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A Small Peachtree Corners Business Making Big Waves Among Wine Enthusiasts

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Margo Grbinich-Hunt in Croatia this past September

Grbinich Wines has been thriving in Peachtree Corners since 2019, serving over 50 accounts primarily in Gwinnett County with others in North Fulton, Cobb and DeKalb. Margo Grbinich-Hunt began the business after a successful career in the medical field as the owner of Sunrise Health Management.

She had retired and was “enjoying life” when her travels started her on a new path.

Returning to her roots: Živjeli! (Croatian for Cheers!)

Though her father spoke Serbo-Croatian fluently, the career Army officer focused on becoming all-American, putting his family heritage on the backburner in favor of assimilating. Curious about her European roots, Grbinich travelled to Donja Kupčina, her father’s birthplace, as an adult, in search of the long-lost relatives she’d always heard of.

While she delighted in connecting with her paternal kinfolk and soaking up the beauty of Croatia, she was struck by the phenomenal natural resource in their grape cultivation and the world-class wines they produce. She emerged a wine adventurer.

“A big part of my vacation was spent enjoying the wines and varietals throughout the country. When I came back to Atlanta, it was disappointing that wine boutiques didn’t carry wines from the Balkans,” she shared.

Seemingly, the rest of the world began to discover Croatia’s charm with its 1,104-mile-long coast lapped by the crystal waters of the Adriatic Sea, just as Grbinich did. Today, several Croatian ports are popular tourist destinations. Grbinich was drawn to the picturesque, central-southeastern European country and the warmth of its people who remain grateful for America’s support during the Balkan war of the 1990s.

Encore career: the birth of a wine diva

A few more trips and sips and Grbinich delved deeper into the world of Balkan wine production. Unique terroirs and microclimates characterize the diverse wine regions of Croatia.

The northernmost Istrian peninsula produces modern whites and rich reds. The islands and mountains of Dalmatia gifted the world with high quality white and red wines from vines growing on treacherous slopes, as well as the dignified Dalmatian dog breed.

Grbinich-Hunt exploring wineries in Europe to import to the states.

Inland Slavonia’s continental climate and fertile soil produce light, crisp, mildly aromatic white wines. The island of Krk is known for its dry white wines and domestic reds. Hvar produces fruity whites and bold reds.

Once she discovered this hole in the American wine scene and realized there was fun to be had in the world of wine distribution, her second career was born. 

“I’ve always had a lot of business acumen. I love starting businesses, realizing where there are certain market niches to fill. I went from one type of medicine to another, in some respects,” Grbinich chuckled.

Grbinich Wine’s small, efficient staff covers sales, operations, deliveries, bookkeeping and advertising. The company seeks to satisfy retailers with the right price point and products for whatever customers request.

Building relationships

Though Grbinich holds a license to import international wines herself, this lady boss prefers to work closely with local importers concentrating on distribution to restaurants, wine boutiques, liquor stores and specialty European markets. Her product line has expanded to reflect the multicultural city of Atlanta and diverse communities like Gwinnett County.

Today, Grbinich is the largest distributor of Romanian wines in Atlanta. Wines from the Republic of Georgia, located at the intersection of Eastern Europe and West Asia, make up her second largest product by volume. Croatian wines comprise her third largest-selling category.

Curiosity and attentive customer service have Grbinich branching out to carry wines from all over the world, in addition to those from former Yugoslavia that started it all. The wines and spirits she stocks from other Balkan countries include products from Bulgaria, Bosnia, Serbia, Moldova and Ukraine. Vendors also demand wines from France, Italy, Turkey and South America.

In-person meetings keep Grbinich abreast of her customers’ needs. She relishes guiding them in their buying choices and customizing inventory to satisfy them. Hosting educational events and tastings on site or in her warehouse tasting room also proves to be beneficial for her retailers.

The price point of Grbinich Wines is approachable, with bottles retailing from $10 to $40.

“I try to purchase wines that are reasonable, especially in today’s economic climate. People are buying down. They want a fine Cabernet but instead of spending $30 for a bottle, they’re looking to spend $15 to $20,” Grbinich added.

