Many beverage professionals have found new and unexpected job opportunities amidst recent industry shake-ups, setting them on previously unforeseen professional trajectories. From cross-country moves to cross-industry shifts, many have harnessed the business and service skills they honed in previous roles to embrace new challenges.
In this edition of “Where Are They Now?” SevenFifty Daily caught up with Hristo Zisovski, Jared Hooper, Chelsea Carrier, and Hernan Martinez about how their career trajectories have changed over the past year, and what challenges and benefits they’ve experienced in their new roles.
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Behind the Move
Zisovski has spent 29 years working in restaurants, but like most hospitality workers, 2020 was a difficult year for him: On top of the tumult of restaurant closures and uncertainty, his wife was in a serious vehicle accident. With his son out of school as well, “being physically present to support my family was my top priority,” he says. Having worked with Wilson Daniels’ team and portfolio as a buyer, the company seemed like a good fit. Zisovski now manages a sales team of six, executes events with winemakers, visits accounts, and educates about wine.
Many beverage directors who move into sales roles have found that their backgrounds allow them to better connect with buyers and understand their needs, and Zisovski says this has been particularly important as buyers continue to deal with the effects of the pandemic. “So much has changed for the restaurant industry, and I know that, I empathize with that, I have insight into that,” he says.
This is Zisovski’s first job outside of restaurants, so he jokes that “pretty much everything” is a challenge. “This move to Wilson Daniels was a huge change for me, but I was ready,” he says. “Change is good.”
As a corporate beverage director, Zisovski often found himself a bit isolated from the more social aspects of the industry; he was more focused on keeping his programs running. But now, he gets to spend more time with other sommeliers and beverage directors and has the opportunity to explore their beverage programs. “It’s nice to be able to connect over our shared background and love of fine wine,” he says. “Learning and showing others how to be a better partner as a wholesaler is where I think my sweet spot is.”
While Zisovski never says never when it comes to returning to restaurants, he’s excited about the opportunity to grow on the wholesale side of the industry. “I’m understanding a lot more about the incredible breadth of the industry, and that’s really exciting,” he says.
From wine director at Faith & Flour in Los Angeles to jack-of-all-trades of wine writing, hospitality, and national sales
Behind the Move
Hooper had been the wine director at Faith & Flour for six years when it shuttered amidst the pandemic, so he was “open to anything” as he wondered if the restaurant would ever reopen (it still has not). He now wears many hats, working as the national sales director for Native 9 (from Santa Maria Valley’s Ranchos de Ontiveros), as a sommelier on the weekends at Barndiva in Healdsburg, in the tasting room at MacRostie Winery & Vineyard five days per week, and as a contributing writer for Wine & Spirits.
Adaptability from working the restaurant floor has been key in allowing Hooper to take on so many new roles. “Having been a sommelier for so long, I’m comfortable sliding into different situations, wine lists, and levels of service,” he says.
Hooper’s national sales director role in particular has been a challenge in ways he didn’t expect. “Being a buyer and selling to buyers is not even remotely the same thing,” he says. “It’s so hard to find that translation.” But, he says, being open and honest about challenges has been key. “My biggest success is admitting that I don’t know what I’m doing, and being willing to learn.”
Hooper does admit that juggling many roles can be difficult (four is his limit, he says!), but it has allowed him to set boundaries with each workplace in a way he never would have when working for a restaurant full-time. “The jobs have demanded that I limit myself with each of them,” he says. “As restaurant professionals, we’re all training ourselves to be able to say that it’s okay [to set boundaries].”
The last 18 months have taught Hooper that he doesn’t know what the future has in store, but he’s enjoying discovering his path step by step. “The further I step away, the more opportunities I’m finding,” he says. “I would encourage my [industry] colleagues to just go and take that step—just do it.”
Chelsea Carrier and Hernan Martinez
From beverage director at Cushman Concepts NYC (Carrier) and general manager at La Pecora Bianca (Martinez) in New York City to managing partners at Hampton Street Vineyard in Columbia, South Carolina
Behind the Move
Both Carrier and Martinez found themselves without jobs when the pandemic shuttered their businesses (Cushman Concepts has permanently shuttered their New York establishments) and were pondering their next steps when their friend Jonathan Lopez (a former New York City beverage director who moved to South Carolina pre-pandemic) called them up with the idea to take over Hampton Street Vineyard, which had become available for purchase. It seemed fitting, as the restaurant was initially opened by three sommelier friends in 1995. Carrier and Martinez drove down to see the space, and upon recognizing the potential, “I knew immediately that this was exactly what I had wanted for many years,” says Carrier.
“My past experiences have been fundamental,” says Martinez. “They have given me the foundation to be able to operate a new restaurant, and it has also made me aware of the areas in which I need to learn more.” Carrier agrees, noting that her past experience in beverage team management has given her the skills she needs to lead and mentor an entire team of hospitality professionals. “It is fulfilling to see the team grow and aspire to new heights,” she says.
Getting to know and working within a new market has been a hurdle for both, and for Carrier, the culture shock was a challenge. “The South does not operate like New York City,” she says. “I had to relearn how to effectively communicate our agenda and vision to a different audience … but it has made me a better manager and owner.” Martinez adds that being an owner creates multiple layers of responsibility to manage as well. “Any decisions we make not only affect our business but the lives of the people who decide to work with us,” he says.
The biggest payoff that Carrier has found in this new role has been the impact of how they run their business, given how small the city is. “From how we pay our staff to the values we are driving towards, everything directly impacts the restaurant culture of Columbia,” says Carrier, noting that they are one of the highest-paying restaurants in the city. They also outlined a set of core values and ethics (a takeaway from the duo’s time working at Eleven Madison Park) for accountability.
Martinez has appreciated “the unexpected curiosity and willingness to explore from this market—not only from our patrons but also … from the staff.” From a personal perspective, Carrier has been able to buy a home, adopt a dog, start her MBA, and find more work/life balance—all things she didn’t realize she needed. “The grind does not exist in Columbia,” she notes.
Both Martinez and Carrier are fully invested in Hampton Street Vineyard’s future. “Hampton Street Vineyard is an infant in the trajectory of where we would like it to grow,” says Carrier. “We want to keep evolving Hampton Street Vineyard and make it the best version of itself that it can be,” adds Martinez, noting that they would like to contribute to the city’s growth in the future by opening different concepts.
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Courtney Schiessl Magrini is the editor-in-chief for SevenFifty Daily and the Beverage Media Group publications. Based in Brooklyn, she has held sommelier positions at some of New York’s top restaurants, including Marta, Dirty French, and Terroir, and her work has appeared in Wine Enthusiast, GuildSomm, Forbes.com, VinePair, EatingWell Magazine, and more. She holds the WSET Diploma in Wines. Follow her on Instagram at @takeittocourt.