Watson Fong, owner of , got into the liquor store business four years ago with the purchase of an existing store in Shoreview.
Then, in 2010, the Woodbury resident opened a second shop in Oakdale, in the shopping center northeast of 10th Street and Helmo Avenue.
He said his customers are sometimes surprised to learn the shop is named after a 4-year-old boy, a decision Fong made quickly when he decided his Shoreview liquor store needed to be re-branded.
Patch: First off, who is Walt?
Watson Fong: People thought it’s me because I’m always here, but it’s my son. I named it after my son Walter. He’s 4 years old.
Patch: Do people call you Walt all the time?
Fong: Yeah, I say, ‘Don’t worry.’ I don’t mind. As long as you’re coming here.
Patch: What made you want to get into the business?
Fong: Just by accident. I used to manage a clinic. My brother’s a doctor, and I managed his clinic in Stillwater, and we decided to move on. The opportunity came in, so I decided to try a business.
Patch: Why the liquor business?
Fong: I looked around and see there’s a lot of liquor stores that are still surviving, so with the down market, I thought I’ll give it a try.
Patch: Is your family involved in the business?
Fong: My nephew helps me once in awhile. We kind of exchange shifts. Sometimes I’m in Shoreview, sometimes he’s in Shoreview. I want the customers to see both of us. They might think we sold the business, so I want them to still see me. I make a point of spending two or three days in Shoreview, two or three days here. Back and forth
Patch: Why did you choose your location in Oakdale?
Fong: I saw the need in this area. I didn’t see any liquor stores around here. And I live in Woodbury, so it’s kind of close to me.
Patch: Do you ever wish you just had a “normal job” as an employee for someone else?
Fong: It comes to my mind, but the satisfaction as a small business—in fact I have a lot of friends who have a normal job, who have a high-paying job, asking me questions about getting into the business, so I think you’re always looking for what you don’t have. Some people are more business inclined, some people they don’t want to worry, they don’t want to work after six. For me, I don’t mind.
Patch: Over the four years you’ve been in business, have people’s preferences changed?
Fong: Yes, with the down economy people aren’t buying expensive stuff now, so I made a point for my wine—mostly is under $12 or $15. I have a few higher than that, but that’s it. There’s some people for the beer, they’re kind of downgrading. Although there are some people, they’re also upgrading to new stuff. I have a good selection of craft beers here and imports. I have beer from The Philippines. It’s one of the best beers in Asia.
Patch: So how often does Walt come in the store?
Fong: Oh, every so often.
Patch: What is your favorite thing about your job?
Fong: You own the business. You control everything. All the problems go to you—that’s the downside. There’re pros and cons. Hopefully in the long run I made a good choice.