When you are in the presence of Jennifer English, it's best to just let her do the talking. English is not only vastly knowledgeable in all things culinary, as she has been on the scene for decades now, but she is also a recipient of a James Beard award for broadcast journalism. Although, her cooking skills are quite adroit as well.
Yes, in 2002, English won the coveted culinary achievement prize during her time with The Food & Wine Radio Network Show, which she also founded. After winning the James Beard award, she was nominated two more times and in 2010 she received a Gracie Allen Award from the Alliance for Women in Media.
She has been a food and beverage editor for just as long and has traveled the world, seeking out new and outstanding flavors, hidden food spots, hosting events, paneling, judging, eating, drinking, writing, and hanging out with the likes of Julia Child on Julia’s 90th birthday.
Having called Tucson home for many years now, I have been fortunate enough to run into English on many occasions, usually during a tasting event or fancy dinner, and we have become good friends over the past decade. So, I was thrilled to hear she had been working on a new endeavor.
In late 2022, I got a text from her saying she has a hand in something quite unique, a project she has been working on for some time. It would explain why I hadn’t seen or heard from her in over a year.
When I arrived at her new business on South Country Club Road I was curious as to what the name, Choice & Co., actually meant. Choice meats? The Choice & Co. radio hour? When I stepped inside I was surprised to see what appeared to be a sort of liquor, wine, and champagne store — it is but totally isn’t.
Now, you can go to a proper liquor store or even a big box booze department and they will have a little, if not dusty, corner of some alcohol-free wine, maybe a bottle of hooch-free whiskey, and perhaps a sixer of Near Beer. Choice & Co. is a space with a delight of delicious non-tipple treats ranging from actual spirits without the spirit and top-shelf champagne that will keep you sharp without sacrificing flavor or festivity.
Being a person that does like to imbibe on a regular basis, I was a little nervous about having English make me drinks that wouldn’t get me buzzed. Normally, the virgin drinks I have been served in the past have been far from awesome. At Choice & Co., there is an actual bar set up where she invites you to sit, relax, slow down, and enjoy the experience.
As she made one of the best bloody mary’s I’ve ever had with a non-alcoholic beer, English did what she does best: tell stories (next to making fantastic mocktails). If you let her, she will infuse your ears about meetings with various celebrities such as Amy Poehler, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” host Robin Leach, our dearly beloved Anthony Bourdain, and so much more.
It’s not bragging at all. It’s just her extraordinary life.
As you sip award-winning champagnes with depth, flavor, and effervescence you’d expect from the well-lit variety, you connect with her as she spins about the best thing she’s ever eaten in some of the most admirably food-centric cities across the globe. Here in Tucson though, ask her where the best fried chicken is. You’ll be shocked. I sure was.
This is where another of her favorite words comes into play: conviviality.
About halfway into our afternoon of chatting and drinking, we realized that my cheeks were rosy red. It couldn’t be because of the alcohol because I wasn’t drinking any. It was just the entirety of it all, the black tie-worthy libations, the friendly atmosphere, and the back and forth of stories
Choice & Co. makes it easy for those participating in “dry January” or those who want to ditch booze altogether but still want to retain that party-in-your-mouth feel.
Dry bars are popping up everywhere. English isn’t running a bar by any means, but as people become more attuned to longevity and general health, going sober isn’t such a bad idea. Even award-winning food author and culinary expert Max Tucci called top-flight alcohol-free potables the “next big thing in food and beverage.”
It is a trend that I embrace as someone who gets paid to haunt local beer halls and whiskey huts on a fairly regular basis.
Having opened in November of 2022, Choice & Co. is an appointment-only shop and will soon be giving tastings. The outdoor space surrounding the shop is open enough that English is considering food truck roundups.
Plus, they can ship their wares anywhere. Need some family-friendly gin, ready-to-drink mojitos, an alluring rosé that won’t lay you flat, or a tasty beer you can totally drink at your desk but can’t make the drive to its south side location? Just log on, shop, pay, and you’re done.
English instructed that ampersand in the name of the bottle shop represents the bridge between the “choice” and the “co,” meaning we all have a choice in life but what you fill it with has to be fulfilling. It’s okay to have a drink now and then — that’s your choice. However, if you dig that cocktail vibe but are done with the mess of hangovers and late-night fast-food visits, then Choice & Co. is a bridge you need to cross to get to the other side of revelry with responsibility.
In fact, as said earlier, English is an amazing storyteller. So, in her own words, to follow is what her mission with Choice & Co. is all about.
“If most people that drink alcohol pay attention to wellness, this is about giving you a true choice,” she said. “Up until now, the non-alcoholic choices were so inferior to our alcohol choices that it really wasn’t a choice at all. This company exists because we have gone out and tasted everything. We have curated the most irresistible and delicious products that when you come here you can now say that you absolutely have a choice."
"So, for us, the ampersand is the entire symbol of what we do because it's not about being sober or this being a place for people in recovery. We are the first non-alcoholic bottle shop in Tucson and the first to have this well-curated selection. That’s what we do.”
Choice & Co. is currently by appointment only and located at 6000 S. Country Club Rd. #132. For more information, visit choiceandco.com and follow Choice & Co. on Instagram.
Mark Whittaker began his journalism career in San Francisco around 1997. It was for a small Northern California music magazine that segued into contributing to numerous magazines, websites, newspapers and weeklies throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. Mark interviewed bands,...