Briarwood Mart Wine and Spirts owners Leslie and Nathan McHardy.

Written by Hannah Saulters | Photographed by Joe Ellis

“We still get checks made out to Saik’s,” laughs Nathan McHardy, who, with his wife Lesley, has owned Briarwood Mart Package Store for over a decade.

Having grown up in the neighborhood, he doesn’t mind.

“My parents and grandparents shopped here and we always called it Saik’s. Customers can call it whatever they want, as long as they’re coming.”

It’s this fun-loving, optimistic attitude that colors McHardy’s entire approach to owning and running the Jackson institution, a job he stumbled into somewhat by chance.

His retail career began at Indian Cycle, where he ran the outdoor department, selling backpacks and leading trips to Smokey Mountains every other weekend, until his friends Scott and Julie Koestler recruited him into fine dining when they purchased Shapley’s Restaurant, now Koestler Prime. He credits this catchall position with his success so far as a business owner, saying, “Everything that I learned working for Scott and Julie prepared me to go into business for myself.”

When Albert and Mike Saik were looking for buyers for the store, Nathan and Lesley (who had been BRAVO’s first-ever sommelier) jumped at the opportunity. Though, taking over the iconic LeFleur East shop hasn’t been without its surprises. With such a long history, the store hosts multiple generations of shoppers. “When you’re serving customers from ages 21 to 81, there’s no room for any kind of snobbery. If somebody wants to drink Carlo Rossi sangria in a four-liter bottle, I’m just glad they’re coming to me to get it.”

His enthusiasm rings true as he shares the thing he hopes customers leave the store knowing: it’s not as hard as people think.

“I don’t want anybody to be intimidated when they come in,” he says, preferring that they’re “wide open and ready to talk and laugh and pick out stuff they otherwise never would have tried.” In helping them choose, McHardy asks them what flavors they hate. “That gives me a better idea of their palate. If you ask someone what they do like, it’s a really broad answer, but ask what they don’t and it’s super specific.”

From there, he can steer even the pickiest customer. But for the rare instances where someone is less than thrilled with their purchase, he has a solution. “With white wine you aren’t enjoying, add some soda water and make it a spritzer. For red wine, put some Coca-Cola in it and add some ice. It’s counterintuitive but totally delicious!”

And what does the sommelier think of rosé’s growing popularity? “It’s the perfect wine for Southerners!” Even though people were slow to get over what pink wine looks like in the glass, “everyone’s realized how versatile it is, especially for us. Nine months out of our year is 80 degrees and up. When the heat index is 101, you don’t want a heavy cabernet. Pour a big frosty glass of rosé and it’ll be perfect.”