The Humble Rise of White Horse Wines

How one family turned a bare-bones Absecon shop into a 32,000-square-foot staple.

Part of the food section of White Horse Wines in Absecon. Photo by Jessica Orlowicz

A black stripe of vinyl floor tile divides White Horse Wines in Absecon right down the middle. Adam Sternberger, who owns White Horse with his wife, Elizabeth McCabe, and his father, Steve Sternberger, calls it “the remembrance line.” It signifies how far White Horse has come from its origins as a humble liquor store.

Today, White Horse is a 32,000-square-foot emporium of wine, beer, spirits, gourmet items and a changing menu of take-out foods made fresh daily, from a curried mango-chicken-salad wrap to charcuterie plates.

Steve was a junior in high school in 1971 when his father, Harry, recently retired from poultry farming, bought a small liquor store near Absecon Lighthouse in pre-casino Atlantic City. After Steve graduated, he helped his dad run the store and eventually took it over. In 1985, he tore it down, bought the lot next door, and built a new, larger shop, All-Star Liquors. 

At the time, says Steve, most liquor stores in the city kept their wares behind a counter or plexiglass barrier—a practice he considered racist. All-Star, he says, was the first self-service liquor store in the Inlet. “People said I was crazy,” he recalls. “I felt that if I built a nice store, the residents would respect it.” And they did. 

In 2006, Steve bought White Horse Liquors in a mall on the White Horse Pike in Absecon. His son, Adam, was living with McCabe in New York City. (They would marry in 2014.) “We always had a food passion and threw small gatherings,” says Adam. “Or we thought they’d be small, and then everybody would show up.” 

In 2009, Steve persuaded the mall owner to divide the recently vacated Acme supermarket into three equal units, with White Horse moving into one of them, tripling its space to 16,000 square feet. That’s when Adam joined the business. In 2013, they took over the adjoining former Acme space and reached 32,000 square feet. At that point, McCabe came onboard. 

Steve Sternberger astride the “remembrance line,” with son Adam and Adam’s wife, Elizabeth McCabe. Photo by Jessica Orlowicz

In the new space, they added food for the first time. Unable to make the floor tile in the new space exactly match the tile in the existing space, they placed the black stripe between them to obscure the contrast and called it the remembrance line.

McCabe, who had grown up in the restaurant business, created a selection of local food items and launched a lunch menu of sandwiches, salads, soups and smoothies. “There was no Wegman’s or Trader Joe’s down here,” Adam says, “so we focused on local products and things you couldn’t get in basic stores.” They eventually hired two full-time chefs and, in 2017, introduced take-out dinners Wednesday through Friday. The menu changes regularly, but there is always a meat option and a vegetarian option. Think turkey Bolognese over spaghetti squash or veggie pot pie.    

Meanwhile, Adam began expanding craft spirits and especially the wine selection. (Craft beer has grown so fast, he delegated it to a manager to handle.) Adam organizes wines differently than most shops. “Usually it’s by region,” he says. “We organize by characteristic: rich, medium, light in both reds and whites; sweet wines; then by region and varietal. Before, I couldn’t get a pinot drinker to look at a Barbera or Grenache. Now they’re in the same section. It totally changed people’s buying patterns.”

Steve is still involved. He does what Adam calls the “bulk buying”—big sellers like Smirnoff, Jack Daniels, Jameson and beers like Bud Lite. 

“Bud Lite pays our bills,” says Adam. “Without them, we don’t exist. But often you’ll see the Budweiser 30-pack guy, and all of a sudden he’s over there, buying a sandwich or getting dinner. And we’re like, ‘Oh! It’s working!’”

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