Taylor Thompson isn't afraid to try new things. Two of them led her to her current role as a senior software engineer at SevenFifty, a supply chain and communications platform in the alcohol industry.
The first new thing was ice hockey. Taylor had always wanted to play, but her parents weren't big fans of that idea, so she waited until she was in college at Columbia to try out for the club team. She faced a tough learning curve, especially because she hadn't been playing for years and years like her teammates.
"I got to the first practice, and it was bad; I wanted to quit," remembers Taylor. "But here we are, eight years later."
The second new thing was coding. Taylor says that computer science wasn't something she'd really heard about growing up in St. Louis. "There are some more tech companies coming here now, but 15, 20 years ago, that did not exist," she explains.
"CS was not on my radar," she says. It wasn't until she decided against being a doctor and to pursue applied math instead that she took her first CS course, which was a prerequisite for that major, and liked it so much that she changed her major to CS.
Fast forward to two years ago: Taylor was still playing ice hockey in her spare time, and she had a full-time role as a data engineer, but she was ready for a new challenge. When her hockey team went out one night after a game, she found herself chatting with her teammate Gianfranco, who also happens to be the CoFounder of SevenFifty. "He told me about the industry and the problems they were solving, and I thought it sounded really interesting. He was like, 'Are you looking for a job?'" she recalls, and shortly thereafter she found herself interviewing for and ultimately accepting a role.
We sat down with Taylor to learn more about her path to SevenFifty and the opportunity she's had to make an impact in a startup environment.
Defining her own career
Taylor wasn't sure what a CS career looked like when she started in the field. "I was in classes with people who went to coding camp, whose dads worked at Facebook, who had been coding since they were 12. And I'd been coding since three months ago," she says.
Her first professional experience was an internship with the Columbia IT department. It went well, and prepared her for a later role at a boutique consulting agency focused on consumer reports about companies' digital presence. There, she was a data engineer focused on building up the company's database of social and ecomm data.
When she got to SevenFifty, her first projects played off of that experience. As a pipeline engineer, she coordinated with the company's vendors to get their data loaded. "It involved writing custom code to read whatever files they sent us, because every distributor sends a totally different file. Some of them are really high tech and have IT departments we can liaise with, and other times they're sending us an Excel file from 1999 and we have to get it into our system and make it look the same," explains Taylor.
Just like she got more comfortable with hockey the longer she played it, Taylor found herself coming into her own at work, ready to share her experience.
But she quickly realized that not every work environment was ready to hear it.
Realizing where she could make an impact
At the boutique firm Taylor first worked at, she quickly recognized an imbalance in the work she was expected to do and the opinions she was allowed to have.
"It's tricky at smaller companies, because sometimes junior engineers do have outsized responsibilities placed on them, but depending on how the management structure works, your voice still might not be heard," says Taylor. "They're asking a lot of you, but they're not listening to your feedback on it."
She knew she wanted to grow her career at a place where her expertise would be valued and listened to, and she joined SevenFifty because it seemed like that kind of environment. As it turns out, her initial impression was right.
"Within the first six months, I felt a major difference in how senior leadership paid attention to everyone," she says. "I always immediately felt heard and like my input was always listened to."
Even in her two years there, as the company has grown from 50 people to over 100, Taylor says that the culture hasn't shifted away from that focus on individual impact. "We're more rigid about what goes in certain channels on Slack, for instance, and our processes have gotten better, but the culture hasn't become too corporate," she reflects.
Taylor is especially excited about the opportunity to make design choices for the products she's working on, instead of them just being handed down to her from on high. Of late she's been working on product search and ordering APIs, collaborating with the product team on prioritization.
Two pieces of advice for people at small companies looking to make an impact
Taylor has two key pieces of wisdom to pass on to anyone else wanting to make the best of their responsibility set at a growing company: learn to say no, and trust your instincts. Both things have served her well as she's built her own career (and life!).
- Get comfortable saying no. Just like she once assumed her parents knew what was best for her, Taylor started her career assuming that her boss was always right—that they knew her capabilities, the company's priorities, and how best to match them. "As you grow and you're working with other teams, sometimes you really are the only person in the room who is qualified to say, 'Actually, I don't think this will work' or 'I don't think this timeline or budget is feasible,'" she says. "Knowing when to say no is a skill in and of itself, and becoming able to say no is difficult, but also an essential skill for growing in this industry."
- Trust your own judgement. Part of being comfortable saying no, even to superiors, is having a strong sense of what is right. Taylor says she's felt that from her early days of being in CS classes where she was the least experienced one in the room, but still found ways to share her thoughts. Starting with that humility, she adds, makes it easier to speak up firmly but also constructively. "Now, when I speak up with a technical opinion, even if I'm afraid to say it, later on my boss is happy I raised it," she says.
It does help when the people you're saying no to and sharing your instincts with are people that you like and respect, which Taylor says is definitely the case at SevenFifty.
"SevenFifty is filled with people who really like their jobs, are passionate about their jobs, and have a ton of industry knowledge," she says. "I just feel like on top of wanting to do the work, I don't want to disappoint any of those people; I want to help all of them succeed in their goals."
Unpacking differing opinions helps this supply chain company innovate across teams.
Conflict in the workplace (or outside of it) often receives a bad reputation, but it doesn't always have to be negative. In fact, positive or healthy conflict is linked to a variety of benefits for individuals, teams and companies. According to Entrepreneur, healthy conflict helps people to gain new perspectives, teaches flexibility and listening skills, and practices communication and emotional control.
In order to realize the benefits of healthy conflict, company leaders must foster an environment where their team feels comfortable enough to participate in it. For example, team debates provide opportunities for employees to voice their opinions, spark new ideas and boost creative energy. Friendly competitions drive innovation and encourage fast thinking.
