All heroes don’t wear capes. Actually, the bravest of them all rarely do. They follow their sense of purpose into spaces that were not originally designed for them to find prosperity. They carry the will to build legacy. They are pioneers, forging ahead, clearing a path as they go so others will have a road to follow. Sommelier and entrepreneur Dr. Michelle Grant is one such heroine.
The daughter of Zambian immigrants, and a native DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) girl, Grant, in partnership with her husband Ka-ton, are redefining the food and wine experience with their groundbreaking project Era Wine Bar, which is set to open right over the D.C. border in Mount Rainier, Maryland this summer.
“Era is about inclusivity. It’s about diversity. It’s about self-appreciation. We want our heart and soul in the glass and on the plate,” says Grant. This statement is revolutionary in a space that is traditionally experienced through a Eurocentric lens. When one hears the term “wine bar,” it invokes visions of white tablecloths, suit-clad sommeliers, wine lists of biblical density set against a backdrop of austerity and high-brow food concepts.
But Era is not that.
The Grants want you to “come as you are” and bring your whole family, children and all. It was extremely important to Grant to provide a safe space for women to find joy over a glass of wine, without all the pretensions. Ka-ton and I love going out and getting fancy and trying new wines. But I don’t want people to think that it’s a requirement to participate in the culture. You don’t have to look or talk a certain way to enjoy the world of wine.”
It all started while Grant was sitting in a restaurant in Jordan; she had asked the server to bring her whatever they had that was native to the region, and was introduced to a cabernet that blew her mind. “It didn’t taste anything like a California cab,” she explains. That moment lit a fire—she set about seeking out wines from lesser-known regions and ended up tasting her way across continents with her husband in tow. Inspired, the couple returned to the States to create a place that would amplify lesser-known wine producing regions alongside a food concept that was just as unconventional.
There is no executive chef at Era Wine Bar. Instead, the owner works with a team of culinary experts to develop a menu inspired by recipes that she has collected over the years.
Grant’s ideas around pairings are pulled from the palate of her childhood. “My mom was Indian Zambian and my dad was Black Zambian, plus we were living in D.C., so when I was growing up there wasn’t just one dish on my table. On any given night, it might be nshima [a Zambian cornmeal dish], fried chicken, or curry,” she shares. ” I want to depart from the idea that wine can’t be paired with the spices of the culinary traditions of Black and Brown people. We shouldn’t have to betray who we are to have profound food and wine experiences.”
Today, Grant is a woman remaking the world in her own image, but none of this would be possible without the partnership she has with her husband. Their relationship is a prime example of how productive and inspiring Black love can be. When asked about their respective contributions she said, “I’m the one who likes to conceptualize. I spend all day planning what I want it to look like, taste like, or what the experience should feel like. Ka-ton, who is an engineer by training, is the one that materializes those ideas.’”
Opening during a pandemic is no easy feat. Grant has had setbacks and come-ups. However, 2021 is proving to be an inaugural year with the venue’s doors set to open in early summer.
Though Grant created the business plan for Era six years ago, she credits her breakthroughs to the relationships she made along the way. She does not take this lightly and emphasizes the value of building community while “working hard and also taking risks.” Her words to live by? “You don’t have to have everything already figured out—take the leap and stay true to your values.”
Era Wine bar is located at 3300 Rhode Island Avenue, Mount Rainer, MD. Check them out at www.erawinebar.com.