Philly winemaker Mitchell & Mitchell is thriving during the pandemic
“Buying a bottle of wine and cooking dinner at home has replaced going out on a Saturday night,” Frank Mitchell said.
Jewell Searcy of Overbrook Park cherishes the evenings when she can indulge in a glass of wine. Before raising it to her lips, she swirls the wine around the well of her glass, then lifts it to her nose to smell — preparing her mind for the taste.
Her favorite white wine is a viognier by Mitchell & Mitchell Wines, one of Philly’s only Black-owned wine companies. She’s ordered it once a month for the past eight years.
“It’s the right flavor for my palate,” Searcy said. “And the flavor never changes.”
Consistency is one of the principles that the cofounders of Mitchell & Mitchell, Frank and Kenya Mitchell, abide by. They started making wine in 2012 after realizing that the libations took up the largest portion of their budget for the several dinner parties they hosted and attended with their friends and family.
» READ MORE: Black-owned wineries that ship bottles to Philly
Mitchell & Mitchell offers at least a dozen varietals, including a pinotage, sauvignon blanc, and pinot grigio. Their prices range from $15 to $40 per bottle. Mitchell & Mitchell wines are available at farmers markets in Lansdowne and Clark Park. The company also delivers around the Philadelphia region. Since launching the business, the Mitchell & Mitchell team has grown to include eight people.
Initially, the Mitchells only made wine to “offset the cost of our dinner parties,” Frank Mitchell said. “The other participants of the dinner parties told us they didn’t want us to cook anymore. The wine was so good that our friends thought it was unfair to have to cook and bring the wine.”
Pretty soon, among their group of friends, the Mitchells became synonymous with good wine and good company. Both have culinary backgrounds. Before they went into business for themselves, Frank Mitchell managed several restaurants, “from fast food to full service,” he said. And Kenya Mitchell has nearly 20 years of experience working in bakeries in Philadelphia.
In 2013, at a dinner party hosted by the Mitchells, one of their guests received word that her father had died. The couple offered condolences and half a case of wine they had bottled for the night’s event.
“We explained to [our friend] that it’s taboo to bring wine to a wake,” Frank Mitchell said. “But once people come to your house, they’re going to want something to drink, so you might as well take this home with you and let them drink it.”
After being home with her family for an hour, their friend called the Mitchells and asked if they could make more. They obliged.
“Her friends and family were very persistent about paying for it, but we just gave it to them,” Frank Mitchell said. “We used the motivation from that experience to look at going into making wines” professionally. Later that year, Mitchell & Mitchell Wines was officially launched.
The Mitchells source the grapes for their wines from a third party supplier in New Jersey. They have access to grapes from around the world, including Chile, South Africa, and Italy. “We get the fruit and then we make the wine right here in Philadelphia,” at a processing plant they own near St. Joe’s University. There, the grapes are crushed, fermenting agents are added, and “at that point, it’s just a waiting game,” Frank Mitchell said. Their wine is also bottled and boxed at the plant.
“There are two of our wines that I’m really enjoying right now,” said Kenya Mitchell. “Our pinotage,” a fruit-forward cross between cinsault and pinot noir, “and our chenin blanc," a semisweet white wine.
During the early stages, the company didn’t have a marketing strategy. “We were trying to market the wine to the wrong people,” said Frank Mitchell. “We were actually going to other small businesses that we thought had a use for our product and tried to get them to make direct purchases.”
When the team brainstormed solutions, they figured out a way to be more profitable and sustainable.
“Once we realized that we could sell our wines at farmers markets where people are going to come with the intention of supporting other small businesses, we were able to refocus our efforts.” Frank Mitchell said. “That was the most pivotal point for us: learning how to collaborate with other businesses.”
Sales associate Helly Manson said that aside from the wine itself, Mitchell & Mitchell’s success can be credited to the generous personalities of its owners.
The Mitchells “are such great people and they know everybody. They’re both super responsive to their customer’s needs,” said Manson, who’s worked for the company for about a year. “Kenya will give out wine recipes [and pairings] to go with the wine she’s selling," like Manchego with the cabernet sauvignon or goat cheese with the chenin blanc.
Manson recalled a time when their team was nearly sold out of wine in the middle of a busy day at the Clark Park farmers’ market. Frank Mitchell made multiple trips from their home in Overbrook Park to make sure the team was fully stocked.
“One of the most rewarding parts about running the business is actually meeting our customers,” said Kenya Mitchell. “Being with them for dinners, celebrating special occasions or celebrations, I feel honored that they have us at their table.”
Frank Mitchell said the coronavirus pandemic has had a positive impact on their business. People are spending more time at home, and “buying a bottle of wine and cooking dinner at home has replaced going out on a Saturday night,” he said.
The unexpected surge in sales hasn’t overwhelmed the team. Frank Mitchell said the company was on a path to grow before the pandemic started. “Since we’re still a young company, our goal is to double production every year. So we had the inventory in place” when they began to see the demand for their wines rise.
Being one of the few Black-owned winemakers “isn’t a big deal to us,” Frank Mitchell said. “We try to brand ourselves as a Pennsylvania winery with a twist, and that we specialize in making good wines."
Enjoying a bottle of Mitchell & Mitchell wine is like having the world at your fingertips, “at Pennsylvania prices,” said Kenya Mitchell.
Short-term goals for Mitchell & Mitchell include continuing to refine the brand and reaching more consumers. The company would also like to break in to markets in Maryland and New Jersey.
“One thing that makes me proud about owning a business is that it gives you the opportunity to be in control of your own destiny,” said Frank Mitchell. “The only limitation to what you can do is your imagination.”