For Brian Duncan, tasting a new wine is like a 5-year-old getting his first sugar rush.
“That thing that made you sort of hyperventilate over the first time you saw cotton candy and you said, OMG, my head is gonna explode!” he said.
The Morgan Park native, finds himself in a very small pool of African American owners in the food and wine industry.
So, for some, it’s a little surprising to learn he’s the co-founder, co-owner and wine director of Chicago Bin 36.
“Yea, I’m surprised that they’re surprised, but that’s their problem not mine,” Duncan said.
Duncan’s colorful character and sartorial style is his signature. And he has a profound and extensive knowledge of wine.
I’ve been able to educate people sometimes without them even knowing it,” he said.
“I was raised in a family that you could do or be anything that you wanted. I never had a life that felt like I had restriction on me,” Duncan said.
And, it was also mom and dad who taught him to appreciate the finer things in life.
“He was the first foodie. It was just the way that he’d shop for our weekly groceries, he would very carefully select everything that really stuck in my mind,” Duncan said.
“They would have sweet rolls they would warm the sweet rolls and put butter on em, we would just eat the sweet rolls,” said his friend George Boles Jr.
Brian lost his mom to breast cancer almost 30 years ago. He found a wine in the Napa Valley that he thought would be a perfect honor to her. It was also a way to give back.
Last year he initiated, Real Men Drink Pink in Chicago.
A campaign that helps fund a national organization for the early detection and prevention of breast and ovarian cancers.
“He’s definitely a person who gives back, his parents were the same way, when you talk about a village raising a child that was our block,” Boles said
Duncan runs a tight ship at Bin 36.
“You have to do that and you can tell when you’re in restaurants that don’t,” he said.
“He demands everything. He demands your full attention he demands that you educate yourself,” said Elizabeth Bolger. “He demands that you investigate other ways that things can be done. He just doesn’t settle.”
Bolger’s admiration for Duncan goes beyond that of a colleague. He’s became a mentor to her daughter, Olivia, who was about to go down the wrong path.
“He kind of a gave me a little push and helped me finish school,” Olivia said.
Now an employee at bin 36, Olivia says Duncan inspired her to believe in herself and realize she too can have success.
“If there’s something that you love an you wanna do, you can do it, you just have to set your mind to it,” Olivia said.
“There’s a lot going on in the world that we don’t need to enumerate on, being civil to one another is one of the most important things that we can do,” Duncan said.
Brian Duncan: He’s one of Chicago’s very own