Tell me about your job.
My role is as Director of Beverages for Big Heart Hospitality, which includes Orfano which just reopened, Sweet Cheeks, Fool’s Errand and High Street Place in March. On a day-to-day basis there is certainly a lot of focus on wine, but I also took over the drafting of the beer program and worked on large-scale spirits purchases and allocations.
I’m on the floor almost every night. It is my happiness. Spreadsheets and everything in between are important, of course, to the health of the business, but being in touch with customers is sort of the goal.
What does your job look like in practice? Do you pour drinks? Make recommendations ? Running between restaurants?
That’s something I’m going to try to figure out in 2022.â¦ It’s a lot of administrative stuff in the morning and afternoon, and meetings, and making sure those boxes are checked so you can get into it. service the lucid mind. I work the soil. I carry the tables, I run the food, I make sure the guests are happy, I check the coats, all that.
What’s the vibe on the floor these days? Guess even a month ago it was different than maybe a day ago with COVID.
I think the energy has been very positive and very high, both from our perspective and that of our guests. There have definitely been nights where I feel like I am floating, because everyone is so happy that we are back, and the space is more beautiful than ever. People are, I think, celebrating and also being cautious about the wines they usually order.
Overall, it’s really positive. The last few days – and not just Orfano, but obviously all the restaurants – have had to pivot a bit, but we work for someone who is very thoughtful, careful and cares about his employees. Having the confidence of leadership is, I think, really important right now. It’s really super palpable.
Do you feel like people are maybe declining because of Omicron news? What’s the vibe?
Until this week, like almost yesterday, it was almost business as usual. The last 48 hours have been a bit more difficult. We haven’t had to cancel any of our plans so far, fingers crossed. New Years Eve is something we really look forward to, this very decadent dinner. I think we’re fortunate to live in a city that deeply believes in science, and they believe we’re doing the right thing, and vice versa.
Once we are on duty I think the anxiety is a little alleviated. It’s when you wake up and read the Times in the morning or the Boston Globe. I think the guests matched our level of enthusiasm, of course, and probably our level of concern as well.
How does it feel emotionally to be in a job that symbolizes recklessness and joy in the current atmosphere? Is it an escape?
That’s a very good question. I know I will never take it for granted that someone is paying me a salary to sell wine to people on the dining room floor. It’s definitely really special when you can do it, and I have continued to be able to do it since we reopened.
There’s a lot of anxiety about not knowing what’s going to happen in the next few days, weeks, and so on, but I’m not the only one in this situation. I think, for me, I’m just doubling down: okay, for now, right now, we’re safe, and I can serve wine. It really is special.
How did you come to wine?
My gut response is always “I don’t know” because I drank badly in college. â¦ Just very, very cheap beer. I remember when my favorite pub changed their beer program and put in a raffle system in our last year [at Providence College]. Harpoon IPA was, at that time, the fanciest beer I have ever had in my life. Then of course I switched to this weird whiskey on the rocks, and Crown Royal looked really chic because it came in this cool velvet pouch. It was so bad.
After college, I went back and forth between Boston and New York. I didn’t even know anyone in the industry, no matter how I got my foot in the door. How do you even make a career in food, wine and hospitality? I would go to all of these places and then use the internet to do my own kind of R&D in terms of what I ate, what I drank.
It definitely started with cocktails. It was early twenties, then cocktails-slash-craft beer. The next thing became the wine. I was traveling and we were drinking a lot of Old World wine and a lot of Bordeaux and Burgundy for the first time. I had never been exposed to this type of wine. The light went out. I was like, ‘I can’t go back. This is what I want to do.
After that I just went from zero to 100 in my mind. I wanted to get there in my profession as quickly as possible. Much of it was self-study, but I also took the Boston University program and then started going through certifications, working my way up the ranks of busser, runner, back -bar manager, until I was able to get my hands on a wine program myself.
It took a long time. It took a lot of work. I still do all of these things. I always cook and drink tables every night. I don’t come from a big family of wine drinkers. I didn’t have a quick connection to the industry. It is this organic passion that has developed. I quit my finance job to go to the bus tables, which everyone thought I was crazy to do.