Tastings

When it comes to wine degustation to familiarize customers with her exclusive products, Grbinich recommends a maximum of six: a mix of whites, rosés and reds.

“Everything will taste good after the sixth one, including Boone’s Farm,” she laughed.

Or one might choose to do a tasting of all reds, all whites or all dessert wines. “It’s easier for consumers to notice variations within one kind,” she said. 

Training your palate to identify different notes of a wine, flavors and spices, is comparable to training your ear to hear different notes when you’re playing an instrument, according to Grbinich.

“Once you start on that journey, it’s really fascinating,” she smiled.

Map of Croatia and the regions Grbinich has toured for new wines.

Don’t balk at trying Balkan Wines

You’ve never heard of Balkan wines? All the more reason to try them! With 2,500 years of wine production history, vehement vintners who’ve been perfecting their craft for centuries, taking great pride in maintaining European winemaking traditions and countless indigenous grape varieties, one would be amiss not to try these wines.

Whether you’re a wine aficionado or someone who appreciates an occasional glass with a nice meal, it would be a shame to limit your exposure to just a select few grape varietals commonly appreciated in the United States.

“You could probably name on one hand each of the reds and whites we customarily enjoy. In Europe, there are dozens of grape varietals that I was totally unfamiliar with and yet they’re so delicious, refreshing and pure,” Grbinich expounded.

Also worth highlighting are the health benefits of more organic, natural wines from small-scale, family-based European viniculture prioritizing a love of the land, immediate consumption and enjoyment of the fruits of the earth as they are harvested.

In contrast, millions of barrels of one varietal mass-produced in the United States necessitate manipulation and not-so-natural processes to preserve the wine.

Besides those seeking wines from their homelands, more and more Atlantans and residents of surrounding areas are craving something new.

Grbinich describes Atlanta as a “wine city,” evidenced by an explosion of wine boutiques. Coaxing people into testing their comfort zones and trying new vinos is Grbinich’s mission, “Life is too short to get stuck on one or two favorites!”

Margo Grbinich-Hunt, owner of Grbinich Wines in Peachtree Corners, supplying Corners Fine Wine and Spirits with a selection of Balkan Wines.

Difficult to say, delicious to drink

The most beloved red wine along the Adriatic Coast comes from a grape called Plavac Mali which is genetically linked to Zinfandel. Zinfandel, known as Tribidrag in Croatia, is thought to be a California born grape. However, it was introduced to California during the Gold Rush in the 1850s from Croatia.

Plavac Mali is known for producing flavorful, deep red wines ranging from medium to full-bodied, high in tannins, alcohol content and minerality resulting from rocky, coastal growing conditions. Its characteristic aromas span from sour cherry, red plum, licorice and spices to figs and dark berries.

If you like Zinfandel, you’ll love Dingac Plavac Mali, available upon request by retailers. Although most Croatian wines aren’t meant to be aged, Plavac Mali ages well.

Ukrainians make an incredible Cabernet: Stefania Cabernet Sauvignon. Find it at Buford Farmers Market. It’s full-bodied, aromatic and affordable.

Sauvignon Blanc fans would love fruity, Malvazija with its surprising floral aroma. Ask for Vina Laguna Malvasia from the Istrian peninsula at Corners Fine Wine and Spirits in Peachtree Corners.

Grbinich’s newest Piazza Mistrichi Italian Proseccos are coming soon to Italian restaurants with impeccable taste near you!

Do you fancy German pilsners? Try Romania’s Timișoreana, a golden, well-balanced lager with hop aroma dating back to 1718. Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits in Doraville carries it.

The stylishly packaged Hafner Premium X.O. brandy from Austria with notes of dark vanilla, caramel, molasses and a hint of tobacco is kosher, organic and vegan.

Break the rules and pick a wine you like! “If you want a red with your trout, that’s fine! If you want a nice white with a steak, it doesn’t matter. It’s your money,” Grbinich stated.

Cork or cap?

Nothing can replicate the ceremonial uncorking of a bottle of wine nor the popping perfection of that celebratory sound but contrary to popular belief, a cork doesn’t necessarily denote a higher quality bottle of wine, according to Grbinich, who carries both cork and screw cap bottles. In fact, since corks are porous, they can invite spoilage.

