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How This Entrepreneur Reworked His Business Idea in the Face of Financial Armageddon While a key aspect of his plan changed, City Winery founder Michael Dorf achieved his original goal: to build a place where people could eat, drink and enjoy an intimate concert experience.

By Lambeth Hochwald

This story appears in the March 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Chad Batka
Feast for the senses: Live jazz caps an evening at City Winery’s New York club.

The financial crisis of 2008 changed everything. Michael Dorf, who founded legendary New York City rock venue the Knitting Factory in 1986, was just three months away from opening a combined winery and music club in Manhattan that would feature visible steel fermenting tanks and a refined dining experience. Dorf anticipated bankers buying wines by the barrel.

But the subprime mortgage crisis doused those expectations. "We were not only in financial Armageddon, but there was such a reversal in big spending and ostentatious behavior," Dorf says. "It became taboo."

He had to find an alternative concept. "I came to an internal phrase, something I call being "vessel-agnostic,' which meant that I realized that it didn't matter if I sold wine by the barrel or by the glass."