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July 24, 2017 SHOP TALK

Putting on the first Worcester Wine Festival

PHOTO/BRAD KANE Ed Russo, owner, Lock 50; managing partner, Worcester Wine Festival, LLC.

Ed Russo founded Lock 50 in Worcester’s Canal District a year ago, accelerating his plans for a relaxing retirements at the urging of his son. In June, Russo – along with Discover Central Mass and MassFoodies – announced the inaugural Worcester Wine Festival, a three-day event slated for the first weekend in October.

Why did you start Lock 50?

Lock 50 was just an idea after I bought the building, thinking I could put a little Italian cafe in it when I retire. Turns out, I had a son who wanted to get involved in everything I do – and I want him to – and he convinced me to turn this cafe idea into a full-blown restaurant.

Fortunately, I have a nephew was an executive chef, who came in to run the kitchen, and then I brought in a manager, who came in to run the restaurant, because we didn’t know anything about running a restaurant ourselves, other than the fact we like to eat.

How's the response been?

We don’t have lines out the door every day of the week, but we do have our lines. We are getting notoriety in the city and beyond. We have pulled off some great events around wine: wine dinners, wine education seminars. We are becoming a great place for bridal showers.

We are actually expanding our patio because it is at capacity, and we get a lot of people who want to rent it.

What sets Lock 50 apart?

A few years ago, the new restaurants all started to blossom. We were all kind of similar at the beginning – deadhorse hill, Bull Mansion – but then we started to differentiate ourselves. Lock 50 is seen as a little more upscale, contemporary American with a quality of food allowing us really to shine.

Who kind of customer do you attract?

We are drawing a lot coming out from Boston. We are reaching out further than the local base. Like my kid says, “Dad, we aren’t as cool as deadhorse.” It’s true; we get a different group of people. Our sweet spot is the mid-30s to mid-50s range, which is a great spot to be in.

How do you fit into the new Worcester?

We fit in really nice. In a revitalization, you need certain things: housing, restaurants, retail. The restaurant scene is here. Worcester is being know for having a restaurant scene, with not only new restaurants but the restaurants that have been here are upping their game. That, together with what is happening downtown with the new housing, is helping revitalize the city.

The one thing that is missing is retail, which some say needs to happen before we are successful and others say it will come after we have been successful.

Why start a wine festival?

Here at Lock 50, we are all about the wine. Tom Studer, the beverage director, really has the background for wine. We do wine dinners. I don’t know a ton about wine, but I have had wine professionals and winemakers from throughout the world tell me, “You have something really special here.”

Worcester doesn’t have a wine festival. Boston, New York, all these places have these exciting and successful wine festivals, so we said, “We need a wine festival.” I thought it would kind of natural I start it because of all we do here.

What are your plans for the first year?

Ideally, I wanted to shut the streets down and put up tented areas, but in October, the weather can be tough, so going into Union Station for the festival’s grand tasting will be a great fit. All the events around the grand tasting at other restaurants in the city will make it that much more robust.

What will make it successful?

The goal of this year is to not get too aggressive. At Union Station, we will have rougly 65 wine tables, a beer garden and retail – relatively small for a wine festival.

Do other restaurants like the idea?

Five restaurants have agreed to be partners in it. We are taking it outside of Worcester, too. We are talking to people down in Sturbridge and all over Central Massachusetts, so it isn’t just downtown Worcester. That is what will make use successful year over year.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by Brad Kane, WBJ editor.


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