Eight years ago, Lyle Foster opened a small wine bar on historic Commercial Street with a vision to connect Springfieldians in a relaxing and artistic environment.
“Something more quiet, peaceful lighting, light music,” says Foster’s son, Larnelle, describing Q Enoteca, which he runs. “Where you can talk with a friend or have an after-work beverage with someone you’re in love with and just stare into the stars or into each other’s eyes.”
The Fosters intentionally work in the business of social interaction. Of course, that model became fractured this year by a global and local pandemic. But now their business is beginning to reopen.
Redefining social life
Like all bars and restaurants in Springfield, Q Enoteca was shut down by COVID-19 restrictions. At press time, Q Enoteca was slowly reopening in phases to meet legal standards and implementing safety measures: gloves and masks for staff, rearranged furniture to maintain six feet of distance, no more bar seating and increased sanitation. Lyle says the size of Q Enoteca has been a positive and a negative during the process.
“On the good side, it’s a small, intimate space,” he says. “On the negative side, that’s why we’ve been waiting a while. The capacity is limited. Based on where we are with reopening guidelines, you can have a quarter of your capacity. On the wine bar side, that’s a small space. It’s hard to kind of justify the cost of opening.”
The Fosters, who decline to disclose annual revenues, say they have heard from customers inquiring about the bar opening, indicating what they believe is a community ready for stages of social interaction.
Building a vision
Although Q Enoteca has retained its core as a place to relax and enjoy good company, Lyle says he quickly learned that Springfieldians also want feature attractions, such as live music or organized art shows. He began to host improv nights and even performs his own spoken word.
“For Black History Month, we did stories about the Black history experience,” Lyle says. “And, of course, have some light music and jazz. We scheduled more things, and then we began to promote the events. It began to get us more traction.”
In 2013, Lyle’s son Larnelle was living in Los Angeles working as a literary manager when his father called to discuss Q Enoteca’s growth.
“He was like, ‘OK, this building is really becoming a more active space, and it would be better for us to look at this as a legit business, not just events here and there,’ Larnelle recalls. “The space needed a whole makeover. I know how to do a good makeover. I started to come in and look at what the initial thought was for it and also how to make it more of a community space where people feel welcome and where we could not only do events and really run it as a wine bar, but still keep it as a very chill space.”
The next year, Larnelle got to work building Q Enoteca to match his father’s vision and assumed the role of operations manager.
At its roots
At the wine bar, visitors who come to chill will find a diverse menu from a $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon to a variety of wines, none of which exceed $10 a glass. Larnelle decorates the business with candlelight in the evenings and an eclectic choice of furniture.
“We have a great time and I think that’s what draws so many different people in the community, which is really exciting,” he says. “Young, old, all backgrounds. It’s cool.”
Among those who regularly book Q Enoteca is Francine Pratt, executive director of the Missouri College Access Network and part-time director of Prosper Springfield. In addition to professional events, Pratt also books Q Enoteca for family parties.
“I really enjoy using the space,” she says. “I think it’s the flexibility, the price, the convenience of being able to get to it, and just how well they work with the nonprofit.”
The Fosters host regular events, including live music and poetry readings, and provide space for weddings, rehearsal dinners, baby showers and similar parties. A monthly art show has a “meet-the-artist” format with a Q&A session.
Q Enoteca currently employs two: manager Larnelle and a bartender. In addition to being owner of Q Enoteca, Lyle’s time is shared as CEO of Big Momma’s Coffee and Espresso Bar LLC, as a Missouri State University professor and as an advocate with the school’s oral history project, The Journey Continues. With 40 years of experience in grants and 20 years in nonprofit administration, he also was recently hired by Greene County as fund grants administrator to manage more than $34 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Lyle says facilitating a safe, welcoming hangout is what Q Enoteca is all about. Its origins revolve around creating a diverse community space.
Pratt says this is what has continued to draw her to the event space.
“You’ll have people from the north and south areas come to one location and one spot and feel comfortable. It’s like a connector,” she says. “When you know people all over the city and you want people to build that comradery across the city, to me, that’s a connector.”
Lyle says he sees Q Enoteca’s role as more critical than ever in Springfield as people seek unity following months apart and heading into a potential civil rights movement.
“We are at such an unbelievable point in our history,” Lyle says. “It is the hospitality. I think people are feeling somewhat unsettled for a number of different reasons. I think it’s more important now than ever – just having a place where people can come in.”
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