The First Anthony Dias Blue
The Anthony Dias Blue "Up-and-Comer" Awards are being presented for the first time this year in recognition of excellence in the beverage industry among individuals, retail accounts, bars and restaurants who are relatively new on the scene and who have been singled out for their vision and creativity. The awards will be given on a yearly basis.
The following are our Up-and-Comers for 2006, presented at the Beverly Hills Hotel on October 18.
Up-and-Comers SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
George Cossette & Randy Clement
Silver Lake Wine –Los Angeles
After a successful six-and-a-half year run at the legendary Campanile, Sommelier George Cossette and Assistant Wine Buyer Randy Clement decided it was high time to make a name for themselves…and the name that they chose for their venture is Silver Lake Wine. Although it is just a little over two years old, word of it has spread far beyond its Glendale Boulevard address.
“When we opened, we knew this store had to be different from everything else out there,” says Clement. “What we want to find and pass along to customers are rare, unusual and high quality wines from small producers—nothing that people would find at an ordinary supermarket.
Thanks to their collaboration with local architect Ana Henton (who has worked under the legendary Frank Gehry) the store is very explorer-friendly thanks to wine storage and merchandising that is as hip and home-y as they are practical and functional. The display tables in the front, for example, are modeled after a dinner party where guests have left bottles and glasses on the dinner table. Cossette explains this creates an interactive and welcoming presentation where customers will feel comfortable picking up bottles.
“At first, we had the notion that we could sell products in a neighborhood like Silver Lake, because the people are very open to trying new things here. However, we’ve grown to the point where we are now in the process of an expansion that will be completed in October. Above all, the most rewarding thing about this venture is people coming around, being wowed by the store and realize they are in a decidedly unstuffy environment were they can be among the first to try something wonderful.” – Elyse Glickman
Randy Clement (left, juggling) and George Cossette combine work and play through Silver Lake Wine.
Caitlin Stansbury, Sommelier
The Lodge – Beverly Hills
“I was absolutely thrilled when Patterson’s Beverage Journal informed me I was getting this recognition, especially given the company I was with in terms of who else was being honored this year,” says Caitlin Stansbury, a sommelier who is as hip and energetic as The Lodge—one of the “it” steakhouses among Young Hollywood-ites and executives. Though she’s only officially been a “Som” for about 18 months, she brings to the plate a lifetime of experience in the restaurant industry, a solid educational background and diploma from the International Sommelier Guild and her breezy and expressive personality.
“I started out waiting tables since the age of 19 and working at restaurants that had great wine and beverage programs,” she recalls. “I was always curious, reading, studying, eating, observing and asking lots of questions.”
After following an exhaustive curriculum and exam, she was ready to put her prolific knowledge and “dazzle ‘em” approach to the trade. Her star quality attracted the attention of Gaucho Grill founder Adolfo Suaya and Dolce Group partner Michael Sutton, who brought her on board. While the new restaurant was preparing to open, meanwhile, Suaya put her to work overhauling the wine list for all six branches of The Gaucho Grill.
“I am as proud of my list there,” Stansbury says matter-of-factly. “Whether it’s The Lodge or The Gaucho Grill, I want to make absolutely sure you have a fabulous a time as you can possibly have. It is very expensive to dine out these days, and given that, I want to make sure customer feel as if they’ve had a mini-vacation by the time they leave. I am also committed to getting diners away from the too-familiar into more esoteric, off the charts winemakers that really have something original to offer.” – Elyse Glickman
Matt Straus, Manager/Sommelier
WILSHIRE RESTAURANT, Santa Monica
When asking the industry for nominations, Matt Straus’s name was mentioned by a litany of voices. The 33-year-old already has a remarkable reputation and has gained stature for his knowledge as well as attaining the beloved bottom line for record-breaking wine sales.
“Our wine list experienced its most rapid growth this spring,” Straus told Patterson’s. “Since then, I have really come to think of the wine list as a living thing.”
Straus denies the idea that he is difficult to tie down when it comes to tasting with suppliers and distributors and holds meetings three times a week. “The best way to reach me is through email,” he confides. “I also like to know what a sales rep is presenting: Send me a roster and then I can respond to what I’d like to taste. It saves time and works all the way around.”