What did you feel ?
I think there’s a level of innocence in your early twenties where you can make those decisions and not think so much long term. I don’t think I would just turn my career upside down right now, as a 30-something.
I worked seven days a week. I worked five long days in an investment bank, then I worked three shifts at night. My only day off was Sunday. I was commuting from downtown Boston to downtown Lynn, because I worked at the Blue Ox. It started to get really exhausting. I had to make a choice. It was like: where’s my heart lying? It was pretty obvious that this ability to put food, beer, wine, or a cocktail in front of someone and make them happy seemed like an unlimited possibility.
Not to be curious, but I guess that’s my job: Financially, how did you manage to go from banking to bus tables? What did you do to make it work?
I definitely changed my lifestyle a bit. I was also not at the top of the totem pole in this investment bank. It was still entry-level work, but financially and from an outlook point of view, it was a slightly aggressive decision for many of my friends and family. But my family was super supportive. They trusted me from day one, and I think everything has gone well so far.
What is the future of catering in Boston? What will customers want? What do you think will be viable in the future?
I think there are people in town who are a lot smarter than me who don’t know how to answer that question. I think there is a slight throwback to not taking for granted that you can walk into a restaurant and feel safe, and sit, and be really well taken care of by very good staff. passionate about what they do – for guests to meet us on that level as well, regarding hospitality on both sides of the table, if that makes sense.
What’s the next big neighborhood?
I would like to see the Fenway continue to develop. It’s taken a little bit over the past 18 months, so I’d always love to see what can make this neighborhood more diverse. I live in the neighborhood too, so that’s a selfish response.
I’d love to see where those neighborhoods go, especially with Kenmore being obviously hit pretty hard by COVID, and Fenway sort of stopping the growth a bit. Honestly, as a neighbor and someone who works in the neighborhood, I want to see where it keeps going because I don’t think it’s done.
Which wines are popular now?
Right now we drink a lot of Nebbiolo, a lot of Barolo and Barbaresco, but we also find value in Piedmont, because I think it’s super important to have a balanced list. We have some really chic Barolo and Barbaresco pages, and it’s great, but these aren’t the wines I can go out and drink every night. We want to make sure that having this conversation isn’t just about spending over a hundred dollars.
For the average person who doesn’t know anything, what should they ask? What’s the name of something you really love – if someone doesn’t know a Barolo from another?
Right now, I’d just start with the varietal and just say, âHey, I’m looking for a Nebbiolo,â and name a price you’re comfortable with. Honestly, I hardly ever recommend a particular bottle to a particular guest unless they’re researching it. â¦ I would tell them to kind of start the macro and say, âI heard about Nebbiolo in the winter. I want to drink Nebbiolo. I don’t want to spend $ 50.
What’s the biggest mistake people make when buying wine or ordering wine in a restaurant?
I think there is a sensibility that has permeated the industry for a very long time that the guest is always right. When it comes to wine, I am convinced that there isn’t a bottle on our list that is fundamentally and philosophically a bad bottle. Farming practices are all exactly what they should be. It’s always at least organic. I think my biggest problem is name recognition and really being connected to it.
I would argue with a guest – well, I would never argue with the guests – but I would argue with you. If you and I were drinking a beer I’d say if this wine is in Target it’s probably not a good wine. Let me explain exactly why: You realize that a bottle of wine costs $ 12 for a lot of reasons that aren’t good. I think these brands, these big brands, are good for me to work in the field because if someone gives me something that I know is a commercially viable brand, I know exactly what they’re looking for. But then I can turn around and say to myself, ‘OK, this is what we have that’s close to that’, or it could be that style too – but there’s a family behind, there’s a name behind, there is a connection behind it, and a story behind it.
If you had to shop for wine at your own pace, where would you go? Do you have a favorite place?
One hundred percent Fenway wine press. I am there all the time. They are probably annoyed by me.
This sucks, and it will always take me back forever to high school and when you cook your lunch for you, but Blue Gatorade and Cool Ranch Doritos. They are a wonderful couple. Dirty. Soft. Electrolytes. You know?