A twist top doesn’t require special equipment to open, so Grbinich finds them less intimidating. Plus, transporting an opened bottle is easier with a cap. Wineries are turning to screw caps and looking to make them more environmentally friendly. 

Hobby to hustle

Grbinich’s formation included frequenting a number of wine schools to train her palate. Broadening her own knowledge of wines better enables her to guide others in enjoying them without insecurities. You don’t have to be a cork dork or understand the complex science behind winemaking in Grbinich’s view — it’s fine to simply enjoy it!

Patrizia hails from Toronto, Canada where she earned an Honors B.A. in French and Italian studies at York University, and a B.Ed. at the University of Toronto. This trilingual former French teacher has called Georgia home since 1998. She and her family have enjoyed living, working and playing in Peachtree Corners since 2013.

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DiBar Grill: A Taste of Persia in Peachtree Corners

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DiBar Grill manager Larry LaRose

International Restaurants: Find Cuisines from Across the Globe Just Down the Road

In the heart of Peachtree Corners, a culinary gem is weaving rich Persian flavors into the fabric of the community. The epicenter of ancient Persia was located in what is now modern-day southwest Iran, and its cuisine is known for unique spice blends, savory meats, and herbaceous vegetables.

Kamel Fadavi is originally from the Middle East and moved to the Peachtree Corners area in 2014. When moving to the area, Fadavi wanted to make sure he brought some of Persia with him.

Fadavi attempted to open his first restaurant in 2014 but had a few setbacks during production.

“It was very difficult at first, trying to find a space,” Fadavi said about finding the perfect location for his restaurant. He also faced difficulties trying to get a license and permit to open his restaurant.

Saffron Lamb Shank with Sagnak and Saffron rice

Yet, Fadavi persevered and was able to pursue his dream. His first restaurant opened in September of 2015. Originally named Taaj Market and Restaurant, this eatery offered both shopping and dining experiences, allowing customers to experience Persia inside and outside their homes.

Despite the success of Taaj Market in marrying the market and restaurant experience, Fadavi felt inspired to elevate the concept further.

Brand new look, same great food

In 2023, Fadavi decided to redesign the restaurant and offer customers a more elegant and exciting experience. Thus, DiBar Grill was launched.

Fadavi hired a new manager, Larry Larose, to help him with this process.

Larose has been in the service industry for several years but was looking for a change when he came across Taaj Market.

After hearing about Fadavi‘s new ideas for the restaurant, Larose stepped up to help bring them to life.

To really elevate the experience, DiBar Grill added a full bar and designed the space with a more eye-appealing look.

Revamping an established brand was a new experience for Fadavi and Larose, but together, they created and executed a beautiful vision for DiBar Grill.

Persian cuisine 101

Persian cuisine is a diverse culinary tradition that reflects the region’s long history and varied climate. It’s characterized by its bold and distinct flavors, including hardy meats, filling starches and savory sides.

Muhammara roasted red pepper with Sagnak

Spices, including saffron, turmeric, cinnamon, dried lime, cardamom and rose petals, are staples in Persian cuisine. Fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, dill and mint are also frequently used.

“Expect a lot of red meat in many dishes, ” Kamel said. Lamb is one of the most popular meats in Persia, so when dining at a Persian restaurant, you can expect to see many different lamb preparations.

Lamb shanks and kebabs are two classic dishes that foodies can relish. While these lamb dishes are Persian must-haves, customers can also enjoy a variety of chicken, beef and seafood dishes.

The full Persian experience

DiBar Grill offers flavorful spreads and appetizers, such as hummus, labneh and roasted red peppers, along with its variety of lamb dishes. These small appetizer plates are also entirely vegan on their own. You can expect these spreads to be served with a warm sangak, a whole wheat leavened flatbread.

Labneh with smoked salmon and Sangak

Cheese is another favorite in Persian dishes, but labneh is a distinctive dish patrons must try. Yogurt strained in cheesecloth for two to three days produces a smooth, creamy spread with a tangy flavor.