He leans towards flavor diversity and back vintages. “One of the real challenges, as a high volume restaurant – Wilshire sold more than one million dollars in wine this year – is to be able to integrate substitutions and catch all the servers and bartenders up to speed on the ever-changing list.”
Before taking the role on-premise, Straus attended cooking school in Vancouver, B.C. He’s in the midst of starting his own company, “Heirloom,” a project that began as a small catering company, utilizing wines from his own cellar, and creating classically styled wine-paired dinners for eight to 40 people (www.heirloomrestaurant.com).
Straus has also had stints as Wine Director at Grace, Sona, L’Orangerie and Campanile.
“Wilshire has without doubt, the singularly greatest spectrum of clientele, from every walk of life. The guests here are as wine savvy as any I have waited on before. This experience is incredibly satisfying and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” – Meridith May
Nic’s Martini Bar
From the man who was one of the first initiators of the California cuisine movement, Larry Nicola – owner of Nic’s Martini Bar in Beverly Hills - dons a faux fur Stanley Hudson coat and a Moscovite hat, ready to brave the winterized conditions of his room-size homage to vodka.
Taking bottle service to the extreme – extreme cold, that is – is the concept of VOD BOX, a walk-in, drink-in exhibition liquor locker solely devoted to the white spirit that delivers its best shot at freezing temperatures.
Over 35 years ago, Larry Nicola’s father and grandfather ran the Nicola Twins Market on Sunset. Ten years later, in 1980, Nicola opened a restaurant called L.A. Nicola’s that truly pioneered a new style of cooking and presentation. “We were also one of the first martini bars,” he noted, and his 13-year stint as a neighborhood restaurant near Silverlake was supported by locals and the local media.
“The place was boarded up. I demolished the whole thing and redesigned it,” said Nicola of the chic Cañon Road address that is home to Nic’s Martini Bar. “I’m really loving being in this part of town,” he offered, describing Beverly Hills as midtown between Venice and Silverlake. – Meridith May
Seven Grand Whisky Bar – Downtown Los Angeles
Born near Venice, Italy, the lanky and swarthy Marianella has only been taking business seriously for three years. In 2003, on a trip to Sydney, Australia, he ventured into a bar and tasted cocktails with fresh ingredients, a first for his experience. “I continued to find this phenomenon in bar after bar, before that my only reference was sour mixes and juice from boxes.”
After a few bartending gigs in Australia, Marianella worked in New York and Los Angeles, and a year in London, where he claims “it’s the best city for cocktails in the world.” Based on their preparations of house-made syrups and first-quality juices, he added that European cordials – many not available in the U.S. - are “superb.”
Marianella brings his practical knowledge to Seven Grand Whisky Bar, and refers to the movement as cocktails’ “Second Golden Era.” And this is just the beginning. – Meridith May
Up-and-Comers SAN FRANCISCO
Profiles and Photos by Deborah Parker Wong
Americano Restaurant/Hotel Vitale
Best Wine Buyer/Sommelier
As a rising star in Joie de Vivre Hospitality’s rapidly expanding empire of hotels and restaurants, Morgan Plant’s skills as a “good operator” and her entrepreneurial spirit have worked magic at the company’s waterfront property - Hotel Vitale and Americano Restaurant. With an $8 million budget and 80 direct reports, she is a restaurateur whose ability to innovate has been supported by a company known for recognizing and fostering talent. While her time is divided between directing the food and beverage operations of the hotel and as general manager of the restaurant, Plant has developed a wine program for the restaurant that over delivers on all fronts. A California native whose parents are psychology professors, Plant devotes considerable thought to her customer base of wine-savvy locals and visitors seeking the familiar.
Plant is keen on imparting skills and her empowered staff benefits from training and tastings that help keep inventory moving. Working in conjunction with Americano Chef Paul Arenstam, her latest endeavor is crafting Hotel Vitale’s house wine “Dreamers,” a top notch Ojai Valley syrah which will make its debut this fall.
The gift of inspiration and a delft touch are essential qualities for any master craftsman and in the case of Jacques Bezuidenhout, they are applied with great skill to elements that can be as transient as water. In the history of many great barmen, Bezuidenhout is a largely self-made professional whose first exposure to fine wine and spirits was gained working in the upscale pubs of London’s St. James Street. But it was an educational trip to Scotland for a look a single malt scotch production that cemented his commitment to understanding the tools of the trade and diverted his intentions from a career in the corporate world.
