Rough starts can do one of two things, they can either cripple a person’s progress or spur them on to greater things. I would like to think that the challenges I have met along the way have all led to the road I am now on, one that leads to a new beginning and a place to relish the fruits of my personal perseverance. The bumps along the way started as a child, growing up in a home of six children and surviving on food stamps. Dad was an alcoholic, albeit a hard worker, but Mom left him when I was just eleven. My older siblings, David and Jeannie, were left to help my Dad raise their younger siblings. Once they moved on, Dad’s health started to fail due to congestive heart failure and I found myself caring for him. My focus became his care, which led to me dropping out of high school. More time to spend with my boyfriend at the time, resulted in me ending up pregnant at 18.
My daughter Kephani’s early years were a struggle but I relished the chance to strike out on my own and create a good life for my small family. My daughter, her father, and I moved out and I earned a decent living working at a bar in San Jose, named PJ’s. The tips were good and the owner’s treated me very well, taking me under their wing and teaching me the ins-and-outs of owning and operating a bar. Having my own establishment became a dream, but that dream would soon be sidelined, as my boyfriend introduced me to a life fueled by drugs. He plied me with drugs, specifically speed. For a time, drugs helped facilitate the juggling of a young child and a night-time job. Soon, the effects of abuse reared its ugly head and I discovered things about my partner that I could not live with. I packed my bags, grabbed my two-year-old child, and moved back into my father’s home. The spiral happened quickly from there. An aspect that people do not understand about drug use is that it really does make you forget your problems. It’s comforting, even as all your problems remain. I was trying to fill a void in my life, an emptiness that I was trying to escape with the help of mind-numbing meth.
My father watched my decline and sat helpless as I was in and out of being incarcerated, rehab, and programs for years. It was a vicious cycle. His solution became tracking down my estranged mother who I hadn’t seen in 18 years and asking her to come save my daughter. In sixth grade, my mother took my daughter with her to Maryland. I was called to Family Court but was in no condition to put up a fight. I lost custody of my only child. At the time, it was for her own good.
At 16, Kephani called me and gave me an ultimatum, “You can be my Mom or be an addict.” Faced with not having her in my life ever again, I made the choice to fight for a relationship with my child and to get clean. It was during incarceration that I found a program that worked for me. The program was called Teen Challenge, and in this cocoon inside of a prison, grew my relationship with God, with my daughter, and with my husband! I met my husband there, 18 years ago, and we have come such a long way together. I was happy to learn he also had a daughter, named Michaela. Once we were both released, we became a family. We started a business together named R12 Window Cleaning. We focused on recovery and our love of God to move us forward. Things were going wonderfully, and we lived in bliss as we planned to get married.
“Making Harry’s Wine Tavern a destination at one point seemed an unattainable feat. Now, it will be my place in which to thrive.”
Right before we were to exchange vows, my husband’s father passed unexpectedly. We steadied ourselves, became man and wife, and three days after our wedding my father died. Those were trying times and cast some sadness on an otherwise joyful time in our lives. Nothing could prepare us for what was to come within the year. While giving communion at our church, Cornerstone, my husband’s phone began ringing furiously. It was my mother-in-law and she was calling to tell my husband that our daughter Michaela had been in a car accident in Riverside, CA, and had not made it. My husband fell to his knees. We were surrounded by our fellowship, about 20 men began to pray over him, even my brother Joe was there with us. The parishioners scrambled up about $1000 for us, handed us keys to a car, said they would watch our house and dogs, and said “go” - sending us to the services. In those darkest times that tested our strength, we never lost sight of God or of our recovery.
Harkening back to my younger years and what I wanted out of life, I have always held tight to my dream of owning a bar. One day I walked into Sand Creek Pub and met the owners, Joey and Suzanne. I enjoyed the atmosphere and shared with them my hopes of one day owning a bar myself. They said, “Congratulations, we are here to help you.” Once making the decision that it was time to leap into action and chase this endeavor, we got to work on making it happen. Joey and Suzanne have consulted with me in choosing the right styles of beer and have allowed me to work with them running their operations in order to learn. Getting a bar opened isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. If anyone were to ask how to start, I would say get your plan laid out 100% before even beginning. Nobody told me what I should do prior to knocking down a wall, and I found out the hard way that once you are in the remodeling process the cost of learning by trial and error becomes great! My husband scrimped and saved in order to make this dream a reality for me, but the savings are not nearly enough. Inspections, permits, health department appointments, ABC license, all the steps necessary and the fees, add up to some surprising obstacles for a new entrepreneur.
Our tavern will be a nostalgic mix of a wine shop and a brewery, featuring reclaimed redwood and rustic pipes. An old barn feel is what we were going for, and in fact the namesake Harry is a cow who will be prominently displayed inside along with his mother Henrietta. Happy hour will be our specialty, and we will serve appetizers in unison with Roadees’ which is next door. We have hand-selected 12 different wines and will have beers on tap. Wine flights will be a welcome treat for friends to gather around. Weekends will be a time for case sale purchases of our special appellations out of Napa, Calistoga, and Santa Cruz. Our one local wine comes to us from Frankie Favalora out of Oakley.
The excitement leading up to opening is overwhelming, and I am eager to throw a party to celebrate our new beginning, and this new chapter in my life. My daughter is now a single mom herself. She is going to help with all our social media and marketing. With my husband as my biggest supporter and backer, and my daughter by my side, this is truly a family affair. It’s my time to provide for my family and make this long journey fruitful. I am grateful everyday for the steps I’ve taken, bringing me to this exact point. Making Harry’s Wine Tavern a destination at one point seemed an unattainable feat. Now, it will be my place in which to thrive.
Photos By Melissa Van Ruiten