Whether you are in for a full meal or a palatable snack, DiBar Grill gives customers the perfect Persian dishes.

DiBar Grill offers delivery for its entire menu, which you can order from its website. Whether you’re celebrating a Sunday night at home or a special occasion at a location of your choice, DiBar Grill has you covered.

DiBar Grill
6385 Spalding Dr Suite B
Peachtree Corners, GA 30092
www.dibargrill.com
770-559-8799

Find two dozen more international restaurants in Peachtree Corners here!

Photos by Kendyl Clarke

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Lillie J’s Kitchen & Cocktails: Jamaican Spice with Southern Soul

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Exterior of Lillie J's Kitchen & Cocktails // Photo by George Hunter

International Restaurants: Find Cuisines from Across the Globe Just Down the Road

If you look at Tiffany Coleman’s resume, you’ll see an extensive background in talent management and talent production in film and television.

“I’m definitely a behind-the-scenes person, for sure. I’m too shy to be out front,” she said. “I’m good at managing things – schedules and stuff like that.”

But, if you look into her heart, you’ll find a person who loves her roots and the art of perfecting a delicious dish. Although she hasn’t given up her career in entertainment, Coleman has branched out into another field – restaurateur.

Tiffany Colman, Owner Lillie J’s Kitchen & Cocktails // Photo by George Hunter

Generations of culinary love

“I’m originally from New Jersey, but my mom was born in Jamaica. She came to America when she was very young,” said Tiffany. “She stayed in the kitchen with her mom, and that’s where she learned to cook.”

Like in many close-knit communities, neighbors and aunts also contributed to Annette Coleman’s culinary training.

“She just loves the kitchen,” said Tiffany. “I guess that was therapeutic for her … because she left Jamaica at such a young age to come to America that her cooking brings the families together. It was like a focal point for people to fall in love with her.”

Subsequently, the craft was passed down to Tiffany, who experiences the same love of cooking. But, unlike her mother, she doesn’t work at a quick pace.

“I know how to cook because I was always in the kitchen with my mom,” Tiffany explained. “But I really like to take my time. It’ll take me hours to cook a meal. So, I’m not the one cooking for a restaurant. But my mom can do it in no time with her eyes closed.”

Multi-talented Annette has owned, managed and consulted on numerous food businesses in the metro Atlanta area.

“This is actually our, well, my mother’s fifth restaurant,” Tiffany said. “It’s my first one all hands in.”

Customers at Lillie J’s Kitchen & Cocktails // Photo by George Hunter

Annette started a restaurant in New Jersey with Rita Owens, Queen Latifah’s mom before she moved to Georgia. The family also owned a breakfast bar in Jersey.

“When we moved down to Georgia in 2009, she opened another restaurant,” said Coleman. “We had two in Georgia before opening Lillie J’s.”

What’s in a name?

Ironically, Tiffany didn’t name her first restaurant after her mother, the person who nurtured her love of cooking.

“The restaurant is actually named after my dad’s mother, Lillie Jones,” she said. “We were trying to be funny. … She doesn’t know how to cook at all. She can barely boil two eggs.”

But Jones loved good food and good conversation.

“She’d sit in the kitchen with my mother while she cooked, and they’d talk and have a good time,” said Tiffany. “So, my mom wanted people to be like Lillie J and enjoy a meal in the same way my grandmother did.”

Annette is the head chef at Lillie J’s, but the concept and the management belong to Tiffany. She comes in early, gets things going, and moves through the many restaurant tasks.

“People think she’s Lillie J because they are her recipes,” said Tiffany.

Jodi Parker dining at Lillie J’s Kitchen & Cocktails // Photo by George Hunter

Jamaica meets the South

The food blends Jamaican spice and American soul, with Annette’s creativity thrown in for good measure.

Many of her New York area friends and family had Southern roots and taught her how the South fixes collard greens, yams and a whole slew of other mouth-watering dishes.

“I would say it’s a fusion restaurant,” said Tiffany. “We’ve got a little Jamaican, a little Southern American and a lot of love.”

