(Ahja King and Janel Maurer are the business partners of Eqwine Wine Bar in downtown Redmond | Photo by Kristine Thomas)
Ahja King and Janel Maurer jokingly laughed that they have not cracked the secret to cloning themselves. It is something they both wish they could do so they would be able to complete their never-ending “to-do lists.”
They have, however, found something even better than being cloned when they decided to become business partners of the Eqwine Wine Bar and Mobile Wine Cart in downtown Redmond. “We both wish we could be cloned at least three times to keep up with our responsibilities to our families, jobs and the business,” Maurer said.
Both women believe in the importance of keeping a balance in their lives and appreciate knowing if one of them is “crazy busy” the other one will fill in. “Neither one of us knows how to slow down,” Ahja said. “I think we both aren’t afraid to follow our dreams and what makes our partnership great is the encouragement we provide one another.”
The wine bar allows both women to tap into their creativity, share their love of wine and introduce guests to wine and food pairings. They are grateful for the support they have received from their family, friends and customers of Eqwine Wine Bar.
A time of transition
Serendipity appears to have played a role in Ahja and Janel blending their talents to become business partners of the Eqwine Wine Bar. Two events in the fall of 2021 created the foundation for the business partnership. Ahja had leased the kitchen in the wine bar to handcraft her wine salts for Dry Canyon Salt Company.
Janel and her business partner, Kris Hakkila, decided to go their separate ways. They had launched their mobile wine trailer in 2017 and opened the wine bar in March of 2020.
Janel maintained ownership of the mobile cart and the wine bar and began her search for a new business partner. “Ahja was one of the first people I approached about becoming a partner,” Janel said. “I asked Ahja to be my business partner because of her restaurant experience and skillset, and I believed we could work well together.”
Janel also was excited to pair Ahja’s amazing food with their changing wine menu. “I know a great idea when I see it,” Ahja said. “Eqwine Wine Bar is something needed and valued in Redmond. I knew I could not say no when Janel asked me to be her business partner because this is something I believe in.”
A blending of talents
More than 30 years ago, Ahja moved to Redmond to start a restaurant with her grandfather. “I had no previous experience in the restaurant industry, but I dropped out of college to give it a try,” Ahja, 52, said.
After her grandfather sold the restaurant, Ahja returned to Western Oregon University to earn her teaching degree. She taught everything from preschool to middle school students.
She decided to stay home when she and her husband, Camden, became parents to their three daughters, Savannah, now 25, Carly, now 22 and Izzy, now 20.
Ahja gained valuable experience in the food and beverage industry and events planning when she worked at Deschutes Brewery, Brasada Ranch and Juniper Golf Course. “I decided to semi-retire in 2019 and then COVID hit,” she said. “I realized I needed an outlet for my creativity and passion for cooking and started Dry Canyon Salt Company and that’s how I met Janel and started using the kitchen at Eqwine Wine Bar.”
Janel is grateful for the skills Ahja has brought to the table. Together, they created a mission statement and business plan. “Sitting down and talking about what we envision for the business and how we plan to achieve the goals has been a tremendous help,” Janel said.
Neither Janel nor Kris had bar or restaurant experience when they started Eqwine Wine Bar. “Kris and I were just winging it,” Janel said. “We just had a love of wine.”
Creating a business plan and mission statement has clarified what both women want to achieve professionally and personally. They both agreed their families come first.
Janel, 51, is a teacher at the Redmond Proficiency Academy. Her children are Ella, 17, and Grey, 15. “I am grateful for our business partnership because I have found women communicate differently than men about things,” Janel said. “There are times one of us is doing something and the other shows up and knows what needs to be done without much being said.”
Both women shared the advantages of having a business partner include having someone to bounce ideas off and knowing someone has their back. “Janel is the welcoming face of this place,” Ahja said. “She is absolutely great with people, and she genuinely enjoys sharing her knowledge of the wines with guests. She has a way of discussing and explaining wine that empowers the guests and adds to their wine knowledge.”
Collaborating on ideas
Describing themselves as both idea people, Ahja and Janel said they celebrate one another’s visions while at the same time can be honest with one another. “We can tell each other that the idea is not going to fly and then go back and figure out together what will work,” Ahja said.
“It’s time to horse around.”
Janel and Ahja are serious about sharing their knowledge of wines and wine and food pairings but do so in a comfortable and friendly way. Their wine lists change frequently as they bring in wines from wineries predominately from Oregon and Washington. “We want people to feel welcome to come here, try a wine and learn about it in a fun way,” Ahja said. “We enjoy visiting wineries in the Pacific Northwest and sharing the wine and the winemakers’ stories with our guests. If we find a wine we like from another country or state, we will bring it in to introduce to our guests.”
Events at Eqwine Wine Bar include Fondue Friday starting this fall, First Friday Art and Wine Walk, Sunday Brunches, Eqwine Pour Society and Wine Drop Wednesday. They are looking at adding additional events including cooking and art classes.
Advice to other women business partners
Janel and Ahja said it is important to make sure both partners are on the same page and are committed to making the business successful. “Be sure you have a realistic business plan and a five-year plan,” Janel said. “Understand you are going to have to use your own money to invest in the business and don’t plan for it to be successful overnight.”
Most importantly, select a business partner you can trust, Janel added.
And one that likes to have fun while working, Ahja said.
“What I enjoy is at the end of the day, we sit down, pour a glass of wine and talk about what went right and what we could do better,” Ahja said. “It’s great having a friend who shares my goals and supports my ideas.”