East Austin healthy restaurant Bento Picnic opened a brand-new natural wine bottle shop this week. Saba San’s is found within the 2600 East Cesar Chavez Street space as of Tuesday, April 21. Since Austin dine-in service is still banned through Friday, May 8, the Holly retail store is just selling to-go bottles for curbside pickups and deliveries through its website.
Saba San’s list is focused on natural wines that pair well with the restaurant’s bento boxes, which are full of vegetables, curries, and teriyakis. There are reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines, as well as sake and beer. Orange wines will be added later this week.
“I know we’ll be able to have really meaningful conversations with people,” explained owner Leanne Valenti. “It’s going to be a place where people can really learn about wine and how it’s made and what makes it special.” (The name is a reference to Bento’s address, on the corner of San Saba Street.)
Overlooking Saba San’s wine list is buyer James Havens. “Our end goal was just to make it something that’s not so intimidated,” he explained, “and to make it a little more approachable.” He looked for wines that are organic or biodynamically farmed with minimal intervention.
Havens opened Houston natural wine shop The Heights Grocer two years ago, followed by the wine shop and bar Marfa Wine Co. in West Texas. Valenti met him last fall through a mutual friend, and it turned out they went to the same high school outside of Houston.
When Austin dining rooms and bars are able to safely reopen, Sana San’s retail selections will be found inside of the restaurant. Likewise, people will be able to order and drink wines-by-the-glass, and open bottles to enjoy on the premises, plus happy hour plans. The wine list will also expand to 50 or so bottles.
Eventually, Saba San’s will feature a wine club, highlighting smaller bottles from suppliers “that don’t get as much distribution because they can’t meet case minimums for bigger stores,” Valenti said. There will be a three-bottle option for $75, and a six-bottle one for $150.
Bento Picnic had stayed open for to-go service at the beginning of the Austin dining room shutter in mid-March but decided to stop six days later. “I was really just concerned for my staff and wanted to make sure they got a chance to quarantine and be safe with their families,” Valenti said.
“We honestly also just needed some time to regroup because we were so focused around lunch and corporate catering,” Valenti added, most of which disappeared during this time. “It was over half of our business. We really took a hit to the gut when [South by Southwest] was canceled, and then work from home came into play,” which meant people weren’t going out as much for food. “We were operating on really a fraction of our normal revenue.
Deciding to reopen for takeout this week was already in the works for Bento, Valenti explained, and she received Saba San’s TABC license at the same time, so she decided to just launch everything at the same time.
As for that trademark infringement lawsuit over Bento’s usage of the word “picnic” in its name from Austin restaurant Picnik last year, the court ultimately sided with Bento. Valenti found out that she won the appeal in March. Now they are filing a motion to have their legal fees covered by the plaintiff (Picnik).
Other natural wine-leaning bars, shops, and restaurants in the East Austin neighborhood include Lolo, Apt 115, and Bufalina.