Vanessa Wong isn’t afraid to jump into new ventures, and neither are her daughters, who she calls her “Wahines” (pronounced waa-hee-nee, Polynesian slang for surfer girls). The girls, 7 and 9, are always ready for the waves.
“I was inspired by them to dive right into what I wanted to do,” Wong says.
In 2016, Wong opened Fishtown Social, a Philadelphia wine bar and retail store. But Wong grew up in New Jersey, and when she moved her family back to the Garden State that same year, she asked herself what she wanted to see in her new Jersey Shore town, Ventnor.
On July 1, Wong opened two stores directly next to each other in Ventnor: Wahine Wine Company and Fish & Whistle Market. The two businesses complement each other, as one is stocked with local and natural wines, while the other offers local baked goods, cheeses, jams and more.
“The more we support each other in the community, the more everyone thrives,” Wong says.
How did you get into these businesses?
My parents owned truck stops and diners [when I was] growing up in Kearney and Jersey City. Through my undergrad and law school, I spent a lot of time working at clubs and bars and fine dining spots. It was kind of in my blood and I just gravitated towards it.
What made you step away from law?
It was just a beautiful mess. My husband and I moved to Fishtown and thought, ‘What would we like to see in the neighborhood?’ We would work downtown and meet in Washington Square at Tria—a restaurant we always went to. That’s how we came up with a wine bar, Fishtown Social. It was a cool neighborhood bar that had an extensive by-the-glass list.
When did you return to Jersey?
I love the beach, so we ended up at the Shore. During Covid, we did retail at Fishtown Social, and we realized it was something people were really into. We were thinking, ‘How can we make all these wines accessible to Jersey?’ Ventnor is pretty cool, and it was kind of like, ‘What’s missing here?’
You opened Wahine Wine Company and Fish & Whistle Market on July 1. How’s it been going?
It was bananas! The people who come through the door are so excited to have us and see something new. People love to invest in their municipality.
Next door to Wahine is a market (Fish & Whistle) that stocks a lot of local, artisanal goods like grocery items, cheeses and charcuterie. It complements the wine well and brings a little more energy to the avenue than just a liquor store.
Do you have a favorite local item?
I’m still finding my favorite Jersey wine! We work with a local baker, Alfia, from Vestal Life, and she makes incredible vegan baked goods. Apple cider donuts, pound cake—and she drops them off to us every Friday. We have a guy named Jim, of Jim’s Jams, who has his own blueberry farm in Jersey. A lot of our natural wines are unfiltered, so we have vegan wine options as well.
Why is it important to you to stock local items?
As we help everyone else, the neighborhood grows around us. It’s not just big businesses around; it’s friends and neighbors, and we all try to keep each other going.
What are you looking forward to this summer?
We’ve had it in the pipeline and I’m excited to do it: [We’re] rolling out a very reasonable wine club. The pickup will be once a month, and when you pick up, it’ll be an event for club members with things like free cheese tastings or wine tastings. We will even do fire pits and s’mores for the kids. We want to create a space for people to come together in the community.