Ilona Esmaeily of Turlock was one of several individuals who decided to take a leap of faith and start a small business in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when she launched L’Amore Charcuterie. The business has been a resounding success, but she had always aspired for more.
“I do what I like to do, which is decorate food and make food look pretty,” Esmaeily said. “L’Amore Charcuterie has been a very good business for me and has kept me busy. I mean, we just did a wedding for 600 people. But that’s more like catering. For people who don’t have events, I still wanted to bring them these experiences.”
On May 16, she opened the doors to her new business, L’Amore Wine and Dine at 138 S. Center St. in Turlock. Esmaeily is still offering her classic charcuterie menu, but this time in a sit-down, restaurant environment with a full wine bar.
“My whole thing is cheese and wine. It’s a combination that everybody knows and loves. It’s like, ‘Yeah, let’s have a glass of wine, eat some cheese, just offering shareable plates,” she said.
Previously housed the space at 138 S. Center St. was a similar business – Savor Charcuterie. Savor Charcuterie was tailored more towards takeout and pickup orders. When Esmaeily got word that they were looking to move out of the space and transition their business almost completely online in November, she jumped at the opportunity. By February, the space was hers and construction and design began.
While there are wine lounges that serve charcuterie, Esmaeily wanted to make her restaurant stand out, and she seems to have accomplished that with the unique art. The person behind the large flowery murals throughout the interior is Merced artist Jaden Key. On another wall, there are artificial plants with the L’Amore name in pink, neon lights, which Esmaeily described as a “selfie wall.”
“When I imagined what I wanted my wine bar to look like, it was this,” she said. “I wanted somewhere for the community to go for these special occasions. A place to get dressed up on the weekends, a place to have fun and take pictures. It’s elegant, trendy, but comfortable.”
Once at L’Amore Wine and Dine, guests can browse a menu of nearly 30 wines, including chardonnay, Moscato, rose, pinot noir and cabernet amongst others.
“I’ve been telling people, ‘I’m going to be the one to crack this trend. I’m going to make Turlock like wine,’” Esmaeily said. “A lot of those who like wine in Turlock already have their favorites, but I want to show everyone that there is more. I want to introduce the European wines, wines from New Zealand, wine from Portugal. Even Australia and Germany…”
As for the food menu, it includes five different types of paninis, three variations of cheese boards, four types of salads and six Mediterranean-inspired appetizers. Almost all of her ingredients are locally sourced. One of the most popular orders during L’Amore’s first month of operation has been the Dolma appetizer, consisting of rice, herbs and spices rolled in grape leaves as well as the Three Meats Charcuterie board with hand selected meats alongside torshi and crackers.
“There’s a little bit of something for everyone here,” said Esmaeily. “Older people love the classic wines, (and) there’s a lot that catches the eye that really appeals to the younger crowd. It’s really good food and really good drinks, and we’re here for everything. Come after work, for your business meetings, for your birthday celebrations, just come here for the good vibes.”
L’Amore plans on hosting wine tasting events in the near future. For more information on the restaurant and future events, follow the restaurant on social media at @lamore_wineanddine on Instagram and at L Amore Charcuterie on Facebook.