Business Briefing: Wine purveyors uncork joviality in SF SOMA district

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday July 12, 2023
Share this Post:
Simi Grewal, left, and her business partner Cara Patricia opened DECANTsf in 2019. Photo: Courtesy the shop's Instagram
Simi Grewal, left, and her business partner Cara Patricia opened DECANTsf in 2019. Photo: Courtesy the shop's Instagram

Sommeliers and friends Cara Patricia and Simi Grewal opened their wine bar and shop DECANTsf in San Francisco's South of Market district on May 1, 2019. They had taken over the space at 1168 Folsom Street near Eighth Street after former tenant City Beer decided to relocate elsewhere in the city.

They soon attracted a loyal customer base from nearby residents and employees of tech-focused businesses located nearby who would pop in to try the various wines the women had curated and order some nibbles from the limited food menu. Then the COVID pandemic hit in March 2020, forcing them to close their doors to on-site patrons and pivot their business plans.

"We switched to being all online shopping and local delivery," recalled Patricia. "We had an online site for our wine club, but it was very basic. So when the virus hit Italy, we realized, 'Oh, it is coming.' We got our asses in gear."

The day after city officials issued health orders that disrupted the normal operations of restaurants and bars, DECANTsf was "booming" as its customers stocked up on wines.

"We were selling cases of wine because people were ordering in a panic," recalled Grewal in an interview this spring with the Bay Area Reporter ahead of the business marking its fourth anniversary.

Out of necessity they focused their attention on building up the retail side of the business. They added more nonalcoholic options at the request of customers and stocked food staple items people needed since there were few options to buy groceries in the immediate vicinity of them.

"We were one of the few shops in the area where you could come in to shop," said Patricia.

They also worked to meet the requirements the city imposed on businesses like theirs in order to reopen with outdoor seating that June. One was that alcohol sales needed to be paired with food purchases. Looking back now, some of the rules the women had to navigate sound comical.

"We were told our cheese plates weren't hearty enough, so we added pickles," recalled Patricia, which met with city approval.

The women were already familiar with having to navigate the city's bureaucratic maze of rules and regulations for businesses like theirs. It had taken them three years to secure a location where they could open a bottle shop and wine bar.

Part of the problem they faced was a moratorium in various neighborhoods on such a business that offered off-site retail sales. Unless they became a full restaurant, areas like the Mission and the Haight were out, they told the B.A.R.

"We looked at the Castro, upper Market Street, Cow Hollow and the Fillmore. But our business plan didn't work there under the city's archaic urban planning rules," noted Patricia. "This area, with more nightclubs around, was less restrictive."

They also lucked out in replacing a similar business that had offered beer for sale as well as on-site consumption, so they didn't need to pursue a change in use from planning officials in order to open in the storefront. The space is sunken below the sidewalk and features the retail section in front, with a small bar and seating area in the back on the right side. The location proved fortuitous in another respect for the type of venue the women wanted DECANTsf to be.

"If you want during the day to pick up some cheese and a bottle of wine, there is not a lot of stuff on Folsom Street that caters to that. There was a need we didn't know we were filling until we were here," said Grewal.

That need only grew during the pandemic, with nearby residents becoming regular customers of DECANTsf who would pop in three or more times a week. Their support helped the business survive the precarious times that led so many other businesses to shutter for good in the city.

"They sang our praises, and through a lot of word of mouth, people found out we are kind of like a fine wine department," said Patricia. "We bring classic, well made wines at a good value to people who want to expand their palate."

One of their customers, unbeknownst to Patricia and Grewal, nominated DECANTsf to be named the Bar & Restaurant Expo's LGBTQIA+ Venue of the Year for 2023. Thus, their winning the award earlier this year came as a total surprise.

"Our clientele is queer as fuck," said Patricia, 39, who is queer and hails from Chicago.

Grewal, 34, who is originally from New York, demurred when asked if she is also a member of the LGBTQ community. She told the B.A.R. that she preferred to keep such personal information private.

DECANTsf is located in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood. Photo: Joseph Weaver  

"We are here to give everyone a safe space," she said.

The women met in 2011 when they both attended the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. The following year Patricia had moved into SOMA a block away from where the wine shop is located, while Grewal has called San Francisco's Mission Bay neighborhood home since 2013.

Grewal first gained certification as a sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2012, while Patricia earned an advanced certification from the organization in 2015. In addition to wanting to work for themselves, they opened DECANTsf in order to share their wine knowledge with others.

Classes, events
They offer different classes and events with winemakers throughout the year. They also showcase wines made by women, people of color, and LGBTQ vintners, as well as feature a number of wines priced under $25.

"We carry high quality stuff here at a good price. We are really proud of that," said Patricia.

Because they carry wines from small producers, their inventory is constantly changing. They blind taste every bottle before choosing to sell it and base their pricing on if they would pay that amount for the various wines.

"It builds up trust. We are selling it because we like it," said Grewal.

They joke rather than making a hard sell with their customers, they make a "hand sell" with the people who walk through their doors by guiding them toward the wines that best fit their tastes.

"We try to have a conversation with everyone who comes in as their personal sommelier," explained Patricia. "We want to get them talking and find out what they like. We hope everyone here walks away learning something new."

Their aim, she added, is to give "people a chance to really curate their experience. They come here because they know what we are doing."

In addition, said Grewal, "We make an effort to meet people where they are at," from having in depth conversations about wines with customers to offering a more hands off approach for those who prefer a more casual experience.

Their lease will be up in May and they have an option to extend it another five years. While the neighborhood, and their business plan, has changed since they opened, the women told the B.A.R. they expect to remain a fixture on Folsom Street for years to come.

"The business is on a good trajectory. We get good feedback and the neighborhood supports us," said Grewal.

For those who don't live nearby, "don't be afraid of SOMA, come and hang out," said Patricia.

To learn more about the store and bar, including the hours for each and upcoming events, or to order wines online and how to become a member of its Bottle Cult wine club, visit

Got a tip on LGBTQ business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.