An Oasis in the Desert

Khoury’s is big enough to serve, but small enough to care.

It’s not easy to stand out in Las Vegas. But with a distinctive setup, Khoury’s Fine Wine and Spirits has carved out a long-standing niche in Sin City.

“We’re one of the only locations in town that’s both retail and on-premise,” explains founder and owner Issa Khoury (pictured above in his store). “Here, you can have a glass of wine or a pint of beer as you walk around the store.”

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Between the patio and pub, there are 60 or so seats for on-premise customers.

The 4,500-square-foot store has operated in a shopping plaza in the south end of Las Vegas since 2004. What has been the key to more than a decade of success? Khoury’s tagline speaks volumes: “Big enough to serve, small enough to care.”

“We’re a little bit smaller in size compared with the big guys around here,” Khoury says. “So we try to be quicker to respond to special releases. I have developed good relationships with many of the suppliers and brewers. We get a lot of things that other retailers don’t, especially with local beers.”

That focus — plus weekly wine tasting, keg tapping and bottle-sharing events — has attracted a loyal clientele who come to Khoury’s to find a case of something special, or to sit down with a pint of whatever is new on tap.

Stay a While

The on-premise concept came about organically, according to Khoury. In the beginning there was one tap handle, and wine by the glass. Gradually it grew, until five years ago the store opened a full pub.

Khoury’s now boasts 11 rotating beer taps, a growler program and eight wines by the glass. Between the patio and pub, there are 60 or so seats for on-premise customers. Patio chairs are grouped around wooden industrial spools. People indoors sit on stools around upturned wine barrels. In the back of the pub is a little library with books and board games.

“There’s a very casual vibe here — very laid back,” Khoury says. “One of the things I’m most proud of is the
diverse clientele that this helps bring in. College students will sit next to doctors and lawyers at the bar and converse with each other.”

“Unlike most bars in Las Vegas, there’s no gaming at the store and no loud music. It’s brightly lit and the TV is rarely turned on,” he says. “On a Saturday afternoon, it’s not surprising to see a group of friends back there with a bottle of wine and a pizza, playing monopoly.”

Customers will bring in food from nearby restaurants. With the consent of those businesses, the store will also host food trucks during tasting nights.

As for growlers, Khoury’s will fill up any size from any brand. The store also offers their own branded glass jugs for $5. The cost of a fill — hose to bottom — is $10 and up, depending on the brew.

The pub, beyond being a source of sales, also aids the retail side.

“It’s convenient because you can suggest that a customer try a beer from the tap before they buy a bottle of it,” says Jameson Gutierr, a sales associate who specializes in beer. “Overwhelmingly, people new to our business always ask about it. They’re not used to seeing a bar in a retail store.”

“It elevated the store to a whole new level,” says Kammaye Rude, store manager. “Having draft and wine by the glass allows us to interact with customers on a whole different level. They become like friends and family. A high percentage of our business is repeat. And that happens by sharing great beers and wines that perhaps you wouldn’t be able to taste otherwise.

Local Emphasis

Another competitive advantage for Khoury’s is an adherence to local products.

Its owner prides himself on fostering relations with distilleries and breweries from around the area. As a result, the store receives small-batch products that come out no more than 20 to 30 cases at a time.

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Khoury’s emphasizes local products.

“We try to emphasize local as much as possible,” Khoury says. He recalls a period in particular when his customers were seeking local products.

“A number of years ago, when the economy was struggling, a lot of my clientele were prideful and wanted to keep their spending within the community,” he remembers. “Thankfully that has continued forward – not because people necessarily feel the same need to keep it local, but because you can get such good stuff now locally.”

Besides building loyalty among regular customers, a wide selection of Nevada products also appeals to tourists passing through Vegas.

“People from out of town come in looking for beers that they don’t get in their market,” says Gutierr. “So I point them towards our local beers. It’s something new that they haven’t tried.”

The shop also cultivates close ties with lesser-known vineyards. “Our wine business is very focused on smaller production and very specific wines throughout California and elsewhere,” Rude explains. “For instance, we have a great relationship with Central California, smaller producers that we helped launch and create business for.”

A History in Business

Khoury himself is a local product. He grew up in the northeast Nevada town of Elko, the son of a grocery-store owner.

“I was always intrigued by wines at our local shop,” he remembers. “My father was known to have one of the better selections around.”

Khoury attended UNLV and then worked for the The Johnson Brothers of Nevada, a wine wholesaler and importer. “I ran sales routes for them,” Khoury recalls. “I was barely 21 years old. I would go to California a lot, and fell in love with mom-and-pop places.”

“At that time in Vegas there were mostly bigger shops,” he adds. “I spotted a niche that I thought I could do well with. I wanted to focus on overseen products that don’t get the attention of the big guys.”

His idea became a reality in 2004. And from the beginning, Khoury’s held tastings every Thursday night, which is now when the store holds weekly wine tastings.

“These are conducted by sales reps, winemakers and suppliers,” Rude says. “We feature in-store wines, or low-case wines.”

“Our tastings have a loyal following,” she adds. “There’s a core of 20 to 25 people who come every week, and in total we get about 40 to 50 people on any given Thursday.”

On Wednesdays, the store holds keg-tappings. With its emphasis on local and craft, the pub rotates in kegs of rare, small-batch beers. These brews are frequently new to market, never before distributed in Nevada.

These tapping events have given rise to a store tradition: bottle sharing. Khoury’s allows patrons to bring one beer bottle per person on Wednesday nights, to be shared among participants.

“This was started by the customers,” Gutierr says. “We ask that they bring in something rare-to-market for others to try.”

Happy Employees, Happy Customers

A hallmark of successful businesses is employee retention. This is not so easily achieved in retail, since workers may regularly move on to other occupations.

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Indoor seating at Khoury’s.

Khoury’s seems to get the most out of its employees, and then send them up the professional ladder. “We have had people work here for four years now,” Khoury says. “Those that do move on are still involved, like moving on to supplier positions.”

“It’s always sad to see them go, but I’m proud that they’re moving on to bigger and better things within the industry,” he adds. “I think that reflects well on the shop.”

Khoury wants to “create an environment where the employees want to be,” so that staff become friends. And employee happiness translates into how they handle customers.

“Our staff likes to become one-on-one with customers,” Khoury explains. “They know customers’ names and what they like. We definitely encourage that. I want everyone greeted as soon as they walk in the door. We encourage conversation between staff and customers. We want to find out what they’re in the mood for. We try to become friends with them, not just salesmen.”

Rude believes that Khoury’s philosophy has been successful. “Issa has dedicated himself to creating an environment that has a sense of family and friendship,” she says. “We forge real relationships with customers here.”

That philosophy can sometimes have unintended consequences for customers.

“We want the customer to feel comfortable here,” Khoury says. “We had one guy who would come in all the time. He’d just buy his alcohol and leave. But then one day he decided to stick around and have a beer. He ended up staying for about three hours, chatting with people and being friendly.”

“The next day he came back with his wife and asked me to tell her where he had been,” Khoury laughs. “Turns out that when he had gone home, she asked him ‘Where were you for three hours?’ He had told her that he had been at a liquor store having a beer. She said ‘I don’t believe you’. She didn’t believe that there’d be a pub in a liquor store. So he had to bring her in here to show her that this really was a cool place to hang out.”

Kyle Swartz is associate editor of Beverage Dynamics. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com

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