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The Value of Mentorship

Sometimes when I'm writing, I feel as if I'm tapping into some greater power. As if the messages I pull are coming from an otherworldly place and I get to be the conduit for those messages. I was in the process of completing this blog post when I had learned that a mentor of mine had passed away. I've always shown appreciation for those who have poured into my professional & personal life. This post was originally meant to serve as a celebration of those individuals and how special they are to me. I just.... I didn't realize it would also serve as a goodbye letter. A letter that wouldn't be read by the person it was meant for but would forever immortalize their importance in my life. Throughout your career it's crucial to seek counsel & guidance from those key people. Mentors are supportive of your endeavors, teach you a little about everything they know, and are honest in their feedback. They are there to lighten the journey when things get tough or confusing, and make you see the lesson in every success or failure.

If you told me 7 years ago that I would pursue wine & restaurant management seriously, I wouldn't believe it. I assumed that after obtaining my culinary degree that I would be satisfied just working as a humble line cook and, eventually, manage a culinary team. A professor, Chef Catherine Rabb, made me see the possibilities of so much more for my career by investing in me early on. I remember sitting in my first Dining Room course with her, and her constantly making note of my personality as a winning trait for front-of-house professionals. She saw my budding interest in wine as something serious, not just a passing fancy. She began to let me borrow some of her wine books, study with me after hours, and pushed me to pursue the sommelier minor offered at Johnson & Wales. My senior year was a pivotal moment for me in mapping out the future of my career. I was nervous and unsure of how to proceed. Rabb was there to provide insight & push me towards the right direction. She always wanted me to be savvy and ask for the most amount of compensation possible (the hospitality industry is always lacking in the benefits package, and Lord knows how important decent healthcare insurance is). Most of all, she wanted me to make career choices that would provide me with the growth I wanted but also make me feel fulfilled.

"Be passionate about what you do and the money, the titles, the accolades------they will come. You don't want to be 20 years down the road in a job that leaves you emotionally & physically drained and doesn't provide you the outlet to be the best version of yourself."

- Chef Catherine Rabb

I will miss Chef Rabb dearly. I won't be able to shoot her a random text asking about obscure grape varietals and pick her brain on wine faults. I won't be able to call her about the brunch specials over at her restaurant, Fenwicks. I won't be able to ask her to be in Instagram videos with me. I know she has found peace & her story has come to its conclusion, but her memory will forever live on in the hearts of those she has touched. Years ago, she raised her candle to light mine. I'll protect that tiny flame and ensure that it burns brighter than ever.

As I mentioned earlier, this was originally meant to be a much more lighthearted love letter to professionals who have impacted me. And it still shall be just that! Here below are a few individuals I consider mentors for different reasons, and even the ones I don't talk to as often now, impacted me for the better.

Sarah Malik (Associate Professor of JWU Charlotte) - After Rabb, Professor Malik has been another big influence on my career & my passion for wine. She has a background in hotel management that made it easy for me to talk to her about my love/hate relationship with the hotel industry. Malik prepared me for the rigor of navigating the hotel food & beverage scene. I attribute the rather quick movement I made through the ranks F&B management to her guidance. Malik prepared me for more than just wine examinations, but also taught me to tap into other skills that I could add to my professional repertoire. This blog is kind of the result of some of that nudging to find outlets for my creativity.

Briana Lyn Cohen (Beverage Director/Managing Partner of Sonoma Restaurant Group) - This woman here is quite the badass. She is assertive, assured, and knows what she likes-----and will not apologize for having an opinion. When helping SRG open the wine bar concept Cicchetti as their Retail Sales Manager, I learned the importance of having that confidence. Without even realizing it, Briana taught me how to be a more commanding wine buyer & how to effectively work alongside distributors to aid in the success of your beverage program. I consider myself a power taster now due to tasting alongside her for hours. I can make all the mental notes I need to know about a wine in seconds thanks to her. She added a layer to my backbone I didn't know I needed!

Joshua Villapando (Owner Assorted Table Wine Shop) - My fellow nerd & schnerbly! I was the shop's little Padawine (Star Wars reference but in this case meant wine apprentice) during my junior and senior year of college. He introduced me to the retail perspective of the wine world, and reinforced that learning is a lifelong affair. He never missed an opportunity to test my knowledge on something, make me find new descriptors for wine, or research a specific bottle or producer. It made me understand that certifications in wine, though they are great, are not the end all be all for a wine professional. Rather, it is the understanding that you can never know everything and its far more beneficial to be a lifelong learner. Taste more and learn more is the motto, for sure. Sidebar: he's going to Surry Community College to study Enology & Viticulture, and I'm calling it now that one day Josh will add winemaker to his title! YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST!

Thad Crennan (Corporate Task Force F&B Director) - I met this man as an intern for Omni Hotels & Resorts, and he was the facilitator that pushed me into the company's MIT program. He's charismatic, smooth yet assertive, and leads with empathy. He taught me what a great leader is and I was so proud to run into him years later when I had become a task force F&B manager for the company. His leadership style of investing in the people on his team is something I live by & will continue to live by as a leader.

Celebrate your mentors! Their impact may have been small or large, but still it has shaped you into the professional you are today. Send them that text, give them that call----they will appreciate it, believe me.


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