VYNE BISTRO Written by Nathan Zanon Photography by Christina Olivas
Building Community Through Winee
ince opening in 2012, Vyne Bistro has been a steady anchor on the strip of Paseo de San Antonio between Second and Third Streets in downtown San Jose. With a modern, upscale decor, owners Olga Venzke and Cyril Obiora have created a space that is ideal for a low-key get-together with friends, a thoughtful conversation with whoever’s at the bar, or a classy first date. As small business owners, Venzke and Obiora place a strong emphasis on community. They describe regulars as part of the “Vyne family”: if you stop in, Venzke might pour you a glass of something that's off-menu, because she knows your favorite wines. If you just happen to be walking by, Obiora will wave hello from inside. It's that kind of place. “The best part is that we get to meet great people,” Venzke says. “You connect with people, you create your own community.” Originally from Nigeria, Obiora first came to the South Bay to attend San Jose State University. Venzke also followed her California dreams, transferring to SJSU from schools in Ukraine, where she grew up. The two met in the psychology program and became close, eventually deciding that starting a business together was a way they could build a future in their new hometown. If psychology seems like an odd path to owning a wine bar, consider this: it's the social aspects of wine—learning about people through connection and conversation—that are the driving factors in their approach to the restaurant. “Since we were creating our own business, we were thinking of what would be fun,” Venzke explains. Her passion for wine is evident. She loves to sample new varieties and has an innate ability to connect customers with a wine they'll love. “Wine is something that captures me,” she says. “The climate and the countries, it just has this richness. The wine [menu] is always evolving, and we bring in different tastes from around the world. We make the customers taste something different and
get them to talk about it. That’s always been fun.” “Wine makes you talk to people,” Obiora adds. “Every different glass is a moment.” In starting up Vyne, he brought his past business experience to the table, along with a strong work ethic and a knack for talking to strangers. He has also honed his cooking skills, and after cycling through several hired chefs, is now running the kitchen himself. Dishes include seafood, lamb, and Suya Beef—influences from African cuisine—as well as conventional wine bar fare like cheese plates and salads. It hasn’t all been easy: the pair work six days a week and rarely take time off. And the closing of the former San Jose Rep in 2014 hit them hard: the theatre is right across the street, and ticket holders would often stop in at Vyne before or after a show. They’ve weathered that storm, and with the new Hammer Theatre opening in the Rep’s space, the pair are hopeful for a resurgence. But they’d also like to see more activity along the Paseo. “There’s South First, which is good, there’s San Pedro— there should be more than just those two spots. Sunday music, arts, the farmers’ market, hopefully someday there will be more,” Obiora says. “It’s moving, but it’s slow.” To supplement everyday business, Vyne also hosts paint nights, has live music performances, and showcases work from local artists as part of the South First Fridays art walk. Companies like Meetup and Match have also zeroed in on the space as perfect for social events. “In the big city, you rush always,” Venzke says. “But here, you find comfort. It’s building a community together, drinking wine, and relaxing. We’ve built so many connections. We’re so blessed to have our own Vyne family.” The tagline for Vyne Bistro is “Good Wine, Good Food, Good Friends.” Anyone who finds themselves in the Vyne family is sure to get a taste of all three.