Phoebe Fung shares the surprising story of how Calgary’s Vin Room came to be
Photography by Ingrid Kuenzel
“I’m a late bloomer. It took me 15 years to follow my passion, and I love it. It was the best move I’ve ever made,” says Phoebe Fung.
Proprietor of Vin Room, Fung describes herself as an “accidental restaurateur,” having spent the first 15 years of her career in oil and gas. “When I was at university, I was actually president of the Entrepreneurs Club, so it was a big joke when I graduated and worked for a big corporation,” she laughs.
She graduated from the University of Alberta with a commerce degree, and gained her MBA from Queens University while working at BP Energy. Working in Houston for a couple of years, Fung asked to come back to Calgary in 2007.
“I had a 15 year-old dog, and he didn’t like the Houston heat,” she explains. But a year later, she negotiated a leave of absence to explore the world of food and wine. She fell in love with a boarded-up building on 4 Street SW, and thought it would be a cool place for a wine bar. “My whole plan was to build a wine bar, and when my sabbatical was up, I’d go back to BP and work,” she says. “But that didn’t work out!”
Although Fung had no experience in the industry, she gutted the entire building for five months. “It’s a labour of love, is really what it is”, she says. Vin Room opened December 2008, and Fung knew after the first month that she wasn’t going back to oil and gas. “It was too much fun, you can get addicted to that energy of a busy room.”
When an opportunity arose in West Springs, Fung leapt at it. “I live in the ‘burbs, and I really don’t like driving back downtown for dinner on a weeknight, or in the middle of a snowstorm,” she says. “It’s a great area of town, what I call ‘urban suburban’. Now this one’s more eclectic, there’s only so much you can do with a square box,” she continues.
Two years later, in November 2012, Vin Room West and her wine store next door, VR Wine, opened – on exactly on the same day that Fung put in her proposal to the Airport Authority.
“I’ve always wanted to be in an airport,” she says. “Travelling is so stressful, so if you can create a little oasis for travellers, why not? And I get to design it. We’re making sure your carry-on can go underneath our seating, and we’re building our seating around data plugs, plug-ins and USB ports. We have a terminal monitor inside the restaurant, and a complimentary business centre – it’s all those things I wanted when I was travelling. It’s the largest wine bar in an airport in the world, and there will be beer on tap too.”
So what bottle is Fung saving for a special occasion?
“My favourite, and I have it in my cellar, is Krug Rosé” she says, her eyes shining at the thought. “And the reason for that is I bought a case when I was turning 40, and I have fond memories of drinking Krug Rosé in the Bahamas on a beach with 14 of my closest friends – we did a trip together,” she continues.
And when does she plan to open the bottle?
“I’m a sentimental drinker and I still have a few bottles of that case left, and I’ll be opening it when I open at the airport – and sharing it with my managers. And as you know, my managers all like a drink,so I do have more than one bottle to share,” she laughs.