Traditional fare such as shrimp and grits and Southern fried chicken are expected, as well as curry chicken and braised oxtail. But there are twists on the menu, like brussels sprouts tossed in guava or avocado toast topped with plantains.

Even the cocktails are diverse.

You could order an “Island Mule” or a “Dark and Lovely” as easily as a “Listen Linda” or a “Wrecked Side Car.”

Although she loves everything on the menu, Tiffany said one of her absolute favorites is the honey cornbread.

Tiffany Colman and Lillie J’s famous cornbread // Photo courtesy of Lillie J’s Kitchen & Cocktails

“I’m always mixing it on my plate with yams or even the mac and cheese – it’s just ridiculous!” she said.

Anyone who likes to lick their fingers and get personal with their meal will have a dilemma in choosing what to try.

“Just get one of everything,” Tiffany said. “You won’t be disappointed.”

Best of both worlds

Lillie J’s is in its second year and doing well, said Tiffany, but she wants it to do better. Splitting her time between two careers isn’t easy, but she believes she can make it work.

Besides being a phenomenal cook, Annette is a successful hairdresser.

“My mom has done hair for a very long time. Well, my whole, honestly,” said Coleman.

She worked on the Ricki Lake Show, the Queen Latifah Show and the Court Show with Judge Glenda Hatchett. Her connections helped open doors for her daughter, and the two formed a community within the television and film industry.

“I’d always go to work with [my mom] when I was on break from college,” she said. “I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and I fell into TV and film.”

Coleman said she loves what she does but wanted to try something different.

“For the past decade, I’ve been dedicating my life to other people’s lives, and I just felt like I wanted something of my own,” she said.

She doesn’t have plans to leave the film and television industry.

“It’s something I can’t get away from, but it’s more like I could do all my eyes closed,” she said.

So, the restaurant business is a new challenge she hopes will succeed – one bite at a time.

Lillie J’s Kitchen & Cocktails
5975 Peachtree Pkwy Suite 102
Peachtree Corners, GA 30092
www.lilliejs.com 678-395-4095

Find two dozen more international restaurants in Peachtree Corners here!

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Cafe Songhai: Western African cuisine meets high-end dining

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Exterior of Cafe Songhai in Peachtree Corners // Photo by Tracey Rice

International Restaurants: Find Cuisines from Across the Globe Just Down the Road

Although the U.S. Census Bureau uses five racial and ethnic categories (six if you count “other”), the world is made up of so many diverse cultures that it would be nearly impossible to categorize them all.

Perhaps more interesting than categorizing people is learning to enjoy the different cuisines they share with others.

One of the greatest aspects of living in one of the most diverse counties in the country is that Gwinnett is home to a variety of food styles.

While Italian, Mexican and Chinese dishes may be familiar, have you ever tried a West African, Jamaican or Persian dish?

Peachtree Corners Magazine visited purveyors of these different fares operating here in town. We encourage you to give them a try.

You’ll never know if your taste buds have more in common with a place across the globe than with the food you’ve been eating your entire life.

Bon appetit! Or, in other words, Ɛyε dε, Eat good or Nooshe jân!

If you’re craving fufu or jollof rice, you’re in luck. Those traditional Nigerian dishes are on the menu at Cafe Songhai, a West African-themed restaurant in Peachtree Corners.

Owners Matthew and Catherine Owusu opened the restaurant in 2017 with a desire to feature the cuisine of Matthew’s native land.

“My husband is Ghanian by birth and moved away from there in his early twenties,” said Catherine. He went to England to study and worked in the pharmaceutical industry.”

But his passion for cooking was strong. So, he worked part-time in an African restaurant as well. He eventually moved to the U.S., where the two met.

Cafe Songhai owners Matthew and Catherine Owusu

Catherine is a Bermudian and a professional in the banking industry. While studying in South Carolina, she applied for a Green Card during a lottery period for Bermudians. She was awarded permanent residency but was required to maintain a full-time job.

To do that, she worked at her uncle’s dental office in Nashville. Upon graduation, she applied for a banking job, but the city didn’t have many options for international banking, her specialty.

So, she ended up in Atlanta at Wells Fargo.

