Venus Spirits Cocktails and Kitchen
Dining Reviews

Venus Spirits Plans Westside Restaurant Expansion

Refined pub fare will complement craft spirits at Venus Spirits Cocktails and Kitchen

A rendering of the new Venus Spirits Cocktails and Kitchen. IMAGE: COURTESY OF VENUS SPIRITS

Not to be outdone by the burst of food, wine and retail expansion in Aptos, the Westside of Santa Cruz continues to amaze and delight its growing fanbase. I am hearing preliminary wows for even these early days at Vim on Mission Street. And now Sean Venus emails to tell me that his mighty Venus Spirits has finalized plans for a new 11,500-square-foot warehouse in the Delaware Addition.

The new location, next to the current Swift Street distillery and tasting room, will be able to produce and barrel-store up to 50,000 cases annually. But for those with inquiring taste buds, the real news is that the expansion will house Venus Spirits Cocktails and Kitchen, a new restaurant space that will be sculpted into sophisticated shape by Stripe Design Group.

A new innovative dining spot on the Westside sounds just fine to me, so here’s the deal. Venus plans a 100-seat restaurant focused on his brand’s spirits, plus cocktails made with them, complemented by creative snacks, small plates, salads and shareable entrees. After two years of planning, construction has finally begun. “I am so excited for the next phase of our business coming to life,” Venus says. “This new space will not only allow us to meet a growing demand for our spirits, but will allow us to deepen the connections with our community.” The target opening date for the new restaurant and distillery is winter/spring 2020.

To avoid the sorts of missteps made by others who tried to balance premium libation production with fine dining, Venus says he approached the new project, “based on what succeeds in our current operation. And that is a focus on distilled spirits and cocktails. The kitchen will be there to support the cocktail program and help educate people about our spirits. The atmosphere will be high end, but the food will be very approachable.” Venus admits that, “While we are a bit nervous about managing a restaurant, I see the biggest challenge—more even that our ability to win the public’s affection—is managing a far bigger staff than we currently have.”

Asked about the projected menu, Venus explained that while marketing his spirits over the last five years, “I have visited hundreds of restaurants across California, and there were lots of takeaways from these visits. I looked at cocktail menus, studied food offerings and took notice of the overall aesthetic in these establishments.” He plans to incorporate what he’s learned into the game plan of Venus Spirits Cocktails and Kitchen. So far, there’s no chef on board, but Venus says he’s looking for someone, “highly skilled, someone who shares our vision of simple foods prepared to perfection, and who can successfully manage a team.” That does sound like kitchen perfection, and I know he’s not the only restaurateur hoping to find that ideal person.

Part of the momentum for the Venus expansion came from the obvious—the need for more space: “We are currently busting at the seams, and this new space will allow us room to grow.” The man who makes exceptional gins and other hand-crafted, botanical-infused spirits maintains that he’s “still very focused on distribution, and this facility will allow us to make and store more product for the growing demand. The restaurant is designed not just to serve cocktails and food—we’ll also serve wine and beer, too—but allow us to bring our story directly to a lot more people.” And I thought there wasn’t a restaurant, café or saloon left in California that didn’t serve Venus Spirits.

Venus Spirits, 427 A Swift St., Santa Cruz. venusspirits.com.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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