France 44 expands, opening event space to old friends and new customers.
In the ’90s, Minneapolis native Rick Anderson worked out of Philadelphia as a management consultant, traveling multiple times per week and meeting with leaders from Fortune 500 companies across the U.S. Then, in the early 2000s, he left his job to run his family’s liquor business.
Recently married and expecting his first child, Anderson says, “The timing was right to stop the jet-set lifestyle and be at home.” And what better place to settle down than his native Minneapolis? “[It] was the best career move I ever made in my life,” Anderson says, in part, because the decision allowed him to spend more time with his family and because it helped him expand
his family’s 60-plus-year-old business.
Originally located in downtown Minneapolis, France 44 Wine & Spirits opened as Red Anderson’s Liquors—named after Rick Anderson’s grandfather—in the late 1950s.
In the 1970s, Rick’s dad bought the land on the corner of France Avenue South and West 44th Street and moved the business to Minneapolis’ Linden Hills neighborhood. As a teenager, Anderson worked in the new location—by then named France 44—doing mostly what he calls “drudgery jobs” like dusting bottles, stocking shelves and filling bags of ice.
Since he returned to the business in the early 2000s and eventually took over in 2010, Anderson has expanded his grandparents’ small liquor store, both physically and in terms of product offerings. This larger business not only offers wine, liquor and beer but also sandwiches and salads, cheese, deli items and meat. Besides the Minneapolis location, France 44 also operates two sister stores, the St. Paul Cheese Shop and the St. Paul Meat Shop.
Now, the business is entering another new era: Anderson recently completed a 9,000-square-foot addition to the Minneapolis store, which includes over 4,000 square feet for a new event space and another 5,000 square feet for business operations, including a new loading and receiving area.
The team unveiled the new space in November and has begun welcoming customers into it. With a rooftop patio, classroom, demonstration kitchen and fireplace lounge, the remodeled space is built for flexibility and comfort, says Karina Roe, a certified sommelier and France 44’s general events manager and wine specialist. Sliding doors separate the classroom and kitchen areas from the patio and fireplace lounge, adding a fluidity to the addition.
With this expansion, France 44 is offering an expanded array of courses on wine, beer, cheese and other delicacies, and has partnered with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust to offer professional
wine courses in its new classrooms.
In January, France 44 kicked off a robust class and event schedule, with 20–30 classes being offered in the first three months of the year. Roe says these classes will primarily be taught by France 44 staff, but they’ll also occasionally bring in partners from small businesses and wineries.
Clients can also rent the space for a wide range of private events—birthdays, company outings, team-building events and holiday parties. “But we also want to make it just really, really accessible for a lot of different groups of people,” Roe says, including nonprofits and community groups in the area.
With this new space at its fingertips, the team is also envisioning ways to spontaneously welcome the surrounding community into the new space on nights when there aren’t any other events booked. Pop-ups will be announced on social media and will include food offerings from the cheese shop.
“The number one function of the new space is to be event-specific, but there will definitely be [designated] times where we’ll run ‘open hours,’ so people can come up with their glass of wine and sandwich from the cheese shop,” Roe says.
“It’s definitely the sort of thing [for] people who live in the neighborhood or who are friends of ours,” Anderson says. “There will be opportunities for them to come and be a part of what we’ve built here.”
Roe says the space is designed “to be so welcoming … Like you’re stepping into someone’s home but with a slightly more elevated touch to it.”
More than anything else, the addition reinforces France 44’s core values—to welcome its customers and empower its employees.
Anderson developed this ethos partially from his consulting work—that is, from the hotels and restaurants he passed through on business trips. “The hotels I liked best were the ones that remembered me,” he says. If he had a flight delay, Anderson could trust that he wouldn’t lose his room because the front desk staff knew him personally. He notes that, while many employees in the hospitality and service industries are very transitory, “The places [I frequented] where the employees felt empowered and where they had a strong culture, those are the places that gave the best hospitality … It became clear to me like—gosh, if I was ever going to have a hotel, this is what I would do,” he says. So, when Anderson took over France 44, he prioritized building a strong relationship with customers.
Hailey White, France 44’s events and hospitality director, cites the business’s community as one of the reasons she joined the team. “[It’s] the way that every customer walks through the door and remembers people’s names and knows what’s going on in each other’s life,” she says.
Beyond his customers, Anderson has established an ironclad trust with his staff. “When I got into this business, I [wanted] to make a place that I myself would want to shop at and that I myself would want to work at,” he says. “My whole philosophy has been [to] hire smart people who are excited about what they’re doing, and then trust them to do the job.”
Anderson wants to ensure that his employees have agency in their work at the business. “He truly does listen to his employees, and he values his staff […] and we feel really respected because of that,” Roe says.
“That’s what allows all these big lofty dreams to actually come to life.” That trust is what led to this recent expansion. In the last five years, Roe, White and the education staff have built up France 44’s programming, offering popular classes in mozzarella making and courses on regional wines, among others. For most of that time, they used a small classroom space on the upper floor of the building to house events, in addition to offering virtual and hybrid classes. But after a while, the space started to feel cramped.
“You get to this point where you can either stay where you’re at, and the ceiling is really low in terms of what you’re able to accomplish [there],” Roe says. “Or you can start thinking and look outside of what you’re doing.” At first, the team thought about renting a space for events, but none of the spaces they explored felt right.
Then in 2020, Anderson and a few team members walked onto the roof of the building to plan some routine repairs. “And one of the people on my team was like, ‘Wow, the view up here is amazing. We should totally have an event space up here.’”
By August 2021, Anderson had drawn up blueprints of the new addition—including the rooftop patio—and contacted his builder to begin construction. “The hard part was done,” Anderson says. “The team was in place—all I needed was the building.”
With the building completed, France 44 is poised to usher in new guests and old friends. Roe says the addition is only the beginning of France 44’s next phase, adding: “We’re ready for anything.”
Upcoming Classes and Events
Want to check out the new space by attending a class? Here’s a selection of classes being offered throughout March. To register for classes, visit france44events.com.
Cider 101 | March 2
Dive into the world of cider, and learn all of the important basics, from apple varieties to production methods, along with discovering great local cideries.
Wines of France Part 3:
Northern France | March 7
Take a tour through some of the sub-regions and wines of northern France. You’ll discover the wide array of grapes cultivated there and the many different styles of wine this region produces—and learn about some of the world’s best food-pairing wines!
Cheeses of the World | March 9
Discover the ancient practice of transhumance as you follow shepherds and their flocks to and from the highlands, tasting the cheeses they make along the way. Throughout the class, you’ll enjoy a range of cheeses with carefully selected beverage pairings.
A Step-by-Step Guide | March 14
Explore the history behind vermouth and learn the classic components and steps for batching your own aromatized, fortified wine. You’ll be supplied with ingredients and leave with a small batch of a hand-crafted vermouth of your own.
Wine 101 | March 16
Learn all the important basics for appreciating wine—from how to read a wine label and what glasses to use, to wine storage, food pairing basics and tips on how to taste like a professional.
Wines of California Part 2:
Napa and Sonoma | March 21
This class will focus on two of the most prominent and influential wine regions in the U.S.: Napa and Sonoma. You’ll explore the history, winemaking styles and the dichotomy between these unique regions.