LINCOLN SQUARE — Goosefoot's Chris Nugent didn't originally set out to become the chef/proprietor of a Michelin-starred restaurant.
"I wanted to open a small chocolate business," he said.
Now he has.
Nugent and wife Nina cut the ribbon Tuesday night on their newest venture, Goosefoot Food & Wine, 2654 W. Lawrence Ave., located immediately next door to its sister enterprise.
Patty Wetli explains what's really the difference between a $10 and $20 bottle of wine:
The shop, a year and a half in the making, features a selection of exquisitely handpainted Goosefoot Chocolates made by Nugent.
"I didn't sleep for a few days" preparing the inaugural candies, Nugent told the small crowd of loyal patrons invited to the grand opening.
He plans to broaden the line of chocolates "little by little," he said, and has the climate-controlled chocolate laboratory in the rear of the shop to prove it.
Fans of Nugent's carefully crafted cuisine may be surprised to learn that he originally wanted to be a pastry chef.
It was his mentor, John Daly, owner of the Drovers Inn outside of Binghamton, N.Y., who steered Nugent away from the sweet side, where there's less money to be made and positions are not only scarcer but more tenuous.
"He said, 'Do the savory thing. You can always come back to [pastry],' " Nugent recalled. "And that's what I'm doing."
The shop's shelves are also stocked with carefully chosen gourmet foodstuffs — jams, syrups, pastas, baking mixes and coffees, including a Goosefoot Blend from Bridgeport Coffee and a Nina's Blend from Sparrow Coffee.
Many of the items were sourced from small farms and artisans the Nugents visited in their "spare time," he said.
And then there's the wine, intended in part to answer the BYOB dilemma facing Goosefoot diners.
To curate their initial offerings, the Nugents turned to Michael Gustaitis, who runs a wine shop of his own in Saugatuck and was the sommelier at Les Nomades during Nugent's tenure there as chef.
"This is what true friends are," said Nugent, noting that Gustaitis was paid in food.
"I've been working on this for a good month," said Gustaitis, making educated guesses about what would appeal to customers based on "my retail experience and what people ask for."
Though he chose a number of wines with an eye toward Goosefoot's menu — "You don't want to put grocery store wine in here. With the food [Nugent's] doing, you want nicer wines" — Gustaitis said he also kept the neighborhood in mind.
"There are all price points," he said, with most bottles falling in the $20-$50 range, and as low as $12.
Jerry Wexler, a Goosefoot regular who typically dips into his own cellar when dining at the restaurant, was impressed with Gustaitis' efforts.
"The wines are a great bargain — they're the same price as Binny's, or less," said Wexler. "But the quality is what's consistent."
Nugent said the mix of food and wines will change based on customer preference, but for now, he just wanted to get the doors open.
The shop's long gestation period, he said, was due largely to the fact he and Nina, who he credits as "the brains behind this operation," are the lone investors, as they are with Goosefoot.
"Lots of credit cards are involved," he said, and the store progressed as funds became available.
Though less emotional than the launch of Goosefoot — the restaurant opened in December 2012, on the birthday of Nugent's brother, whose sudden death in 2009 caused the chef to re-evaluate his priorities — Nugent said the debut of the food and wine shop, on his own birthday, has personal significance as well.
"The last three years has been a healing process for me," he said. "Now this is more about moving forward."
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