Joel LaTondress and Lara Mulchay

Arcadia Premium owners Joel LaTondress and Lara Mulchay.

5618 E. Thomas Road #100 • arcadiapremium.com

Arcadia Premium has become quite beneficial to the neighborhood (especially these days) with its convenient beer, wine, cheese and charcuterie delivery service. The shop, located at 56th St. and Thomas, is run by husband and wife team Joel LaTondress and Lara Mulchay, who recently spoke with Arcadia News about what’s going on at Arcadia’s local “Mom and Pop Bottle Shop.”

What is the story behind Arcadia Premium?

J: Hal and Bryn Rathvon first opened it in January 2015. What they envisioned was a delivery business, but they needed to have a retail storefront to run that. Most of their business was online, but by September 2015, they didn’t have enough traffic and were about to close down.

At the time, we were customers and had been ordering from them every couple of weeks. We ended up striking a deal and buying the business from them. We had already researched beer and wine, so we came in here and turned everything over. We decided to open this business because it was a turnkey opportunity, and we figured all of the stuff that we’d already learned from almost opening a restaurant would make it an easy transition.

Our restaurant was going to be three meals a day with cheese and charcuterie options, as well as grab-and-go. We saw this as a retail opportunity as well [after the restaurant fell through].

Did you always know you wanted to run a business?

J: I don’t know if I did. I was a programmer and spent 15 years in corporate IT, and I was getting super burned out. Even before we got married, we talked about doing something – the vision was always a restaurant.

L: Even as a kid, I knew I wanted to own a business. I always wanted to do something food or music-related. My best friend and I, instead of playing with Barbies, we would play “business.”

So this concept was already up and running?

J: [The previous owner’s] worked on it for two months to get it started. This business has an extensive e-commerce component, and I think he started six months before, getting the website up and running. So since we already had that, getting started was pretty easy.

What has been the best part of owning a business?

J: I think the customers are the best part. We have a ton of regulars and some really cool customers. Before COVID, I used to know at least four or five of them by their first name. Since March, it’s taken a different turn, but I’d say it’s the customer. I like when a customer comes in and says, ‘we don’t know any of these wines,’ and I ask what they like – and they come back and say, ‘that was awesome.’ That’s super gratifying.

L: When the customer comes in and says, ‘We love your shop. We’re so glad you’re here.’ We wanted to develop the store we want in our neighborhood. We designed what the people want or what doesn’t already exist. We have a platform to support small businesses and producers, and I like that.

The toughest part?

J: Probably the hours. It’s labor-intensive. The website is its own thing, and the store is its own thing – I spend a lot of time adding stuff to the website. And ordering – we order from around 20 vendors, so managing and ordering – it takes a lot of time.

What can people find at Arcadia Premium?

L: We have cheese, charcuterie, Noble bread comes in every week, local crackers. We’ve got stickers from a couple of gals from the East Valley. Stationary, candles from Crass Candle. Pretty much anything – like if you needed something for a housewarming or birthday gift. You don’t have to be a drinker to come in here and shop.

J: We have non-alcoholic beer, cold brew and ginger beer, too.

Where do the products come from?

L: They’re from all over the world. Our cheese and charcuterie are from the United States – it’s all American, artisan and farmstead cheese. We have a ton of stuff that vendors also sell at farmer’s markets – eggs, tortillas, pasta. All of our pickled stuff. The beer is mostly all from the United States. Wine is all over the place, but at any time, we’ve got 15-20 Arizona wines.

J: Right now, wine-wise, we’ve got 200 different brands.

Why do you think supporting local is important?

J: I think besides the obvious – keeping money in Arizona, especially during COVID. We brought in a bunch of brands that didn’t have any representation or scale outside of a farmer’s market. We were their first retail placement, so bringing it into Arcadia allowed them to have placement, and we’ve been successful with their brands. I like that. It’s nice to have a platform to bring products to other people.

L: It’s more about community and smaller businesses. We have to concentrate on quality – the products tend to be superior. It’s not stuff that’s pumped out in a factory. We’re helping other businesses realize their dreams and passions, whether it’s a small brewery or cheesemaker, a candle maker or jewelry. It’s more about the community and quality.

How did the pandemic affect your business?

J: We were in a pretty unique position that a lot of people scrambled to do, especially on the e-commerce thing. A lot of these restaurants – if they didn’t already do take out, they were putting their menu on Toast (a restaurant take-out app) and figuring out how curbside would work. We already do all of that.

When we took over the business, our online presence was reduced because we kept the doors open, so it was like 5% of our business was delivery. Suddenly, in two weeks, we went from 7% to 41% online sales.

L: We did have to pivot for sure in terms of product; we needed more people here. Now, we spend a lot more time at the shop updating products and keeping online inventory accurate. But this business was absolutely made for this type of situation. Go online, and someone will bring it to you. Some customers we haven’t seen since COVID, but we deliver to their houses. Others drive up, and we put it in their trunk. I can’t say it hasn’t impacted us – we’re busier and a lot more grateful that our business is thriving. It’s a bizarre place to be.

What are your plans for the future?

L: We’re hoping to do some on-premise event type stuff. Maybe open up another location with a bar and food aspect.

Right now, we’re working really hard and maintaining this. It’s hard to make plans; 2020 put everyone in a tailspin, so we’re just cautiously watching and waiting for the right situation.