Arlington Citizen-Journal

‘Arlington’s living room’: Downtown official eyes his own business, a coffee-wine bar

As president and CEO of Downtown Arlington Management Corp. the past six years, Tony Rutigliano’s job has been hawking the city’s historic center and steering redevelopment that direction.

Now he’s quitting that job to work on his own economic development project.

He calls it Urban Alchemy Coffee + Wine Bar, although right now it is little more than a sign tacked to the front of the vacant Lester’s Automotive Repair shop at 403 E. Main St.

But he has a vision: The dank, 2,200-square-foot building with roll-up metal bay doors would reopen in late August or early September as a comfortable gathering place for serving his own customized coffee blend and 40 wine varieties, sandwiches, cheese plates, pastries. It would also be set up for live music.

“I’m not an expert on wine,” Rutigliano said. “But I’m excited about what wine can do to bring people together.”

Rutigliano, 42, has been thinking about this project for a couple of years, drawing inspiration from the entrepreneurs he helped get established downtown.

“I got to see folks come in my door with an idea, and I was able to experience along with them that journey they took,” he said. “It showed me that with a good idea and a little bit of passion and follow-through, you could accomplish your dream.

“Working alongside these folks gave me the belief and confidence that I could be an entrepreneur, too.”

His partner in this venture is his wife of five years, Nicole Rutigliano. They honeymooned in the California’s Napa Valley, where they developed a passion for wine.

Nicole Rutigliano’s role in the partnership is more of a financial backstop. She’ll be keeping her job as a civil engineer while they try to get Urban Alchemy off the ground.

“It definitely started off as his dream,” she said. They talked about launching it in three to five years. “Then one day he said, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to wait. I want to do it. I want to do it now.’ 

She was not without concerns.

“We have three children, a house and two cars, and that’s more than half our income right there,” she said, referring to her husband’s paycheck. But she was persuaded. “When he gets really passionate and worked up about something, you just have to support him. He’s worked so hard and he’s so excited.”

Downtown renewal

They believe the coffee and wine concept will fit well with the transformation going on in downtown.

The changes have been under way in earnest since the mid-1990s with the creation of Downtown Arlington Inc., the Downtown Arlington Management Corp.’s predecessor. Back then, the roughly 400 acres bordered by Cooper, Division, Collins and South streets was a business district.

“It basically shut down at 5 o’clock, so downtown was empty,” said Councilwoman Lana Wolff, who was the first executive director of Downtown Arlington Inc. “There were vacant storefronts. Why would you want to start a restaurant if no one was downtown? You’ve got to make it a 24-hour downtown. You live there, you work there, and you play there.”

Through years of master-planning, marketing and creation of special taxing districts to support revitalization, downtown has become a destination — restaurants, bars, concerts at the Levitt Pavilion and mixed-use residential/commercial developments.

In April, an eclectic development called Urban Union opened the first phase of what ultimately will be about 100,000 square feet of mostly renovated and repurposed vacant car dealership buildings. Legal Draft Beer Co., Sugar Bee Sweets and the management corporation itself are among the tenants on the Front Street project.

“Tony’s done a great job of putting downtown Arlington on the map as far as getting the word out, branding and marketing it and drawing attention to it,” said Urban Union developer Ryan Dodson.

Rutigliano cites that project along with the new downtown library under construction, the 101 Center apartments-above-retail development that’s set to open this fall, Dodson’s 404 Border apartment complex and the upcoming pedestrian-friendly realignment of Abram Street as some of the most significant downtown projects in the past several years.

Also key is the Texas Commission on the Arts’ designation of Arlington last year as a cultural arts district, which recognized, in part, the impact of Theatre Arlington and other arts destinations as well as the city’s prodigious use of public art in downtown.

“We’ve been able to help facilitate downtown becoming that community gathering place,” Tony Rutigliano said.

Former Arlington schools trustee Tony Pompa has lived in south Arlington for 19 years, and he’s seen the change. Downtown, once an afterthought, is now his and wife Julie’s go-to place for dining and entertainment.

“I had people from out of town this weekend. We came up here into the downtown area, and we never went anywhere else,” Pompa said during a recent visit to Sugar Bee to pick up pastries for a party.

Wine on tap

Rutigliano found a coffee bean roaster in Grand Prairie who allows customers to essentially build their own coffee.

“We worked with them on creating that unique blend,” he said. “We picked beans from around the world and blended them together and used different roasting methods. We used both a darker roast and a lighter roast. That’s what makes it unique.”

As for the wine, Rutigliano has hired an expert to assemble an attractive, smart list.

In addition to bottled wine, the bar will offer three wines on tap. Not unique, but unusual. He notes that the Press Cafe in Fort Worth has all its wines on tap.

“It’s certainly more efficient from a sales perspective,” he said. “But people are just interested in it. It’s kind of that craft experience — something you wouldn’t experience at other places.”

His plans are to make the bar comfortable, with couches, armchairs, coffee tables, rugs, and “little vignettes of seating” throughout for small groups. The back bay will will be designed for special events — “wine tastings, wine dinners, where people can people can come out and host an afternoon conference meeting if they want to get out of the office.”

Also, a little space will be set aside for small-footprint live music, like one-instrument, singer-songwriter performances.

“I would like this to be Arlington’s living room,” Rutigliano said. “It’s not your house, and not your work. It’s that other place you go.”

Robert Cadwallader: 817-390-7186, @Kaddmann_ST

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram