FRANKFORT — Rachael Peake, hair tied back, running shoes laced up, has just finished a jaunt on foot around downtown Frankfort, as well as the lunchtime rush at her award-winning market and café, Capital Cellars in Frankfort.
The wine emporium is housed in a former antiques store furnished in found and repurposed items. Church pews became a counter and seating area, and friends from a cycling club and other volunteers helped refurbish and redecorate the space before it opened in November 2006.
But the most obvious feature of the space is that it is packed with wine bottles, along with bourbon and some beer (not Bud Light, Peake says, and no "sticky" drinks such as daiquiris). A huge map of Kentucky adorns one wall.
Capital Cellars offers wine education classes, a winemaking program, wine dinners a few times a year, free wine tastings on Thursdays and Fridays, and a wine club that introduces patrons to wines available nowhere else in Frankfort.
Never miss a local story.
Business is brisk.
As Peake breezes through the end of the lunch hour, she serves soup, congratulates a frequent patron on a business deal that she is celebrating with a glass of white zinfandel, and fields a query from a book club that wants to make Capital Cellars its headquarters.
The store, which found a niche in Kentucky's capital city and nurtures its neighborhood ties, is one of the best small businesses in Kentucky, according to the Kentucky Small Business Development Center's Pacesetter Program, which each year recognizes the state's outstanding small enterprises. The center is now accepting applications for the next round of Pacesetter awards.
Peake did not start out with Capital Cellars in mind. She first studied wildlife management at Colorado State University and then came to Eastern Kentucky University for her master's degree. That's where she met her husband, Daniel, a partner in Capital Cellars and a Kentucky state biologist.
Rachael Peake, 41, worked as a chemist at Buffalo Trace Distillery and later became a regional wine sales representative for New Orleans-based Sazerac, which owns Buffalo Trace.
That's when the idea for Capital Cellars hit her.
"Everywhere I went, I saw these nice little shops downtown, and I saw that Frankfort had nothing like it," she said.
The Frankfort market, she said, "is definitely an older, more educated consumer ... lots of people who want to learn about wine and know this is the place to come."
It's a place to have a conversation, not a place to get your keg on.
"It's very quiet, a place where people can enjoy each other's company," Peake said.
Although traffic can be quiet early in the week, having the Kentucky General Assembly in town can boost business, she said, and the Friday night wine-tasting crowd is usually big.
"The legislature helps out a little bit," Peake said. "It's nice that they make an attempt."
Peake estimates that she probably works 60 hours a week, not all of them on site at the store; some of her time is spent on the computer. For her efforts, she figures she makes as much as she did when she was 21 years old.
"I never wanted to own a bar, and I never wanted to own a restaurant, but that's what it has turned into," she said of her business.
The Peakes are dug into downtown Frankfort. Even though the January winds are chilling, Peake stands in front of her little store and talks about the summer concerts across the street, the cheerfully milling crowds, the feeling of community that permeates her corner of town.
She looks down at the pavement. The names of her two children are etched into concrete in front of the store.
She is pleased. And successful.