Robbi Wolff enjoys introducing La Crosse-area residents to imported specialty foods, beverages and gift items. And she missed some of the shopping options she had in Chicago, while growing up outside Chicago Heights, Ill.
That’s why she opened That Foreign Place gift shop in December 2015 at 123 S. Fourth St. in downtown La Crosse. She moved it to its current larger location at 107 S. Third St. effective July 1 of this year.
Wolff opened her new Christos Taverna in another part of the same storefront on Sept. 28, the first day of this year’s local Oktoberfest celebration.
“It’s a wine bar with some food options,” Wolff said of Christos Taverna, which features Greek wines and a handful of Spanish wines; beer from Greece, Japan, Germany, Belgium and Denmark and spirits from such places as Greece, Finland and Japan. All of the wines, beers and spirits are imported.
Christos Taverna also recently began offering Greek-inspired appetizers. The initial offerings include such things as Greek-style french fries, fried shrimp and fried calamari. In the next few weeks, the appetizer list will expand to include items such as Greek pastries, Greek coffee and Greek salads.
Wolff’s fiancé, Greg Salarias, is from Greece and helps her order imported Greek merchandise. Wolff chose the name Christos Taverna for her wine bar because Christos is the first name of Salarias’s father.
The walls of Wolff’s two businesses are decorated with photos taken in Greece. She has traveled to Greece a few times.
Shortly before Wolff first met Salarias, she traveled to Greece with a girlfriend and fell in love with the food, culture and the people.
In its Third Street storefront, That Foreign Place has a little more room and many more products than it had in its original Fourth Street location, Wolff said.
Besides imported wines, beer and spirits, it sells imported specialty food items and gift items. “The food items are almost all from Greece,” Wolff said and include such things as olive oil, chocolates, honey, olives, cheese, pasta, coffee and biscuits.
That Foreign Place also sells a variety of wine accessories and unique gifts such as tea towels, coasters, decanters and aerators. Wolff recently added tote bags and women’s purses to her product line.
Wolff said she started That Foreign Place partly because “I had always wanted my own business. And I missed having the many shopping options I had” in the Chicago area. She decided to locate her gift shop downtown because “I saw the growth that was happening downtown. And it’s still getting better.”
Wolff, who moved to La Crosse from Illinois in 2000, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling.
She was a financial advisor for five years before leaving that occupation to open That Foreign Place.
“I enjoy bringing in different items for people and showing them the different foods that are out there,” Wolff said. “I enjoy it when people see and try things they haven’t before.
“A lot of people are looking for something different, like different cuisine,” Wolff said.
Most of the gift shop and wine bar’s customers are from the greater La Crosse area, she said. “But we also see a lot of tourists, business people and people who are just passing through,” she added.