Business & Real Estate

Head of Honcho uncorks wine bar

Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Honcho proprietor Rod Newman recently opened the First Street wine and beer lounge with the vision of creating a comfortable place for adults to socialize.

At Honcho – a newly opened craft beer and wine lounge in downtown Los Altos – proprietor Rod Newman is all about reds, whites and relationships.

“I really enjoy interacting with people,” the Los Altos resident said. “My mother is a lifetime teacher – maybe I got that from her.”

She also bequeathed the bar’s name, taken from her affectionate parental chiding: “Look who’s the head honcho.”

At 235 First St., Newman is that guy. The location – which formerly housed children’s furnishing store Land of Nod – has received a grownup makeover featuring a bar with quartz countertops, lounge seating and streamlined 1960s mod aesthetic.

The lounge will initially serve beer, wine, champagne and cider, plus non-alcoholic options like fresh-squeezed juice, chai, coffee and tea. In the coming year, Newman plans to enhance the menu with low-proof cocktails and small plates.

“I’d rather grow comfortably and meet expectations than overextend myself in the beginning,” Newman said.

Because he intends to keep the operation small, he has flexibility for a “collaborative venture” by responding to customers’ input and incorporating a variety of local offerings. Newman isn’t snobby about sticking solely to local fare, but he does make an effort to connect with regional partners.

“I believe in being able to meet the people and see the land because I’m able to convey the story to customers,” he said. “I support small businesses and, plus, there’s so much diversity in California.”

Newman is familiar with the range of the Golden State. He worked as the assistant food and beverage director for a ritzy residential resort in San Diego, then ventured to San Francisco to manage Chow and Park Chow, cafes with organic comfort food. He also managed DOSA, an eatery featuring South Indian cuisine, before taking part in the launch of a second location in Pacific Heights.

By the time he and his wife relocated to Oakland, Newman was looking to open a place of his own. Some friends and family recommended the Los Altos area, so Newman searched for a space and secured the First Street opening.

Initially, the business concept highlighted retail with a small tasting bar, but Newman realized a wine lounge better filled a need for a boutique gathering space.

“There wasn’t that type of concept down here,” he said.

Honcho’s Facebook page promises an “epic” New Year’s Eve celebration with 10 international brands of bubbly after 10 p.m. (The city permitted use until 1 a.m.)

Newman aims to open 4-10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 4-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, but the schedule could adapt with feedback and demand.

“The enthusiasm from the community has been my driving force,” Newman said, adding that he hopes Honcho can be a gathering place for colleagues and friends alike.

“I’ll serve great products, and people can talk about it for two seconds and move on,” he said. “I want to provide an atmosphere where people can take a break from their busy schedules and enjoy each other’s company.”

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