By Andrea Pineda-Salgado
“Baby, we’re top shelf!” exclaimed a customer to Sunshine Foss, owner of Happy Cork, a wine and spirits shop in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and it’s a phrase she will never forget. Happy Cork has the most extensive collection of wine and spirits from Black and minority-owned businesses in the country, and Foss makes sure these Black-owned bottles take up space on her shop’s top shelves. Whether a customer is looking for an earthy pinot noir or a spicy tequila, shoppers are likely to find what they are looking for on Happy Cork’s tightly packed shelves.
Foss was born in Brooklyn, New York, but grew up on the island of St. Lucia. She initially worked in the fashion industry but then switched to real estate. In 2016, she and her husband bought the building where Happy Cork is located. It had already been home to a liquor store, simplifying the process of getting a license.
“I didn’t go into the wine and spirits industry thinking, ‘This is my dream and this is what I want to do.’ So I tell people the industry found me, just because I had to find out what to do with the space,” she says. “But I think it is the best thing that ever happened…I knew I had to bring in something that would be super special.”
By March 2019, Happy Cork was stocked and ready for customers. One year later when the store was celebrating its first anniversary, Covid-19 shut the city down. Happy Cork was deemed essential and kept operating.
At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in June 2020, Happy Cork’s sales increased dramatically. People were being more intentional about where they spent their money and buying products from Black-owned businesses.
“We became that destination place for any [wine or spirits that is] Black-owned,” Foss says. “It’s so important for us to see representation on the shelves, you come in and it’s like a museum. It’s a euphoric feeling when someone walks in and sees all the representation we have, all our Black-owned at the top.”
Some of the products at Happy Cork even come with their piece of Black history. House of Brown is a second-label offspring of Brown Estate, Napa Valley’s first Black-owned and operated winery. Its fruity Chardonnay and floral rosé bottles are fan-favorites.
You can also find wine from Black artists like John Legend, whose LVE sparkling French rosé bottle is a bestseller, or Mary J. Blige’s Sun Goddess Sauvignon Blanc. The McBride Sisters’ Black Girl Magic Collection is also a customer favorite.
“For us, the Black Girl Magic collection was unique to Happy Cork, and it was a driver [to the shop] during the Black Lives Matter movement. Who doesn’t want a bottle that says ‘Black Girl Magic’ on it?” Foss says.
Foss’s personal favorite is the Lapin Rouille Champagne, made from hand-harvested Pinot Meunier grapes and owned by a Black woman. She says its bubbles are the perfect size.
The community’s response to Happy Cork has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I first read about it in a Black-owned businesses story during the George Floyd protests and Covid. When I moved to Bed-Stuy, I wanted to support Black-owned businesses,” says Kathrine Purtle, a frequent customer. “I always get Argentinian wine. Happy Cork has a great selection, they deliver, they have an app and they have great gifts.”
The store also helped some of its neighbors get through the pandemic.
“I moved to New York the same year they opened. I was really excited to have a Black-woman owned wine store on my corner. I love the selection, I am a big rosé fan.” says Reginald Armand “During the pandemic I came here every single day to get a bottle because there was nothing else for me to do. You can go in with any question and the staff will find you the perfect bottle — the knowledge the people have here is amazing.”
If you’re a wine drinker, Foss suggests signing up for Happy Cork’s monthly wine club. Pricing starts at $85 a month. You can download the Happy Cork app or follow the store on Instagram to stay up to date on future wine tastings and events.
Happy Cork is located at 51 Buffalo Ave. in Brooklyn, and is open from 12 to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 12 to 10 p.m. on Friday to Sunday. Use code Epic15 to receive 10% off your online purchase from Sept. 14 to Sept. 21.