Bezuidenhout arrived in San Francisco in 1998 and for several years devoted himself to remaking the venerable Irish Bank. He brought the operation to new heights by dramatically expanding the whiskey offerings and revitalizing the cocktail menu. Motivated by a constant quest for unique products and a greater understanding of those he worked with every day, Bezuidenhout’s talent gained broader recognition after he won a local cocktail competition. One win quickly led to another and they became the stepping stones to his current role as manager, corporate educator and brand ambassador. With a style that demonstrates a solid connection between the culinary arts and bartending, Bezuidenhout’s influence is already being widely felt by the next generation of beverage industry professionals.
Best Bar Program
Swig, one of the new breed of bars and lounges that is revitalizing nightlife in the City’s Tenderloin District, is co-owned by Dahi Donnely, a man possessing an exceptional imagination and fueled by a work ethic forged on farm in Northern Ireland. At Swig, his clients can choose from a vast collection of more than 160 whiskies, the rarest of which have been painstakingly acquired at auction and from private collectors. Donnely was drawn to San Francisco by family and friends in 1999 after finishing a degree at the University of Edinburgh in animal genetics and nutrition. He began bartending at the Irish Bank under the tutelage of fellow up-and-comer Jacques Bezuidenhout. It was just a matter of time before Donnely and business partner Brian Sheehy opened their first operation – Anu - in the City’s colorful Sixth and Market Street neighborhood.
Donnely moved in quickly on his next project and almost overnight he transformed a run down bar just a few blocks off Union Square into Swig, a minimalist, urban space designed to draw different crowds on different nights. Swig illustrates Donnely’s intentions to redefine storefronts in down-market neighborhoods with concepts that appeal to vastly different audiences. He’s already taken on the rough and tumble corner of Jones and O’Farrell Streets with a retro speakeasy - Bourbon and Branch. While beauty may be in the eyes of the beholder, when it comes to neglected downtown corners, it’s in the hands of Dahi Donnely.
Best Wine Shop
Jerry Cooper has embarked upon a mission to speed America’s headlong journey into wine culture by cultivating a city of wine enthusiasts one neighborhood at a time. His entrepreneurial spirit and a desire for independence transcended a distinguished 20-year career in the beverage industry when he and partner Christopher Von Laufen opened their jewel-box wine shop - Swirl. Located on bustling Castro Street, Swirl artfully showcases more than 400 wines about half of which hail from California.
Cooper’s emphasis is on small biodynamic producers that make fewer than 1,000 cases and his keen interest in stocking virtual labels produced by neighborhood winemakers is both charming and good business; it’s a point of differentiation that is not lost on clients who value his strong connection to the community. With a focus on quality and value, the wines at Swirl are organized by weight in a system that makes it easier for clients to approach the task of pairing wine and food and for broadening their horizons. He and his staff guide clients in choosing wines and building their cellars and on most Thursday evenings they’re joined by guest sommeliers and winemakers who present insightful guided tastings. As a venue for autonomy and self expression, Swirl is akin to the icing on this seasoned professional’s cake.
Best Restaurant Wine Program
Wine Director Shelley Lindgren has translated twenty years of world-class restaurant experience into a very personal, heartfelt approach toward wine and service at her innovative Chestnut Street restaurant - A16. Lindgren describes herself as an ambassador for the wines of Campania and that passion has brought her from relative obscurity into a bright spotlight where she is recognized as a sommelier with ground breaking vision and conviction.
Lindgren grew up in close proximity to wine country and her infatuation with wine can be traced to a childhood in West Marin. She credits years of formal training under the watchful eyes of masters like Hubert Keller for elevating her attention to detail and giving her the confidence to push the envelope and then some with her offerings. Never willing to openly profess expertise, Lindgren demonstrates her skill daily as she mentors a team of sommeliers at A16 and has furthered her role as an educator by presenting an intensive on Rhone varietals to students at the CIA’s Greystone campus in Napa. Lindgren’s enthusiasm for the wines of Southern Italy is unmatched; it stems largely from the effort she sees being devoted to the production of rare varietals by a younger generation of winemakers who focus solely on quality and have been willing to take risks. And it is through her that their risks have become our rewards.