Opening a wine bar and bookstore was always a shared dream of friends Mindy Kuhn and Shonali Thomas — they just didn’t know it until it came up. Now having combined their passions and professional ventures, the caterer and the publisher have partnered to open Corks, Cooks, & Books.
Nestled in the Millwood Shopping Center on Herlong Avenue in Rock Hill, the newly opened spot combines casual tapas with a signature wine bar and a bookstore, creating a new hangout that allows patrons a space to grab a drink and settle into a good read.
Kuhn met Thomas when the latter published her book, Shonal’s Kitchen: A Dose of Healthy Indulgence, through Kuhn’s publishing company, Warren Publishing, in 2017.
The two became friends over time, and it would often come up that they both wanted to expand what they were already working on; Kuhn wanted to add a retail aspect to her publishing company, while Thomas envisioned a wine bar with small bites on top of her already flourishing catering company, SplenDishes Kitchen.
“I wanted to be able to add something extra and different that made us stand out from other independent bookstores in the area, or just kind of gave us something to be able to look different,” Kuhn said.
The two were discussing their respective businesses over wine one day when Thomas added that she had also thought about opening up a brick-and-mortar spot.
“I’ve always wanted to have a little small plate, wine bar-type something where we could just serve charcuterie foods,” Thomas added. “No restaurant, just like small bites and stuff like that. So, we were talking about how we could put those two things together, and what a great concept that would be.”
Soon after, the idea for Corks, Cooks and Books began to come together. But as with any new concept, there was a lot of work to get it started.
Thomas and Kuhn looked around, but quickly realized a house within their budget would not have enough room for a full kitchen, staff and cooking classes, while available industrial space wouldn’t have the inviting feel they wanted.
“We were just waiting for something to pop up, which was extremely difficult when looking for a second-generation restaurant during COVID,” Thomas said.
They eventually found the perfect location in Rock Hill’s Millwood Plaza, which included a huge patio perfect for hanging out, sipping craft wine cocktails and listening to live music.
Thomas pulled popular small-bite items from her catering business and cookbook to create the menu at Corks, Cooks, & Books. She was inspired by a desire to bring people together with shareable plates.
“I love going to a tapas restaurant where you can grab things and you’re with a group of friends or your family and you get three or four different items, and everyone eats off of it and shares it,” she said.
She said she’s already received positive feedback for the vegan and gluten-free items on the menu.
“Everything is made in-house and we accommodate dietary restrictions, but you couldn’t really tell that they were vegan or gluten-free unless we told you,” she added.
One of the most popular items Thomas offers at Corks, Cooks, & Books is the gluten-free cheesecake. She makes the crust with salted-caramel pretzels and puts fresh lemon curd cheesecake on top.
Other items include a salted-caramel brownie, which will change seasonally, vegan black eyed pea fritters and a signature charcuterie board — all of which pair well with local craft beers, wine-based cocktails and handcrafted sangrias. The Shon-dy Drop, for example, is a wine version of a lemon drop martini, made with custom lemon cocktail syrup.
While Thomas handles the kitchen, Kuhn has focused on transforming the space to hold books of all genres — romance to mystery to cookbooks to children’s books. Kuhn said it’s her mission to have something in stock for everyone who comes through the doors.
She keeps up with book clubs, best-seller lists, and of course her own authors from Warren Publishing to curate the collection. The staff has pitched in a lot since the shop opened in mid-July, allowing Thomas and Kuhn to run their other businesses.
“Our staff is getting to the point where they can take care of everything,” Thomas said. “And that’s a big thing. Our staff is amazing.”
The duo already have an eye toward the future, thinking about where to take Corks, Cooks, & Books next.
“We would love to be able to expand to the space next door if we can, although we were just talking about that yesterday, and we liked being kind of small and poignant and different,” Kuhn said. “We want to continue to evolve to be the neighborhood go-to place, we want people just to come and read and drink and hang out.”