It’s high season in Sussers and I’m surrounded by boxes. Yitzi Freedman, owner of the kosher fine wine shop is busy when I come in. I similarly busy myself with sampling the liqueurs on the tasting counter and finally we squeeze in our interview. Amid countless phone calls, deliveries and customers of course. “Purim is without a doubt, our busiest time of the year,” says Mr Freedman, laden with crates. Sussers is the longest-established kosher wine specialist in North West London, serving the London Jewish community for more than 70 years. It is also one of the only two specialist wine shops in the area.
“We have long-term clients here who remember Sussers from as far back as the 1940s,” Mr Freedman says. “One customer even remembers getting his bar-mitzvah wine from us.”
Sussers is armed and ready for Purim, with wooden shelves lining the wall floor to ceiling and displays groaning under the weight of artfully created arrangements. But I soon discover that fantastic customer service is the biggest business weapon there is. According to many leading businessmen customer service, combined with a winning smile, will get you everywhere. “The unique customer service we provide is passed on by word of mouth and that helps keep the business going,” says Mr Freedman. Sussers prides itself on its friendly, welcoming atmosphere and this reflects in the décor, from the carefully written price tags, to the complimentary tasting section. Moreover, as soon as a customer arrives, he is there to greet them with that smile and great advice. “It’s important to learn about people’s tastes and ask the right questions when you’re selling wine,” he tells me. I ask what these questions involve. “It involves understanding what occasion they need it for and what type of crowd will be attending.
This helps me advise whether they will require a heavier wine that will suit meals or a lighter one for nibbles.” In any market, it is important to keep up with the latest trends. Noting what sells and what comes highly recommended means you can better guide people to make an informed choice without pressure. Mr Freedman proceeds to show me a popular Israeli wine on sale – an Alexander Amarolo 2012. “This powerful, fruity dry wine is aged in barrels for 40 months which gives it an intense flavour. It is made in a similar way to the famed Italian Amerone.”
Mr Freedman informs me that the influx of Israeli wineries in recent years and the production of quality wine has led to them becoming hugely popular, forming 70 per cent of sales. “Yatir, Alexander, these are all great wines on which we are running offers and are definitely recommended for a Purim seudah.” Becoming an industry expert is also
crucial for running a successful business. He asks me if I’ve heard of Magnums and I respond that yes, I am very familiar with the ice cream. However, I learn from the industry expert that magnums are in fact double bottles of wine. He also tells me that Jeroboams are wine bottles which are four times the size. “These bottles are our speciality. They are excellent for gifts and special occasions and are a superior choice for aging the wine.” I want to know what it’s like running a wine shop in the run-up to Purim and he answers me with a chuckle. “Before Purim, there are long days and short nights. I work until 4am sometimes, ensuring the shop is organised, deliveries made up and we have all the stock we need.”
There is plenty of preparation to be done before Purim, but the work doesn’t stop on the day itself. “If you want your business to succeed, you have to go above and beyond,” he tells me. Mr Freedman works the whole of Purim day until the deliveries are finished. “It’s challenging,” he admits with a wry smile. “I count myself lucky if I’m in bed for an hour on Erev Purim. On the day, I will run to get into a suit for the megillah and shul then run back to the shop.”
This dedication is impressive, especially as Mr Freedman is a frum family man with a thriving family. His family took over the shop from the Sussers 35 years ago. “I was an accountant to begin with but left that in favour of this. I enjoyed wine from a young age and this has been an incredible learning journey. Selling wine can be a competitive business, but if you’re determined to do it, you can.” What advice would he offer for other frum people who would like to go into the wine business? “Training at a winery would be useful, but halachically this can be difficult as it involves tasting the wine, of course. I would suggest doing so in Israel.” For those chained to the UK, he suggests self-education through work experience. “Ask in local wine shops or suppliers if they’re offering internships. That could be a great way in.”
The best part of the job, he says, is making people happy. “We get great feedback about our products, which is always appreciated. But most of all, we feel honoured that people are drinking our wine at their Shabbos and Yom Tov table or at their smachot. It is a zechus to be part of that mitzvah.” Mr Freedman leaves me with some
sage Purim advice to impart to Jewish Weekly readers. “Always remember, it’s important to drink to enjoy, not to excess.”