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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Nashua’s Napa East abruptly closes; future uncertain

NASHUA – An award-winning upscale wine lounge that won plenty of consumers’ hearts over the past three years closed abruptly this week, a decision that the management is calling a “restructuring.”

Napa East Wine Lounge & Shop, the chief occupant of a large multi-unit building on Murphy Drive, was dark Tuesday, and the doors to its restaurant and accompanying retail wine shop were locked. ...

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NASHUA – An award-winning upscale wine lounge that won plenty of consumers’ hearts over the past three years closed abruptly this week, a decision that the management is calling a “restructuring.”

Napa East Wine Lounge & Shop, the chief occupant of a large multi-unit building on Murphy Drive, was dark Tuesday, and the doors to its restaurant and accompanying retail wine shop were locked.

Just after 3 p.m., its scheduled opening time, owner Joanna Mahoney arrived and entered the building with two other people, saying only that personal and family issues led to the closure.

“I have some personal things going on, some family stuff I need to attend to,” Mahoney said. Asked whether “restructuring” means the business will reopen at some point, she didn’t elaborate, saying only that “something’s going to happen.”

Mahoney also declined to give a time estimate of how long she expects Napa East to be closed.

A flurry of posts on the restaurant’s Facebook page followed the announcement, which, according to the account’s timeline, was posted early Tuesday morning.

Most posts were from customers lamenting the closure and the uncertainty of the restaurant’s future. Many praised the quality of the restaurant, some calling it their favorite place to dine in Nashua and expressing hope the restaurant would reopen.

The Facebook announcement is identical to the notice posted on the entrance doors to both the restaurant and wine shop Tuesday afternoon: “The ownership of Napa East has decided to close the restaurant as it undergoes its restructuring. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please stay tuned to our Facebook page and (www.napaeast.com) for future developments.”

Messages left with Napa East general manager Chris Riendeau, who is also its certified sommelier, or wine steward, weren’t returned Tuesday night.

Mahoney, who goes by Jo, opened Napa East in 2011, undertaking a major renovation of the Murphy Drive space that included installing and displaying high-end decor inspired by California’s Napa Valley.

At the time it opened, Mahoney said the idea for the restaurant and wine shop came to her during a Napa Valley vacation with her husband, Patrick.

The “endless sea of rolling green hills awash in grapes of every variety” inspired Jo Mahoney, a Windham native now living in Nashua, to bring the Napa Valley experience back east, hence the restaurant’s name.

She described her vision for the venture as “sexy, with a little Napa Valley appeal.” She and Riendeau have been the main faces of Napa East, with Patrick Mahoney involved in a more behind-the-scenes role.

Several people with knowledge of the business and owners who didn’t want to be identified said they believe Mahoney is looking to “reinvent” the business, a decision made at least in part by her desire to care for an ill relative.

One employee said she learned of the decision via a text message Saturday, the day “an assistant” sent out “a mass text” breaking the news, she said.

The employee said the news left her “heartbroken,” adding that she “loved that job and did not see this coming.”

It took Napa East only a year or so from its 2011 opening to win its first award, the New Hampshire magazine’s Best of New Hampshire Editors Choice award for “best wine by the glass.”

It was known to sell 100 varieties of wine by the glass out of special machines that eliminated air from getting inside the bottle and spoiling the wine. These machines allowed the visitors to try expensive wines by the glass, as opposed to ordering an entire bottle.

A year later, the restaurant was voted Nashua’s best new restaurant, best wine bar, best wine list, and best wine shop in the Hippo Press’s Best of 2013 readers’ poll.

Mahoney and her staff again made headlines in May 2013 for hosting a large, successful fundraiser for several area individuals injured in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).