1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background and your current role? I was waiting tables in college—working just enough to pay rent, eat, and play golf, but had a hint that was not sustainable long-term. On my way to take my last final, I passed a career fair, and stopped and talked wine with the Young’s Market Company recruiter. A couple weeks later, I had a box cutter and feather duster in hand and was building and pulling up stacks of White Zinfandel in the drug and grocery channel. That is a hard life, no doubt (a tip of the cap to those doing it right now), but after having worked in restaurants so long, I wanted to be the rep calling on those same restaurants. I finally got my chance, and in the perfect territory, too. I was now selling wine to On Prem accounts on the Newport Peninsula! One lucky day I was introduced to Ira Harmon, MS, and so began the move to Las Vegas. I’ve now been here almost 17 years. I’ve worked a variety of sales job from distributor rep to supplier rep, a brief stop as a floor sommelier, and now I’m 5 months into owning my own brokerage. Now, the only meetings I go to are the ones I call!
2. Why did you choose this industry and what do you love about it?
I think it would be fair to say this industry chose me, more than me choosing it. I was not sure what to expect, initially, but once in, I found out quickly I enjoyed being “out and about” all day, as opposed to being in an office. I loved listening to restaurant managers and bar owners speak about their lives, jobs, and all that went into running their businesses. That is still true today. Las Vegas restaurant operators and sommeliers are some of the most passionate people and learning from them is extremely infectious.
3. What challenges have you experienced in your profession in 2020?
Like so many colleagues, I was furloughed in April. The writing on the wall soon became clear that furlough was going to turn into layoff. I had long thought about owning my own “thing” but now the timing was right to take a chance. I called, texted, emailed, and sent smoke signals to everyone in my contacts list, and have slowly pieced together a cool portfolio of wines to sell. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that everyone in our industry is facing unique challenges, and the overall will to not only survive but thrive is immense. There are so many examples of people not just surviving but building something that gains from this disorder. While the hotels are still relatively quiet, the local operators are more than willing to take a flier on a new company.
4. What are some of your favorite and comforting wine/wine region/pairing?
My favorites are Champagne, German Riesling, White and Red Burgundy. My only trip overseas to visit a wine region was to the Mosel and Saar. I already loved those wines, but there’s nothing better than a German lunch and Riesling in the Goldtröpfchen vineyard high above the Mosel River. That’s going to be tough to top.
5. Any advice for aspiring industry candidates?
It’s hard to get one’s foot in the door, but once you do, understand someone likely helped you. Take in all that person has to share. Listen to everyone who has come before you. Taste! Taste everything you possibly can. If you’re tasting samples with a buyer, and notice a curious bartender or busser, or anyone, make sure to offer them a taste, too. That person may just be a wine director one day, and they’ll remember what you did. Lastly, remember the time will eventually come when you hold the door open for someone hoping to get their shot doing what you’re doing.
6. Please share an anecdotal moment that you will never forget!
For me, there’s nothing cooler than being sent down to the musty cellar in a German winery and told to pick a bottle from your birth year!
Most recently, a moment I’ll remember forever is my first appointment and first cases sold with my own company—Thank you Bank A. and Lamaii!
7. Is there anything else you would like to share or mention?
Be patient, but don’t be content. Keep pushing forward. If you push long enough, you’ll get where you’re trying to go.
Oh, as a sales rep, be on time and don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out.” Your buyers will appreciate this more than you know :)
Ken: "Las Vegas restaurant operators and sommeliers are some of the most passionate people and learning from them is extremely infectious."