Town officials celebrate opening of Tollgate Wine & Spirits

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Joe Stonoha, center, left, and First Selectman Ken Kellogg cut the ribbon at the grand opening of Tollgate Wine & Spirits Wednesday. Stonoha and his wife Susan own the store with their business partner and friend, Joe DiBartolomeo.

MONROE, CT — Tollgate Wine & Spirits opened in Tollgate Plaza, 838 Main St., right before Memorial Day, providing service to the Stepney side of town and using Monroe’s seventh and final state liquor license.

The store is owned by Joe and Susan Stonoha, an Easton couple who also own Netc, LLC, a software company, and their partner Joe DiBartolomeo, of Monroe, former owner of J.D.’s Wines & Spirits on River Road in Shelton.

Joe Stonoha said Tollgate Wine & Spirits has already been well received by its customers.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive comments from people who like the layout and the organization of our store,” he said Wednesday. “They love that it’s clean, the selection and, if we don’t have something, we’ll get it for you the next day.”

Tollgate Wine & Spirits recently opened at Tollgate Plaza, 838 Main St.

The store has rows and rows of shelves stocked with bottles of wine and a walk-in cooler with beer and other alcoholic beverages. Joe Stonoha is the expert on craft beers and DiBartolomeo is the most knowledgeable about wines.

On Wednesday evening, First Selectman Ken Kellogg, William Holsworth, the town’s community and economic recovery coordinator, Monroe Chamber of Commerce President Ray Giovanni and other chamber members welcomed the new business to town with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Tollgate Wine & Spirits had a wine tasting at a small table during the event and another table had a spread of cheeses, hard meats and pastries for guests.

Kellogg thanked the Stonohas and DiBartolomeo for helping Monroe’s business community to continue to thrive, and wished them many years of success.

“This is fantastic,” Giovanni said. “It’s such a beautiful setup and magnificent with that walk-in cooler.”

Joe Stonoha said Lee Hossler, who attended Wednesday’s ceremony, came into the store, introduced himself and organized the ribbon cutting.

“I thought it was awesome,” Stonoha said. “It was nothing I expected.”

The Angus connection

DiBartolomeo got to know the Stonohas as regular patrons of Angus Steakhouse in Fairfield, when he owned the restaurant years ago, and they became friends.

It didn’t hurt that both Joes are fans of New York Yankees baseball, according to Joe Stonoha. A corner of Tollgate Wine & Spirits is adorned with framed pictures of Yankee greats.

They kept in touch when DiBartolomeo left the restaurant to open J.D.’s Wines & Spirits four years ago.

Susan Stonoha said her husband always wanted to open a liquor store and when there was an opportunity to apply for a liquor permit in Monroe, they asked DiBartolomeo to join them on a new business venture.

“It’s very valuable to have him as a partner,” Joe Stonoha said of DiBartolomeo. “He knows the ins and outs and all of the particulars of the business.”

The partners applied to the Planning and Zoning Commission for approval of the store, then to the Connecticut Liquor Control Commission for the permit.

“This is two miles from my home,” DiBartolomeo said of their new store. “I’ve lived in Monroe for 38 years. We have a big selection of wines and a big selection of craft beers.”

The Stonohas owned Netc, whose services are business-to-business, since 1998. Joe said the social aspect of running a liquor store influenced his decision to pursue opening Tollgate Wine & Spirits.

Of the software company, he said, “you meet nice people, but it’s all business and sitting behind a computer all day. I wanted to open a place where we can meet people and they’re happy to be here. You strike up conversations. It’s fun. We’re a social species.”

Tollgate Wine & Spirits can be followed on Facebook. The store is open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.

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