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Black-Owned Businesses in Greater Rochester: Apogee Wine Bar

Q&A with Simone Boone, owner of Apogee Wine Bar

February 2021

Simone Boone is the owner of Apogee Wine Bar, located at 151 Park Avenue in Rochester. In business since 2014, Apogee is an inviting European-style café serving all who love good wine, food, and people. For more information, go to

What inspired you to want to be a business owner in Rochester? And how did you get started?

I think—probably like most people—you see something, you love something, and you say to yourself, “I could do it even better” or “I want to do it my way.” That was the beginning. I have a passion for wine, and I wanted to have my people in my space and host and be the hostess. When we started, my husband and I always knew that it was something that we would do. We weren't quite sure when, just letting it take shape in its own time. I was working at the Strathallan’s restaurant as the wine director at the time, and we thought achieving our dream was going to be years away. Then this space became available on Park Avenue. My landlord, the florist Stacy K., just happened to ask if I wanted to come see it. We really didn’t have plans yet to get started that early, but we said, “OK, we’ll go see it.” And as soon as I walked in, I could see it. I could picture it all, and I loved the size. It felt so intimate. So I told her yes right away.

Simone Boone, owner of Apogee Wine Bar

Please elaborate on your passion and mission.

I have so many passions and so many missions. Aside from wine itself, I’m very passionate about learning—trying to stay involved, continually educating myself on what's happening in the wine community. Especially now that I have small children at home, it’s the one thing I can do to stay engaged. I’m not able to be at the bar every night, closing the bar too late and waking up early in the morning. But I can get online, buy some wine, and study a little bit. I’m really passionate about learning and staying informed. To create a place to enjoy wine, making it informative and inspiring, but feeling very comfortable and never condescending or uptight. That’s really important as far as our mission.

Do you have mentors or sources of guidance who have helped along the way?

I would say when I was first getting started in the wine industry, I didn’t have a mentor, but I definitely admired Janine who owns the restaurant Avvino. She was a certified sommelier long before most people knew what that was, before it was cool. She always seemed to be so focused, keeping her head down, and working hard. I remember just seeing her work and saying, “That’s going to be me. I’m going to be like that at some point.” I wish I’d had more guidance. I didn’t have enough confidence to go out and ask. Just put yourself out there and ask other restaurant owners or business owners, “How’d you do this?” Also, I was probably just too stubborn to ask more questions.

What does it mean to you, being a Black woman business owner?

Oh, it means a lot. My identities are intersectional. So it’s powerful in its own right as a woman to just look at what’s happening right now. Women are struggling so much trying to do it all, trying to take care of the household, losing their jobs at alarming rates due to COVID. To be a woman who other women have said, “You know, what you’re doing is amazing. What you’re doing is important,” it’s just so empowering. And then, as a Black woman, I’m on Park Avenue. It’s interesting—sometimes people walk in and I think they’re taken aback a little bit. For a quick second, it’s like, “Oh, it’s you. You're the owner.” It’s not what they pictured.

“Representation is important. And it's important for other aspiring black people to see that and think, ‘Oh, I can do it, too.’"

We’re not in New York City, we’re in Rochester. So I think it’s important, especially in a city like Rochester, that people see representation. Representation is important. And it’s important for other aspiring Black people to see that and think, “Oh, I can do it, too.” Because my cousin invited friends to come to Apogee. And I heard her friend of a friend say, “Park Avenue? That’s not for us.” And it just broke my heart. That’s her impression—that there’s nothing here for us. So it’s important that I’m here because, yes, there is something here for you. Apogee Wine Bar is for everyone.

What key impact(s) have you or your business made so far?

Lots of different things. I can be a role model for somebody else who feels like they want to go into this field. It’s also about the quality of what we’re doing. When I got started, and even a few years before that when I was just bartending at different places, the quality of wine lists was usually disappointing. Unless you’re going to the most expensive steakhouse in town, almost anywhere, it’s been accepted that wine lists are an afterthought. All of the money, energy, and focus is put into food or decor and design and no thought into wine. And it’s like, “Ugh, come on. I want a nice glass of wine. I don’t necessarily want to order a bottle of wine. You should have a solid quality wine-by-the-glass list.” Especially when the food is great, it’s a disappointment when you get to the wine list.

