine at $5.00 each. We’ve added professional Chef Joseph from Louisiana to increase our offerings. Come by to watch his amazing energy and expertise in the kitchen! We have a cozy wine lounge on the second floor and can reserve it for private parties, with your own menu planned with Chef Joseph. Our hours are Mon.-Wed. 11am-8pm, Thurs.-Sat. 11am-1am. The grand opening is this weekend, Dec. 12 & 13 – we will be giving free food samples and offering wine tastings. If you’ve never had pizza on the bar-b-que grill, come by to give it a try! My husband, Howard, has become a master at the backyard bar-b-que pizza and we are hoping you will enjoy it as much as our friends have. We appreciate all your comments and can assure you we are striving to make this mom & pop business work in these trying times. Thank you for supporting your local businesses and helping to keep the lovely Harrisonburg downtown thriving!

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