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Entrepreneur Spotlight: The Downing Bottles & Bites

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From Dallas to Rockwall: A Dream Realized

David and Jenni Downing moved to Rockwall, David’s hometown, when they were expecting their first child, Josey. With backgrounds in the restaurant industry and a shared dream of opening their own place, they grew tired of the daily commute to Dallas. One evening, while attending a downtown music series, they envisioned turning an old building into a cozy spot where locals could enjoy a nice bottle of wine or craft beer alongside delicious bites. When the space became available, their dream began to take shape. With the support of a patient landlord who believed in their vision, The Downing Bottles & Bites was born, bringing a unique blend of retail and restaurant to the Rockwall community.

A Culinary and Service Power Couple

David and Jenni bring a wealth of experience to The Downing. David, a culinary school graduate and artist in the kitchen, has honed his skills in cities like Austin, Chicago, New York, and Dallas, including a stint at Rockwall’s own Ava’s. His passion for culinary arts is evident in the restaurant’s menu, which features fresh, innovative dishes made from scratch.

Jenni, who grew up immersed in the world of food and wine, has worked in various restaurants since her teens. Her expertise in creating memorable dining experiences is complemented by a degree in Anthropology from LSU, which helps her connect with guests on a personal level. Together, they have created a place where people feel welcome and cared for.

Setting The Downing Apart

What sets The Downing Bottles & Bites apart from other establishments in Rockwall County is its unique combination of retail and dining. The retail section offers an exclusive selection of wines, craft beers, specialty foods, and Riedel wine glasses. Their monthly wine club introduces members to hand-selected wines that aren’t typically found in grocery stores, aiming to expand their palates.

The kitchen, while small and lacking traditional equipment, ensures everything is made fresh daily. This freshness, combined with a frequently changing menu, offers patrons a variety of dishes they won’t find anywhere else, from Moroccan lamb to New Orleans BBQ shrimp. The Downing’s wine selection is carefully curated to be both unique and approachable, with knowledgeable staff ready to guide customers.

Their cocktail program stands out with fresh juices, house-made syrups, and innovative creations like the popular “Pho” cocktail, which incorporates pho spices and garnishes for a refreshing twist. The Downing also excels in crafting creative mocktails and hosting lively events, from wine dinners to holiday parties, making it a community favorite.

Curated Selections and Signature Dishes

Jenni personally selects the wines and craft beers featured in the retail and tasting area, ensuring each choice aligns with their concept. The focus is on exclusivity and quality, catering to both beginners and collectors.

The menu, which changes seasonally, includes creative salads, regionally-inspired sandwiches, and brunch favorites like Cinnamon Toast Crunch encrusted French toast. Despite limited refrigeration space, they receive daily deliveries of fresh ingredients, ensuring every dish is made from scratch. Popular items include the Cubano and Muffaletta sandwiches and the Lemongrass chicken bowl, with plenty of options for various dietary needs.

Creating a Cozy, Homey Ambiance

David and Jenni designed the restaurant to feel cozy and homey, often incorporating items from their own house. The “L” shape of the space adds a speakeasy vibe to the dining room in the back, while the front retail area attracts passersby. Friends and family helped in the design process, but ultimately, Jenni had the final say, and David did much of the work himself.

A Community Hub

The Downing Bottles & Bites plays a significant role in the Rockwall community, serving as a gathering space for various activities and events. They also support local charities and fundraisers, helping to raise awareness and funds for important causes.

One memorable customer experience involved a young boy named Aiden, who expressed an interest in the meats and cheeses on display. David promised him a job when he turned 18, and three years later, Aiden returned and has since become a lead line cook, even bringing his younger brother into the kitchen.

Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

David and Jenni emphasize the importance of passion and hard work in the food and beverage industry. They advise aspiring entrepreneurs to appreciate and encourage their employees, treating them like family, as they spend so much time together.

Family and Future Plans

Outside of the restaurant, David and Jenni enjoy spending time with their daughters, Josey and Opal, and engaging in activities like fishing, board games, and arts and crafts. They also love trying new restaurants, traveling, and enjoying live music.

Looking ahead, while they cherish their current location, they remain open to the possibility of expanding their vision to other areas. For now, they are focused on enjoying time with their young daughters and continuing to serve their beloved Rockwall community. David also dreams of opening a greasy spoon diner someday, but for now, The Downing Bottles & Bites remains their labor of love.

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