“Being a wine enthusiast means you care more about quality than quantity.”
~ Jean-Claude Carrière
On any given evening, you have likely entered a dimly lit restaurant, listened to the friendly chatter of people catching up on their lives, only to hear a faint, yet familiar sound of glasses clinking together in unison followed by a chorus of “cheers.” Looking around, you observe friends out for the night or a couple enjoying their first date and maybe, just a table away, you hear the sommelier describing wine which catches your attention. It did mine when I was at The Lunatic, The Lover, and The Poet and met Tom Powers, the owner, who is also an industry veteran restauranteur and sommelier.
The Lunatic, The Lover, and The Poet, its name taken from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was years in the making with a goal to break perceived stereotypes around wine. Tom knows wine and he describes it as though he is introducing a friend. His knowledge is approachable and unpretentious. To achieve his goal, he needed to break with tradition. He uses one type of glass for all wines, whether red, white, or sparkling which is supported by an evolving industry. The restaurant is versatile. Each floor, there are three, of the restaurant boasts a unique ambiance depending on your mood. While the focus might be on the wine, the dining options are a variety of small plates with a Mediterranean twist. Tom believes that dessert is wasteful to his operation so no sweets allowed; however, a tasty assortment of cheeses pair nicely with a variety of dessert wines.
The success of the restaurant is not in the décor, the well-executed plates of food, or the variety of interesting wines, which there are many, but in Tom’s passion and intimate understanding of the wine itself. In pursuing his desire to break down preconceived stereotypes, The Lunatic, The Lover, and The Poet needed to make it easy, be versatile, and communicate focus. The same is true for higher education if we ever hope to break with tradition and serve underserved students, we need to dismantle the barriers.
One Glass: Over the years, it has become custom that certain types of wine are best enjoyed in very specific glasses. The belief was the size and shape all influenced the way the wine showed. While there is some science-backed truth to the benefits of drinking wine from various shaped stemware, the differences are subtle and for the majority of wine enthusiasts not always noticeable. In breaking with tradition, The Lunatic, The Lover, and The Poet uses one type of stemware for all its wines, those bottled and on-tap.
Students can get overwhelmed with options without really understanding the benefits of pursuing one major over another or whether courses they have already completed will transfer. Even though there are benefits to having so many opportunities to achieve a singular goal, the abundance of choices can cause students to avoid making decisions or worse, delay pursing their educational dreams at all. Sometimes breaking with tradition means creating clear pathways with unobstructed views of the finish line to provide more opportunities for academic achievement.
Every Mood: Generally, wine and snob tends to go together. It is worse when you pair the word wine with bar. Now you just took a place that was designed to be approachable and made it pretentious, but that’s not the case with The Lunatic, The Lover, and The Poet. Tom wanted the establishment to be versatile. As a new addition to the West Loop neighborhood, he knew that the space should cater to United Center fans, millennials, business people traveling to Chicago, and those who just wanted to enjoy a great glass of wine. He wanted all who entered through the doors to feel welcome…and he succeeded. From the décor, to the staff, to the level of service, there is space for every person and personality. In breaking with tradition, he wanted wine to be approachable for everyone.
Students can struggle with fitting in and this is not exclusive to brick and mortar institutions, but in online institutions as well. They may not have been a strong student in high school, maybe they have not been in school in years, or sometimes they just feel alone as they juggle personal and professional responsibilities. They look around and have a hard time seeing someone just like them. But we have all been there. In one way or another, we have faced those fears, overcome similar challenges, and come out better on the other side. We can always do better. We can pick up the phone, just one more time. We can send out another email, just one more time. We can offer extra office hours, just one more time. Sometimes breaking with tradition means making higher education easier to navigate.
Single Purpose: The Lunatic, The Lover, and The Poet is a wine bar and restaurant. While it offers a variety of adult beverages and mouthwatering dining options, its focus is clearly on wine. Every dish or the lack of them (desserts) is intentional. The ambiance is warm and inviting. The staff are trained to provide their own perspectives on wine. Everyone participates in wine tastings and pairings and I mean everyone. They cannot hope to describe something they have never tasted or fully experienced for themselves. In breaking with tradition, Tom developed a restaurant concept that creates a safe space where novices and experts alike can sit side by side and enjoy the story that each grape tells without judgment.
Students deserve an institution designed with a single purpose, to see them succeed. Where individuals from various backgrounds can enter without fear of judgment or failure and receive the support they need to achieve their educational goals. If a process or a policy does not contribute to this single purpose, it should be revised, reviewed, or discarded. Every employee should be engaged in activities that allow them to gain a deeper understanding of the students being served. We should use this knowledge to offer effective solutions, provide consistent support, and demonstrate student achievement. Sometimes breaking with tradition means abandoning what has always been done for what should be done to truly make a difference. How can we not?