Sip, Swirl & Savor! Meet Matthew Kaner, Co-Owner & Wine Director of Hollywood’s Stylish Bar Covell
Matthew Kaner, Covell’s co-owner and wine director, shares his passion for wine and his remarkable life’s journey. Matthew was recently named one of Food & Wine magazine’s Sommeliers of the Year and Covell earned a spot on Wine Enthusiast’s list of the top 20 wine bars in America. Covell boasts one of the best wine lists in Los Angeles, attracting casual sippers and serious oenophiles alike. The incredibly knowledgeable staff guides customers through the constantly changing selection of roughly 150 labels spanning 24 countries, while the food selection includes a delectable selection of cheese and charcuterie options, as well as some assorted small plates. All wines are available by the glass, so you can taste and explore to your heart’s content.
Please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Getting here today has been a journey with many different roads traveled. At first, I was all in on playing baseball. A left knee injury kept me from being able to play in college, so I channeled most of my passion into playing guitar. Music was my next focus and pursuit, ultimately meaning I needed a side job. While working full time and going to UCSB, a college roommate’s dad inspired me to learn about the finer side of wine: Madeira, Grower Champagne, Grand Cru Burgundy, Vintage Mosel Rieslings – and I was hooked. So I quit my restaurant job and ended up being hired as a wine clerk at The Wine Cask Wine Store. That was the beginning of my divergent path that led me to where I stand today.
What inspired you to choose this path?
At first I was chasing knowledge. I wanted to learn anything and everything I could about wine. How it was farmed and produced, the history of the regions, the story behind the farmers and winemakers. It’s an endless source of storytelling, and being a singer/songwriter, I’m all about the story!
Tell us more about Covell and how it fits in with your mission and vision about wine.
Covell came about as a synthesis of my business partner’s and my pet peeves in the wine/dining world. A restaurant is out of the wine that you’ve been looking forward to order. Wine lists are written in 5-9 languages and no one has their decoder ring on. Or the sommelier can be intimidating, which doesn’t help anyone make the best decision. These experiences inspired us to open a wine bar with no wine list, and instead help our clientele grow their wine vernacular and redefine a lot of important terms within the language of wine. Today, we have 150+ wines by the glass. Our staff presents a certain wine to a guest, and interacts through a short series of questions to determine their drinking mood and palate.
It’s great to pursue your passion, but we know it’s not always easy. Tell us about your challenges and successes.
Nothing worth doing is easy – that’s something I’ve learned over and over again in my 15 years in the wine world. When you enter the world of owning wine bars, no one tells you that you must be adept at negotiating leases, handling employees, dealing with natural disasters that can influence business, or being a good handyman/handywoman. There are so many hats you must wear to be successful in our modern wine industry. Thankfully, I have incredibly talented business partners with complementary talents!
What are you most proud of as a company and what sets you apart?
What makes me most proud is the realization that many of our Covell employees have been with us for many years. As we approach our 10th anniversary in July 2020, it’s humbling to think that a few have been with us since opening, and others have worked with us for seven or eight years. Nothing can make you feel better than creating a family dynamic that is powerful enough to keep people around for so many years!
Let’s get out the crystal ball – what does the future hold and what are your next steps?
This is the $100,000 question, and honestly I’m not sure what the future holds for me. Our industry is changing rapidly, with increases in commercial real estate prices, minimum wage has gone up 40% in the last 3 years, and the reliance on Instagram is truly making it hard to open a business with true staying power. I will continue to foster my open and successful businesses, but I’m pursuing consulting projects as well.
What advice can you give to other folks who are chasing their dream?
Listen to your customers – they are your constituents! We all think we know what’s best for people, but their feedback will ultimately drive you towards a formula for success. Hospitality is number one these days, because it’s way easier for someone to order food delivery from an app on their phone and drink the wine they already have in their fridge. Hospitality will always win out in the end.
As you know, Hollywood is one of our VIVE LA neighborhoods. How did you decide to open Covell in Hollywood and what do you love about the community?
Originally we had a spot in Silver Lake in mind, but when that fell through, we were guided to Covell’s present location. Ultimately, this turned out to be a very fortuitous change of plans. I give Dustin Lancaster (my business parter in Bar Covell and Augustine Wine Bar) all the credit in the world for seeing the potential of our stretch of Hollywood Blvd. He had a vision of this area becoming a busy commerce zone, and he willed it into existence. Since we opened Covell, a number of exciting establishments have opened around us: HomeState, Hotel Covell, Go Get Em Tiger, Kismet, Silverlake Conservatory of Music (relocated from its original location at Sunset Junction) – plus many more small retail shops! Our stretch of Hollywood Blvd is special, and we are proud to be an anchor on the block.
Connect with Bar Covell
Address: Bar Covell 4628 Hollywood Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90027 | Augustine Wine Bar 13456 Ventura Boulevard Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
Photo Courtesy of Matthew Kaner
VIVE LA blog celebrates the stories of successful dreamchasers––local artists, makers, tech wizards, musicians, chefs, entrepreneurs, and other creative thinkers who live and work in our VIVE LA neighborhoods. These amazing people share their inspiring stories and give their personal perspective on what it takes to turn dreams into reality.