Summer at the Riverside

Sarah McGrath

Local wine and beer retailer lets patrons toast to nature

John and Jeanne Soners toast each other on the new outdoor deck at Riverside Wine and Imports in Kent. The couple frequents the popular wine retailer and restaurant. CAITLIN PRARAT | SUMMER KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

Imagine a place where people can go to drink fine wine, listen to jazz music and have a quiet conversation with friends – a place where nature is not just part of the background but part of the experience.

Welcome to Riverside, Kent’s very own wine and beer bar that allows its customers to commune not only with nature, but also with close friends over a glass of wine or beer.

Riverside Wine and Imports got its start nearly 11 years ago when Robert Morson bought a convenience store on state Route 43 with the goal of eventually turning it into something Kent had never seen.

“My goal all along has been to make this a destination point,” said Morson, who is known simply as “Bob” to many of his patrons. “When you come into town and you are a college student, I would love to be in the same breath as Ray’s. ‘Have you been to Riverside, have you been to Ray’s?'”

Morson may be one step closer to accomplishing his goal now that he has opened a 3,500 square-foot deck off the back of his store.

“For us, the summer months were always the slowest because people wanted to be outside,” Morson said. “Now it has been a couple weeks since we opened the deck, and the business has been phenomenal.”

The deck, which seats 142 people in addition to the nearly 50 seats available inside the store, overlooks the Cuyahoga River and the train tracks that run through Kent.

“When they walk in the front of the building and they see the look that we have here – the tables, the hardwood floors and the color scheme – a lot of people say that we have a European feel,” Morson said about the inside of Riverside.

“When they open the door to the deck and walk out, they look at me with this look of amazement,” Morson said. “You can see it on their faces, this look of sincere like, ‘Wow.’ They are just very enthused and overwhelmed at just how beautiful it is.”

Since its opening almost five weeks ago, Morson said the deck has been an overwhelming success with both old and new customers.

“I don’t think there is any place like this in Kent,” said Linda Idoine of Kent, a new customer to Riverside. “It raises the bar on the downtown establishments.”

For Morson, the deck is just the beginning of his plans to make Riverside a destination point in Kent. By the end of the summer, Morson said he plans on adding 32 additional parking spots to the restaurant and acquiring a Sunday on-premise license so the patrons can drink at the bar and on the deck on Sundays.

Also, within the next couple of weeks he will be adding an additional eight draft beers to the six he already has on tap.

“We will be adding the Great Lakes Christmas Ale in order to have Christmas in July on the deck,” Morson said.

Morson also provides his customers with more than 1,800 different labels of wine and more than 350 types of beer in the retail section of his store. Prices range from $3.99 for a bottle of wine to $369 for a bottle of Dom Perignon.

“We have wines and beers at all price ranges for retail,” Morson said. “We have something for everyone.”

For those who choose to take advantage of the deck and drink at the store, Riverside offers more than 90 different bottles of wine available by the glass. A customer can also buy any bottle of wine in the retail section and drink it on the deck for a $6 corkage fee.

“We come for the great wine and the great atmosphere,” said John Soners of Kent, who has been a patron of Riverside since the store opened. “The place was great even when it was just inside.”

Riverside is open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday. The retail portion of the store is available the entire time, but the wine and beer bar is closed Sundays.

“We are offering something new and more vibrant,” Morson said. “I think we are going to change the entertainment in downtown Kent.”

Contact features correspondent Sarah McGrath at [email protected].