That is something that we’ve done to elevate the overall standard in Rochester. People can count on Apogee. They know when they come in. Many people have said, “When I come to Apogee, I know I can trust the bartenders to recommend a great glass of wine. It’s always going to be great, it’s going to be a great value, and it might be something new and exciting.” That’s why people come here. I’m very proud of that.

Describe one situation that left a particular impression on you.

When some people walk in, they’re surprised to see that I’m the owner. It was the annual Park Avenue Christmas Holiday Festival. I was working with our manager, Steve, a white man who is much younger looking than I. We were the only ones working at the time. Some people in mascot costumes came in and asked if we could take their picture. I agreed to since Steve was behind the bar working. As I gathered the group, one of them said as he was pointing to Steve, “Get the boss. Go get the boss. Bring the boss over here.” I had to let him say it twice to really take in that he assumed the much-younger-looking man was the boss. And that was upsetting. I very sternly said to him, “I’m the boss.” He got all flustered and said, “Everybody’s the boss.” And I’m like, “Nope, it’s just me.” I'm sure it left an impression on him.

What hurdles have you faced and how did you overcome them?

It goes without saying the pandemic has been extremely challenging. We decided to stay closed until September. We didn’t reopen when most places did over the summer, which left us in a real financial strain. I had a newborn baby at home. Everything was changing by the week. I was completely unsure of what the best course of action was to reopen. My husband is my business partner, and we disagreed. He was very nervous and very cautious. Obviously, everybody’s hurting financially and making tough decisions for our health and the health of our families. So I don’t know that we’ve overcome it. We’re still in it. But we’re open and trying to do the best we can, being as safe as possible and honest in our approach with our customers. Can’t get much bigger than being closed for half of the year.

What learnings have you taken away from your experiences as a business owner?

I wish I had known to ask for more help. Because I think most people go into business—maybe it’s a cook who wants to open a restaurant and is very passionate about a type of food and they focus on that—but they don’t know about these other facets. I think those are the things that take you down. You really should invest in learning about those other things or go work for a while so you can fully understand the business inside and out. I had worked at restaurants and I bartended. But insurance and worker’s comp—oh, man. I wanted to hang out with customers and talk about wine with awesome people. I wish I had taken a little more time to learn that stuff. It wouldn’t have been so hard getting started. I would definitely advise other people to learn it online, take a class if you can, or ask somebody, if you have those resources.

“…You see something, you love something and you say to yourself, ‘I could do it even better’…”

What do you hope to achieve next?

So many goals. I’m actually working on a concept I can’t talk about yet. We’re 90% there to be able to make an announcement. It’s a new facet to Apogee Wine Bar that we are really, really excited about. So please follow our Instagram. We will definitely be announcing what’s coming up very soon. In addition to that, we started doing international wine tours. We did our first one, and it was wonderful. We took eight people to Tuscany and led a very curated and bespoke wine tour of the region. It was absolutely incredible. I labored over every detail—I just wanted it to be so perfect. And it really was. It was magical. We had our second tour planned, but then the pandemic forced us to cancel it. I can't wait to do it again and to continue to expand, taking larger groups and going to different places. I have so many places I want to discover.

What advice can you give to other entrepreneurial business owners, particularly Black people and/or women looking to start their own business?

In Rochester, we’re limited with fine dining that is Black-owned. Over the summer, people were putting out directories for Black-owned restaurants and bars, which was absolutely wonderful. But if you look through them, they’re mostly casual. Fine dining choices are sparse. I’m waiting with bated breath for more to come along and grow that market. And like me, when people walk in and see who the owner is, that is going to make such an impact. So I offer words of encouragement: Get a mentor. I don’t know what help I could be, but call me. Follow your dreams. Break into the Rochester fine dining scene. The need and demand are definitely there.