By 2008, Matthew was working with and helping one of the major West African restaurants in Atlanta. As a result, he wanted to open his own with his wife helping in the background.

“He’s the one that manages the restaurant day to day. I am typically there on the weekends because I still have a full-time position,” she said.

Catherine now works in fintech but enjoys her role at Cafe Songhai.

A new concept is born

With Matthew’s strong culinary skills and science background, it was clear that he would run the kitchen.

The two came up with the concept together and chose the name based on an old West African kingdom, the Songhai Empire.

“My husband did a lot of work to open the place, renovating it and everything,” she said. “I am typically the one who is there in the front, overseeing and managing it while interacting with customers and the staff.”

Cafe Songhai opened in 2017. Its goal was to be an upscale West African restaurant for metro Atlantans.

“We knew that there was a market for it. That’s why we chose a location in Peachtree Corners,” she said. “It met certain criteria — it had a diverse population, it was close to a population who would perhaps not be West African but would be open to trying that sort of food, and it had a patio for outside dining, was accessible and had parking.”

She added that Atlanta parking can be challenging to find, and accessibility is so crucial to customer satisfaction. Finding parking can add another $20 to the evening’s expenses.

A few years after Cafe Songhai opened, the COVID pandemic wreaked havoc on the restaurant industry, but Matthew’s versatility was a saving grace.

“Where many places had to close down or lay off their staff because they just weren’t getting the business, he was able to cook it, serve it up and hand it to those customers who were ordering takeout,” Catherine recalled.

“There were times when he was there by himself doing takeout online orders. We made it through because he could handle it,” she explained.

At the time, the couple revamped their restaurant style and pivoted to online takeout only.

“I distinctly remember that day; it was a Friday. That sounds like a song or an intro to a book,” she said. “It was a Friday, and I was there, and I remember we just started getting a lot of phone orders.”

Again, luck was on their side. They had just implemented an online takeout system and managed to keep up with the demand of loyal patrons who still wanted Ghanaian and Nigerian dishes but wouldn’t eat out in public.

“We never closed. I know a lot of places closed for a couple of weeks,” she said. We reopened to full service a little later than others, but we needed to rebuild our staff, and we wanted to do it right.”

Catherine credits resilience, reputation, and customer loyalty for their continued success.

“We have customers who have been with us from the beginning,” she explained. “I wouldn’t want to go through that again, but [my husband] was able to keep us going, whereas maybe some other owners weren’t necessarily able to do that.”

Come for the food, stay for the ambiance

Now that everything is back up to speed, the Owusus continue offering an excellent West African dining experience. During the day, the focus is more on takeout and quick orders. But in the evening, the operation turns to upscale dining.

Jazz nights at Cafe Songhai

“We aim to educate people,” she said. “I know there are some who come, and they just want to try West African food. They’re not familiar with it.”

She and the staff have no problem explaining the options.

“We’ll even try and equate the food to the familiar,” she said. “For instance, I will ask someone, ‘Where are you from? Where is your family from?’”

Those familiar with Black American soul food can relate to black-eyed peas, rice and okra.

Someone with Caribbean roots might be steered toward a whole grilled fish, plantains and spicier options.

“We might have someone who just wants to try a certain dish like fufu,” she said.

More Americans are familiar with African fare thanks to food and travel channels and social media.

“There was a big fufu challenge on TikTok or Instagram not long ago,” she said. “So, we had quite a few people who would say, ‘I want to try fufu.’”

“It’s a starch that you eat with something else,” she said. “There are soups and stews that go with fufu.”

For the complete experience, the eatery offers live music on some Friday evenings.

“We have good food portions and a really good quiet but comfortable atmosphere,” she said. “My husband has excellent music. He plays anything from Marley to Afrobeat to jazz to pop. And we’ve had customers who will ask for a copy of his playlist.”

The Owusus work hard to make Cafe Songhai very personable and unique based on the food, the atmosphere and the art.

Cafe Songhai
3380 Holcomb Bridge Rd
Peachtree Corners, GA 30092
www.cafesonghai.com
470-359-2969

Find two dozen more international restaurants in Peachtree Corners here!

Photos by Tracey Rice

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