The Engels bought the store back in August, but spent three months learning the very particular ways of legally operating a liquor store in Vermont from the previous owners while they waited for their liquor license to be approved. “We got to learn the ropes of running the business,” said Christian Engel. “It helped so when we took over it didn’t feel any different, just the fact that now it was ours.”
The first step in taking over the store was increasing inventory. Over that three-month period, the Engels increased the quantity and selection of liquor in the store from a value of $57,000 to $210,000. Much of their focus was on making sure they put together a Vermont section featuring liquors, beers, and wines strictly from the Green Mountain State. One such product selling particularly well is the maple liqueur made at Vermont Distillers on Hogback Mountain. “We get excited looking at 802 Spirits magazines,” said Jennifer. “This state alone has a large number of breweries, distilleries, and wineries and we want to try to cover all of those.
“I think we’re the only local place that has created a Vermont section. Folks, especially from out of state, they want something from Vermont they can take back as a gift.”
The largest portion of Ratu’s business comes from licensee agreements between local businesses and the Engels’ store. As a Vermont liquor outlet, Ratu’s is much like a consignment shop for liquor, according to Jennifer Engel. Because liquor is ordered through the state, the liquor store owner can order a certain quantity, but if product doesn’t sell, the commission is docked. Local businesses like the Dover Forge Restaurant, Mount Snow, and the Hermitage are all now licensee accounts of Ratu’s and all purchase large amounts of liquor through the store.
“Mount Snow has to go through a liquor store,” said Jennifer. “They can choose 7-Eleven or us, and they want to support local business thankfully. That’s what pays our lease and our utilities and without those large accounts it would be a struggle every month and every single decision would be affected. 7-Eleven has as much foot traffic as those accounts, and they will always tower over us in that way, but we make it easy for our licensee accounts.”
Those who use Ratu’s as their go-to for booze can email, text, or call in their order and send a check. Ratu’s takes care of the rest.
The Engels are all about making Ratu’s an experience for the buyer. If someone needs something special ordered from another state, they’ll make it happen. Ratu’s is the only liquor store in the valley south of Stratton that also has a growler station, where patrons who prefer their beer fresh rather then in the can, are able to put a deposit on a growler and fill it with that week’s flavor. This weekend Ratu’s is featuring a black IPA. While mark-ups for beer typically range from 25% to 37%, the Engels say their mark-ups will never exceed 25%.
Ratu’s also has a selection of modestly-priced cigars, along with wine trays made at Castle Hill Works, and art from Ann Coleman. The Engels are also looking to work with local businesses to pair the right foods with the right beer, and plan to bring in a cheese selection.
For those wondering, Ratu means “King” in Fiji, the Pacific Island where Christian grew up.
Christian and Jennifer met in Seattle and moved to Whitingham to be close to both their families. Christian recently ended his career in social work to run Ratu’s while Jennifer continues to operate Maple Valley Counseling Services part time. Together they are raising a three-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son, and have taken in a 13-year-old foster child, and plan on adopting a 14-year-old very soon.
“Our goal is to not make your traditional liquor store, but have it be an experience,” said Christian.
Ratu’s is open Monday through Thursday from 10:30 am to 7 pm, Friday and Saturday, 10:30 am to 8 pm, and Sundays from 10:30 am to 6 pm.