It’s an unusually cool and rainy spring evening in downtown Lodi, but the vibe inside The Dancing Fox, a restaurant, tasting room and bakery, is warm and friendly. The century-old building on South School Street has the feel of an old English pub, with plenty of brick and wood, antique tables and a wood-fired oven, unlike most wineries and microbreweries in the Capital Region.
It’s not the only thing that makes The Dancing Fox unique. Co-owners Gregg and Colleen Lewis launched the winery 10 years ago, added a brewery in 2015 and a distillery in March. “While we are one of about 90 wineries in the Lodi area,” Gregg Lewis says, “we are the only (one) where you can have your choice of house-made wine, beer and spirits.”
One year after opening the business, the Lewises purchased the historic Ice House a few blocks away, on the corner of Locust and Main streets. The 15,000-square-foot building is where they now produce their wine, beer and spirits.
And more change is ahead. By the end of next year, Lewis expects to complete a large expansion of the restaurant. “The new facility will completely encompass our existing parking lots,” Lewis says. “It is almost 13,000 square feet … and will include a large two-story production facility which will house the distillery and brewery as well as provide a large tasting-bar area. … The bar area will open up — 30 feet of folding glass doors — to the courtyard area.”
The courtyard will include upper and lower mezzanines, a moveable stage, a restaurant patio area and space for overnight accommodations, he says, and the seating capacity will more than triple, from 134 to 427. He says the additional seating is needed because on busy days The Dancing Fox serves 800-900 customers. “It’s not uncommon on the weekends to have an hour wait at the prime hours,” Lewis says.
“We have seen the downtown area of Lodi make amazing changes. The amount of foot traffic on School Street and now Sacramento Street has tripled in the last few years. Many good people and businesses have invested in what Lodi is becoming.”
– Gregg Lewis, co-owner, The Dancing Fox
The Dancing Fox is just one of many businesses opening or expanding in downtown Lodi, and Lewis is excited about it. “We have seen the downtown area of Lodi make amazing changes,” he says. “The amount of foot traffic on School Street and now Sacramento Street has tripled in the last few years. Many good people and businesses have invested in what Lodi is becoming.”
Old vine zinfandel, cabernet, Triskele (Bordeaux red blend), chardonnay and Fire Dance (a blended white) are The Dancing Fox’s top-selling wines, Lewis says, and Down the Rabbit Hole (IPA), Wolf on School Street (bourbon barrel-aged stout), Crushed Pils (pilsner) and Rufio (double IPA) are the most popular beers. Lewis says they started spirit production with brandy and gin and will soon be working on vodka, absinthe, whiskey and bourbon.
The Dancing Fox is a family operation: Gregg is the winemaker and manages the estate vineyards; Colleen oversees the bakery and event operations, does food research and development, and supervises the kitchen staff; son Dustin is the general manager of the restaurant and director of the wine club; son Jared is brewmaster, assists with vineyard management and supervises the distillery; and son Gabriel is assistant brewer and handles vineyard care and maintenance.
“Twelve years ago, my wife and I had no experience in running a restaurant,” Lewis says. “The banks warned us that nine out of 10 restaurants do not make it. We countered that we would be more than a restaurant but a winery and bakery as well. They took the chance and loaned us money; we also mortgaged our home. … During the first few years, we barely made payroll and other expenses and worked countless hours to make it work. Giving up was not an option, as we had everything invested.”
Sales have been growing by about 15 percent annually, he says, and the expansion will boost that even more. “I know that it means a lot more work and learning, so I have no retirement in sight. For me and my wife, it’s more about leaving a legacy for our children and grandchildren.”