And Then Came Ambi

In days past, after appearing in court, I would stroll down Jackson Street in Anoka and observe diners lively in conversation, smiling and laughing away, moods sweetened by beer and other alcoholic beverages. One place had this mass assortment of chicken wings, another tasty authentic Mexican food, still another presented a century old décor, including a building topped with castle like turrets. No wonder Anoka was buzzing with activity on Friday & Saturday nights!

Then COVID-19 hit. After the Governor’s lock down orders took effect the sounds of social engagement were silenced.

That must have been hard for this new, quaint, little place in town, on the corner of Jackson & Second. It had only been open for ten months, never mind that it had also been vying for business in the midst of the big boys. I peered through the window to look inside and then glanced upward at the sign hanging above the entry. I was immediately taken back to my Connecticut days when I visited a romantic seaport town named “Mystic”. The sign above me simply read “Ambi Wine Bar”.

Ambi. That’s different.

Curiosity took control. Who converted this eyesore of a space and turned it into something with sunglasses, where you could almost feel the lazy ocean waves lapping at the shoreline while soft breezes held squawking seagulls in place?

So, the next day I went to find out.

I asked for the owner and an employee went to fetch her. I was gazing up at their charming ceiling, complete with reddish/brown imprinted tin plates, with decorative wood trellises attached, when I sensed someone nearby. I looked down and observed a young lady wearing a mask. Was she the manager? She appeared no older than my daughter who just graduated grad school last year.
“Hi, I’m Jess Pratt, co-owner of Ambi”. Our hands remain at our sides as we know the drill by now. I would soon find out that her husband, Ythan Pratt, is the other owner and marketing guru. We then ventured outside and took a seat at a bistro table—in the street! We were protected by concrete barriers the city of Anoka had put in place. “The city has been amazing!” Jess gushed, in response to my questions about the outside set up.

“So, did the virus set you back?” I got right to the heart.

“Yes,” Jess replies, though her answer is surprisingly upbeat. “But we knew the first year was gonna’ be tough anyway. We adjusted. We got creative–like offering ‘take & bake’ pizzas for sale. We sold out twice.”

“You sell pizzas?” I was astonished. I wasn’t expecting this from a wine bar, though admittedly I don’t frequent them much.

“Well, we typically offer flatbreads for dining. Like our popular ‘Show Me a Riesling’. But we had to do something during the shutdown and the community responded.”

She hands me a menu and my eyes are drawn to the ‘garlic sauce, gruyere cheese, green apple and prosciutto’ ingredients for the “Show Me a Riesling” flatbread. I also see Bruschetta ‘bites’, bread boards, desserts from Truffles & Tortes, and even salads. Really? There is more to this place than meets the eye.

“And we also offer a ‘wine and waffle’ brunch,” Jess carries on, unfolding her pleasant surprises in patient but confident fashion. I look at yet another menu she hands me. ‘Peanut Butter Cup Waffles & Strawberry Cream Waffles’ among four choices of waffles. And you can bundle a waffle with Mimosa for $15. By this time I’m kicking myself for turning down her offer of free samples. And we haven’t even talked about her wines yet.

So, I ask about that. “What makes your wines so special?”

“We serve a small selection of curated wines from all over the world and we change them up seasonally. They are priced comfortably for those not familiar with wines. But we also offer wines at a higher tier for those who are not novices to wines.”

I’m certainly in the first category.

“Anything to drink aside from wines?” I ask, immediately thinking, C’mon, it’s a wine bar!

“Oh, certainly. We have the classic non-alcoholic drinks like juice, coffee, tea, even Mexican Coca-Cola. And we have beer.”

“Beer?” I am surprised because … well … it’s a wine bar.

“Yes, we offer just a couple on a rotating basis. Right now we have Hard Seltzer and Hard Cider.”

“Ok, I have to ask you this. What possessed you to open this wine bar? Where did the idea come from?”

“Well,” she says as if smiling behind her mask, “my husband and I wanted to start a business in Anoka. We have always loved Anoka so we set out thinking ‘what could it be?’ After abundant research and considering a number of options we centered on a wine bar because that is one venue that Anoka was lacking. We created a business plan, held a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, and then waited a year for this building to show up.”

“So, I take it you have a degree in business?”

“No, but Ythan does. He combines that with his experience in advertising to make Ambi stand out. But I do have a photography degree and have experience operating an award-winning photography business.”

Ok, maybe they’re a bit older than I thought. And there was that word again–Ambi. So, I asked: “How did you arrive at the name ‘Ambi?’”

I could almost see another smile. Her eyes twinkled. “Ambi” is short for ‘ambience’. We wanted the name to reflect a warm and welcoming environment.”

Mission accomplished. This beyond-their-years young couple had a dream and blessed Anoka with another gem.

Ambi Wine Bar is open Wednesday/Thursday 4 – 9 p.m., Friday 3 – 10 p.m., and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

And they’re hiring!

Somehow that’s not surprising.