GRNoir was on track to open in the spring of 2020 until the COVID-19 pandemic delayed its plans. After months of uncertainty, it began operations in December 2020 by offering curbside pickup and delivery before finally celebrating its grand opening on Feb. 1.
Today, GRNoir is a downtown hotspot for visitors to enjoy wine from a global selection of over 100 labels, listen to live jazz by local artists and pair drinks with tasty small plates that range from brisket sliders to banana pudding.
As Grand Rapids’ first Black-owned wine and jazz bar, GRNoir intentionally highlights Black-owned wines and Black musical talent. Founders Shatawn and Nadia Brigham also taste every wine and research each winemaker they consider for their menu — including how they treat their staff and the environment — to ensure that equity is weaved into the fabric of GRNoir.
Beyond red, white and rosé
Surprising as it may seem, the Brighams did not taste wine until their mid-thirties. “Growing up, wine was associated with being rich or looking a certain way. It wasn’t accessible and everyone around me only drank beer or spirits,” said Shatawn. “That first glass of wine was phenomenal, and I still keep that experience with me today. I
want to share that with others that might be intimidated by wine.”
That first bottle was an Italian wine called Tintero Muscato D’Asti and was featured in GRNoir’s wine club selection this past February.
After that first taste of wine, the Brighams were hooked. They did plenty of research, travel and consulting before eventually opening GRNoir with the goal of making wine and jazz accessible to all. “We pride ourselves on ensuring that — whether it’s your first glass or your hundredth — you are welcome here,” said Shatawn.
Presently, Shatawn Brigham is Grand Rapids’ first Black sommelier.
“Wine doesn’t have to be snooty,” said Nadia. “People have had their tongues their whole lives. They know what they like and what they don’t. If you help people use their tongues as a tool, they’ll be more willing to try new things. So, what if you don’t know how to say the name? We’ll figure it out together. In the meantime, let’s do some tasting!”
All for wine and wine for all
While the Brighams designed GRNoir with the intention of celebrating Black culture, the space itself welcomes everyone.
“We were once asked if GRNoir is just a space for Blacks,” Shatawn said. “You never go into an Italian restaurant and ask if it’s an Italian-only space. We are Black-owned and make no apologies about being Black, but we are all-inclusive. We engage with everyone but also want to highlight Black excellence through wine and jazz.”
As for the future of GRNoir, Shatawn is preparing for his level 2 sommelier certification. He and Nadia also plan to label and bottle wine for GRNoir.
This story can be found in the April 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here.