Cheri Guerdon, Virgola franchise owner, poses for a photo at Virgola. Virgola is a new wine and oyster bar opening downtown. Virgola offers a distinct menu consisting of fresh, raw oysters, ceviche, crudo and caviar as well as imported Italian cheeses, cured meats & salads in a stylish and comfortable setting. (Staff photo by Erin O. Smith)

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Virgola brings seafood and wine bar to downtownNew York bar expands into Chattanooga

Cheri Guerdon spent 26 years as a Hamilton County teacher, but she always had a dream of opening her own business some day.

Guerdon said she subscribed to a franchise newsletter and was looking for something that was fairly easy but also interesting and new to the area. Then, she found the Virgola Wine Bar and took her dream one step further by becoming a franchise owner of the new wine-and-seafood bar set to celebrate its grand opening in downtown Chattanooga on Tuesday.

Virgola Wine Bar was founded in 2013 by New York City restaurateur Joseph Marazzo who then decided to franchise the idea out, which proved to fairly easy as the Italian wine bar has a gourmet cold kitchen and serves items like fresh, raw oysters, ceviche, crudo and caviar as well as salads and other seafood platters.

Started in Greenwich, N.Y., Virgola — pronounced like "veer-guhla" — now has locations across the country in cities such as Ormond Beach, Fla. and Asheville, N.C with more opening soon.

"I just fell in love with it," Guerdon said about the bar.

"As I've gotten older, I've enjoyed trying different wines and I didn't want to cook," she jokingly added.

Guerdon doesn't consider herself an expert in the wine field, but she has recruited the help of some sommeliers to assist customers who consider themselves wine connoisseurs. Guerdon said she hired 10 employees, mostly part time, to work the location at 608 Georgia Ave.

Customers can choose from 16 different Italian wines at the bar, including Guerdon's favorite —Molo 8 Lambrusco Mantovano, a semi-sweet and sparkling red wine best served chilled.

Wine by-the-glass ranges in price from $7 to $12, or bottles are available for as much as $100. Craft beer is also available.

"This is the only wine and oyster bar I know in town that is exclusively Italian wines," she said.

The menu includes seafood platters from $50 to $100, make-your-own meat and cheese boards, tuna tartare, salmon crudo, east and west coast oysters and more. The restaurant can hold 75 people, including a small, outdoor patio area with a fire pit.

Guerdon said she fell in love with the older building along Georgia Avenue when she first saw it. The dimly lit bar is mostly decorated with black and grey colors and furnishings, industrial-style lighting and exposed brick. The restaurant even includes red booths custom made and shipped from New York, she said.

"It gives it this old-world Italian feel," Guerdon said.

The location will be open Monday through Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 4 to 11 p.m.

Contact staff writer Allison Shirk at or @Allison_Shirk.