Stephen Murray has worked in some of the region’s finest restaurants as a chef, but his recent return to East Long Beach has led him to turn in his chef’s jacket to become a small business owner with M Wine Cheese Etc., which opened this month in the Time Square shopping center connected to the Stratford Square neighborhood.
The 36-year-old Murray’s new shop, which focuses on artisan cheeses and charcuterie, quality affordable wine and unique gifts like ceramics, handmade candles and gift baskets, adds to the Time Square shopping center that has undergone a makeover in both appearance and tenancy the past few years.
The center’s anchor tenant, Baja Sonora, is still there, but the scuba store and trophy shop are now gone. A brewery, bakery, coffee shop and a pizza parlor have replaced them, and this month Murray’s shop has completed the overhaul.
“We’ve bounced all over the place, but now we’re putting down some roots,” said Murray, who bought a home just south of the shop in 2019. “We just think the neighborhood really needs some options outside of the Trader Joe’s and the Ralphs and very commercialized places to shop.”
Murray and his wife, Kerri, are both originally from Orange County but have spent a considerable amount of time in the Stratford Square neighborhood visiting grandparents, aunts and uncles, Murray said. While the shop will carry fancier items, Murray said he wants to be approachable and get to know customers and make personal recommendations.
The shelves of the shop are full of imported cooking ingredients like Italian flour, Spanish tomatoes and rare Rancho Gordo beans grown in Napa, and an assortment of olive oils from Greece, Italy and Spain. The back of the shop holds small treats like chocolate and candies, and kitchenware like wine decanters and paella pans.
Murray said that he wants the shop to be an inviting place for people to not just shop for wine and other goods, but experience them. There will be opportunities to meet winemakers and cheesemakers, and the selection won’t be a “big wall of French Bordeaux for $180,” he said.
The most expensive bottle the shop currently has is $44, and Murray said he wants to keep the price range around $20 to $40.
“The wine world is very intimidating,” Murray said. “The way people often talk about wine is a big turnoff for a lot of people. As someone who’s been in the restaurant industry for quite a while, you almost need a Ph.D. to order a bottle of wine. We don’t want to be that way.”
The wines Murray carries are not for collectors, but for people who want an interesting, inexpensive bottle to enjoy at home or share with friends, like a $22 bottle of a white pinot noir from Germany that Murray noted is a full liter and will pour five full glasses of wine, rather than the around four glasses out of a standard bottle of wine.
The selection is small, but like the imported beers Murray has in stock, they’re likely to be things you can’t find at other stores in Long Beach. Murray said with a small selection it was important to him that the selection be interesting.
This will be the third store that Murray has helped open, but the first that he can call his own. He said there was always a plan to transition to something other than being a chef, considering that being a chef isn’t something a lot of people do in their later years.
Murray hopes that the shop will be able to introduce people to new items and teach them a thing or two about wines and cheeses, but not just for knowledge’s sake.
He said that most people want something they can enjoy with their family while sitting on the couch and the pandemic has increased the need to have nicer experiences at home, something he hopes his shop can provide.
“People need to eat and drink,” Murray said. “And sometimes even more so in times like these.”