Winston Churchill once said that meeting Franklin D. Roosevelt was like uncorking your first bottle of Champagne. Heath and Jacqueline Lachman give off some of that same sparkle and effervescence.
She’s an outgoing Midwesterner (by way of Cleveland). He’s a laidback New Englander (by way of Norwalk). Together they’re a one-couple stimulus package in the tiny, tony village of Bronxville as the owners of Topps Bakery and the new Topps Wine and Liquor.
“We’re taking stores that are great businesses that were run by great families and giving them a fresh face,” Jackie says.
That face-lift began six years ago when the pair learned that their neighbors’ children – who worked for Topps Bakery – might lose their jobs if the shop, a Bronxville institution, closed. So Jackie and Heath sprang into action and bought the bakery.
Later, Heath became friends with the owner of the nearby Wine and Spirits Emporium of Bronxville, another village mainstay. When he heard that she wanted to sell, he took advantage of an opportunity again, remodeling and renaming the shop.
The six-week-old Topps Wine and Liquor brings a hip SoHo touch to sedate B’ville, with a woody but airy design punctuated by touches of Tequila Green, a tasting bar and a dedicated music space featuring a black lacquered piano. The look is the brainchild of Yonkers-based retail-store designer Whitney Vlasaty – she of the Vince Camuto stores – in collaboration with the handy Heath, who turned wine barrels and cartons into shelves, pedestals and table legs.
Owning a liquor store as well as a bakery makes sense for this cosmopolitan couple.
“We’re foodies,” Jackie says. “We’ve eaten our way around the world.”
The two knew anything about baking or liquor when they started. What they knew, however, was how to sell. Jackie had been in marketing (with several TV networks, including AMC and CMT, as well as Better Homes and Gardens magazine); Heath, in advertising (with Meredith Corp. and Clear Channel). They did their research and discovered something interesting: The average income of the people who walk by the bakery and liquor store is $191,000 annually. Clearly, there was gold in them thar stores.
Despite the long hours, the flexibility of being merchants allows the couple to be hands-on parents to two young school-age children.
“I run it like a franchise,” Heath says of the bakery. “I have people in the back doing the baking and people in the front doing the selling.”
But make no mistake about it, he and Jackie are equally hands-on as owners. They can tell you exactly why they’ve doubled sales at the bakery, taking well-loved recipes and updating them a bit to create 221 scrumptious scratch products a day. They include iced bear-shaped cookies, crumb buns, buttery meltaway cakes, seasonal petits fours and industry-acclaimed apple pies and cinnamon jelly doughnuts. No wonder individual customers and country clubs alike are clamoring for the goodies.
Heath – who’s great-great-great-grandfather Charles Smylie I founded the company that created Twizzlers licorice – is taking a similar approach to Topps Wine and Liquor, refreshing the inventory as well as the space.
Consulting with Ronnie Mostero, a Mount Vernon resident who runs operations for Christie’s wine storage facility, Heath features vintages and other potables from around the world, including those that make it into The Topp 7 on the front table, because they’re great gifts, interesting finds, fun items or just part of “the lore of the store.”
The store will always give a nod to French wine as the couple have an affinity for it. Heath traveled throughout the Bordeaux region and even proposed to Jackie on a bridge overlooking the vineyard of Château Bélair-Monange.
So perhaps meeting Jackie and Heath isn’t so much like uncorking your first bottle of Champagne as it is like sipping your first bottle of Château Bélair, which will always be available in the store, a tribute to a couple who are a real tonic.
There are tastings at Topps Wine and Liquor, 98 Pondfield Road in Bronxville, from 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays. (914) 337-5090. Meanwhile, check out the offerings at Topps Bakery, 106 Pondfield Road. (914) 337-4258.