Kelsey Daniels spent eighteen successful years in the film production industry but always fantasized about what else she might do. “Between jobs, my friends and I would travel to wine places,” Daniels said. “That was the escape. I just had this passion to learn about wine.” Owning and running a wine bar felt like a pipe dream, but Daniels needed to see for herself. In 2018, she left her career and moved from Salt Lake City, Utah to La Verne, California with her husband Kent and began working at one. If passion remained after the hard work, Daniels would know the daydream was worth pursuing.
Over the next few years, Daniels learned the ins and outs of the industry and fully immersed herself in wine education. She became a certified sommelier with the Court of Masters and a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) level three. Daniels decided it was time to take the risk and start her own venture. After deciding between a few locations around the west, Bend was the right fit. The Daniels visited throughout each season of Central Oregon, found a home with land in south Bend and saw there was demand for their restaurant concept: Flights.
With a few COVID-induced bumps along the way, the Daniels ultimately bought the location of the former Birdie’s Cafe on the west side near Central Oregon Community College in November 2021. “The fact that there was already a kitchen was huge,” Daniels said. “It was really important to me to have food and full kitchen entrées, because there are not a lot of places to taste wine and have a meal.” A fully-equipped kitchen ready to go meant their small business loan could be put toward interior design and remodeling.
Inside, the restaurant has jewel tones, unique wallpaper and oversized chairs to create a comfortable, casual spot for meeting friends over wine—the very thing Daniels did with her friends that inspired Flights Wine Bar. “Seeing people here doing that exact thing, laughing with their friends, creating that atmosphere and having regulars coming back that have embraced us from the get-go is really rewarding,” Daniels said.
The entrance to Flights displays a wall of more than 150 wine bottles available for no corkage at the restaurant or to take away at a discounted rate. “You can come in and browse and have a bottle here of anything we have,” Daniels said. “Or, if you do a flight or tasting—you can try before you buy. If you find something you love, you can take it home.”
At any given time, there are between fifteen and twenty wines by the glass available, and four flights to choose from—Lightside (whites), Darkside (reds), Local (Oregon and Washington wines) and Wanderlust (worldwide wines). Servers take the time to explain the region, tasting notes, interesting information about each wine served, and provide an opportunity for wine novices to learn more. Daniels has creative control over the wine she chooses and tastes each wine before adding it to the list. She does her best to fill the racks with small-production, family-owned boutique wineries that can’t be found at big chains, and works to constantly expose guests to new bottles. Price point is important at Flights; Daniels attempts to make wine accessible and offers competitive prices for bottles. “It’s easy to find a good $100 bottle of wine, but the sweet spot is finding a great bottle for only $30,” Daniels said.
While wine is at the forefront of Flights, the menu is not overlooked. Chef Nick Ragazzo was born in an Italian-Jersey family, has run his own food truck in Texas and helped to open Indian restaurants both in Bend and Portland—a unique round up of experience perfect for Flight’s focus on upscale comfort food. Dishes are created to complement the flight pairings and are updated seasonally. A few popular items include the steak tartare (locally sourced from D&D Ranch), a smoky brisket that’s braised in house and the indulgent mac and cheese, full of surprise bites of seared ricotta.
Flights has a dog-friendly patio, ideal for a fall afternoon. Daniels also puts on events throughout the week including trivia, live music nights, Fried Chicken Thursday, Wine Wednesday all-day happy hour and occasional five-course pairing dinner nights. Each serves the greater purpose of Flights—to create a place that feels like home, where you can relax and explore the world of wine.