I had been trying to get to Surdyk’s Flights, the new wine bar, deli, and wine shop inside Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport, for months. I’d flown out of town about five times in the previous twelve weeks, but each and every time I flew out of the Humphrey Terminal (now confusingly and blandly called Terminal 2) mainly because I’m cheap and like Sun Country and Southwest. When my family and I planned a quick vacation to Washington DC, I finally found my opportunity and purchased tickets through Delta, and thus the larger Lindbergh Terminal. Our flight out was 7:30pm, so I arrived at 3pm, ready for some wine.*
*This is pretty common for me. I like to arrive to flights super early, because to tell you the truth I like airports. I like the buzz of people coming and going, and throw in a good wine bar and you got me hooked. Vino Volo is another great airport based wine bar to seek out. I first got to enjoy them in the Seattle Airport, which is one of my favorites because they also have an Ex-Officio store. Nothing is more relaxing than a good glass of wine after getting through security.
I worked at Surdyk’s Liquors from 1997 to 2001 as a Wine Consultant, and it was a formative time for me. Not only did I have access to incredible wines and daily opportunities to taste them, but I was surrounded by a wine staff that was second to none. I learned so much, and as a result I have always had a soft spot for the Surdyk family.
So imagine my surprise when Taylor Surdyk, Jim’s son, came up to the table. We hadn’t seen each other in over ten years, since I photographed the kids for Jim and Lynne’s Christmas card in 1999. Amazingly, he remembered me.
Taylor is the CEO of Surdyk Flights, and we had a good quick discussion about the business.
How did you pull off a wine retail and restaurant license in the same location?
(Background: in the urban centers of Minnesota you can usually not have what is known as an ‘on premise’ or restaurant license in the same location or at the same register as an ‘off premise’ or retail license. More on this dilemma in a future post.)
“The airport was on our side, and saw the possibilities with this. The airport commission has their own rules, which they can adjust as they see fit, so it was just a matter of perseverance and patience. But it was interesting because once my dad (Jim Surdyk) has an idea he doesn’t like other people telling him how to do things. It was fascinating.”
Any big surprises that you didn’t expect?
“The high end wine flies off the shelf. I think we go through more Opus One here than we do at the store. We can’t keep The Prisoner in stock. The big wines from the big names are a big deal here.”
What has been the toughest part?
“The ebb and flow of business. There is no predictable rush. We’ll be slow slow slow for a window of time and all of the sudden we are three deep at the bar and families are waiting for tables. Staffing such a place is not easy, and we have to be ready for anything.”
The flights are fantastic, with a wide variety of medium to high end wines. The prices are, as you would expect, up there a bit (rent aint’ cheap at MSP) but the wines are worth it and I’m happy to pay for quality. I’d rather spend more on good wine than just a bit less from crappy wine (for example, Ladera Cabernet is $21 a glass, but it’s a damm good sized pour of a damn good wine that I wouldn’t likely buy a bottle of myself). Don’t get me wrong … there is a solid selection of $7-$10 wines as well, but the true bang for the buck comes from throwing down a few more bucks.
The flights are delivered in a classy manner with an info-packed placecard, high quality stemware, and with physical panache by the servers using a three-glass “claw” that places the wines in front of you all at once. (A pet peeve of mine is when I order a flight at a restaurant and the server arrives with an arm-full of glasses then proceeds to screw up which is which, or worse yet just stand there with a dumb look on their face when they realize they can’t keep three things straight.)
At our table we had a wide variety of sandwiches, a cheese and meat plate (outstanding), and three different flights of wine including the bubbly flight. Everything was way above average — quality of ingredients, wine bang for the buck, and overall attitude of the staff. A damn nice way to start a trip.
The check is brought in a leather passport case (a real, not Surdyk’s branded case) that I fear some people walk off with but I applaud their creativity. I don’t know how much it costs to emboss leather but this might make for a nice touch.
Surdyk’s Flights is located in the main hallway of the main terminal, toward gate D. Just look for all the happy people sitting in the ‘patio’ area in the middle of the concourse.