Original Wine & Cheese Shop
Henning opened Vinhus in 1973, loading the shelves with cheese, teas, coffee beans, and gourmet goodies. A prescient retailer, he was among the first in the area to sell wine.
Henning hatched the idea for Vinhus while contemplating childhood excursions with his grandfather, a farmer who took him to the general store in Henning’s hometown of Roslev, in northern Denmark. While the clerk fetched their list of items, he and his grandfather roamed the aisles.
“Half the stuff I didn’t know what it was,” Henning says, his pale blue eyes twinkling at the memory, “and my grandfather used to say, ‘Why is it more fun to shop for things you don’t need than for stuff you have to have?’
“I thought about that when I opened Vinhus,” he laughs, “because there’s not a thing in that store that you need. It’s like a Danish grocery store was in the old days, except we didn’t bring in flour and sugar, we just brought in luxury items.”
Because of its eclectic inventory of Danish, Scandinavian and European delicacies, Susie describes Vinhus as “a shop like no other.”
“I love the store,” she declares. “It has a special feel. When you’re there, people are happy, and it’s not about what they need but what they like.
“When we were in Denmark visiting my grandfather in the mid-70s,” she continues, “my dad’s friend had a similar store. For the six weeks we visited, I worked there some of the time, and that probably locked me into liking the whole business.”
Following in her father’s footsteps, Susie displays a natural knack for operating the family’s restaurant and retail enterprises. She also relishes her role as a community volunteer, having been a Theaterfest board member for nine years and currently serving on the board of the Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau.
By the early 1990s, Susie had stepped in to help run Vinhus, which was selling local wines and had sparked a local trend by offering wine tasting. Building on Danish tradition, she plans to open a patio in front of the store for streetside sipping and people-watching.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the Danish people,” admits Susie, who regularly visits family in Denmark. “They’re special and fun. Overall, they look at things differently, they enjoy the moment.
“In some ways, I think Solvang is more Danish than Denmark,” she muses. “In fact, the ambassador who was here last year said he thinks the Danish heritage is more evident here and that the people are so proud of it.”
Henning reasons that Solvang retains a strong Danish flavor, in part, because its founders patterned the town on the 19th century Denmark they knew. In the late 1940s, the village enjoyed a renaissance of Danish-style architecture when builders erected half-timbered structures resembling old-style construction.
“Denmark is not that way anymore,” Henning says, “unless you go to the smaller islands. The big cities are as modern as here, sometimes even more so.
“When I grew up,” he remembers, “we had a [room] with a big kettle you could heat water in and a little tub, almost like a bathroom. Just to shave, you had to heat water on the stove.”
Henning was 15 when he left home, headed for an apprenticeship in a general store on an island called Samso. The owner of the store, who eventually helped Henning get into business school, proved to be a valuable mentor.
“He was a wonderful guy,” Henning says. “He had big hopes for me, and in some ways, I think I lived his dreams. He always said when he and his wife retired, they were going to move to California and open a little shop, which is what I did.”