"As a leader, leaving room for disagreement lets you treat conflict as a fact-finding mission," Matt Krukowski, VP of engineering at SevenFifty, told Built In.
Krukowski explains how incorporating the idea of healthy disagreement throughout company culture eliminates the potential for problematic conflict and in fact increases his team's productivity.
Matt KrukowskiVP, ENGINEERING
What does healthy conflict look like on your team?
On SevenFifty's engineering team, the line between deep collaboration and healthy conflict is routinely blurred. For example, at a recent sprint planning meeting, the team's collaborative process for estimating timelines for some upcoming development turned into a debate between two clear camps. The product team was hoping for a quick turnaround time on a new feature, but the engineers pushed back that it would take several times longer than they were expecting.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to narrow the scope down to fit within the time box, we took a step back. The engineers explained that even a small piece of this functionality would require a major redesign of the underlying data model because it hadn't been previously built with this path in mind.
Once that was clear, the team quickly came to an agreement on how to spend the time improving the data foundations. More importantly, they saw an opportunity to collaborate more thoroughly. The engineers learned they needed to share their understanding of the technical concepts with the product team, and the product side realized they should be pulling the engineers in earlier so they could share high-level feedback right away.
We avoid problematic conflict by incorporating the idea of healthy disagreement throughout our culture."
How has your team, company culture and/or product benefited from healthy conflict?
The root cause of almost all conflicts on a team is a different understanding of the situation stemming from different perspectives. The key to making conflict both healthy and valuable is to always see disagreement as an opportunity to learn and create a shared understanding.
If I'm disagreeing with someone on how a feature should be built, neither of us is right or wrong — we're both only seeing pieces of the puzzle. Maybe I'm focusing on the strategic value behind how one implementation can be reused for a future project that's on the roadmap, but I realize I haven't shared that vision clearly with the team. My teammate could be concerned by the maintenance burdens hidden in the proposed solution because of similar challenges that arose from another project that I wasn't tuned in to. It becomes obvious that we each have something we can teach each other.
A top-down culture could have avoided this conflict entirely, but I don't see that as a good thing. As a leader, leaving room for disagreement lets you treat conflict as a fact-finding mission. We can become more attuned to what matters to our teammates and we can learn when we're not sharing the whole picture clearly.
What have you done to create a culture where healthy conflict can occur? And perhaps more importantly, what have you done to ensure debates remain respectful and constructive?
At SevenFifty, we take our core values pretty seriously, which helps build a culture where everyone engages with each other in good faith. Two of our values, in particular, shape the way we handle conflict. "Respect the Craft" is about appreciating and understanding the expertise that others bring, and how there's often more care and effort going into the end result you see than what meets the eye. With "Light the Way," we emphasize leading through teaching and creating a shared understanding.
It might seem counterintuitive, but we avoid problematic conflict by incorporating the idea of healthy disagreement throughout our culture. Many of our decisions (both among leadership and within smaller teams) start off with a proposal where someone writes out their understanding of the goal, the situation and their suggested plan, and sends it out to others to critique or discuss.
On our engineering team, we've blended this concept with our code review practice. Through Github pull requests, we're all versed in providing detailed feedback to each other just about every day. We've recently adopted the same workflow for concepts outside of the code like system architecture or our hiring plan.
The new funding will expand SevenFifty's footprint as the leading software and technology provider for wineries, breweries, distributors, importers, restaurants, and alcohol retailers
SevenFifty, a provider of web-based and mobile technology solutions for the beverage alcohol industry and the parent company of SevenFifty Daily, announced $23 million in new funding today. Led by Level Equity, the Series B will accelerate SevenFifty's expansion within the massive $1.4 trillion industry as it builds on innovative digital tools and ecommerce solutions that touch every part of the highly complex and fragmented supply chain.
The hospitality and beverage alcohol industries are accelerating their adoption of next generation technology as they emerge from the pandemic and position themselves for a period of dramatic expansion. SevenFifty attracted the investment following a period of nearly 100% year over year growth. Professionals across the supply chain turn to the company's ecommerce marketplace, which acts as the de-facto system of exchange for distributors as well as their integrated sales and marketing toolkit—each connecting hundreds of thousands of professionals across a disparate supply chain.
Since its launch in 2011 by alcohol and hospitality industry veterans Aaron Sherman and Gianfranco Verga, along with computer scientist and startup founder Neal Parikh, SevenFifty has brought digital transformation to one of the most fragmented industries in America. The company experienced tremendous early adoption across the trade with its ground-breaking online wholesale marketplace, and has built a reputation for creating a suite of digital sales and marketing tools now considered essential across the industry's unique three-tier supply chain.
Today, over 90,000 restaurant and retail buyers use the marketplace, which reached nearly $1 billion in sales volume in 2020. The company has brought the entire supply chain into a centralized and interconnected digital platform, with powerful, integrated data management tools that include:
- Custom ecommerce solutions for distributors and retailers
- The largest B2B aggregated marketplace for the U.S. wholesale alcohol trade
- Sales enablement and CRM tools that connect distributors and buyers
"SevenFifty's mission is to power a connected beverage alcohol supply chain, and with this new funding we unlock the capacity to accelerate our growth and meet the demands of our partners across every category of the industry," said Aaron Sherman, SevenFifty co-founder and CEO. "Our team's deep experience within both the beverage alcohol and technology industries, combined with our expansive network of customers, make us a unique partner to provide the tools and infrastructure for the industry's increasing demand for digital transformation."
This round of funding will drive the continued development of SevenFifty's software and data services that now span nearly every area of the business, with a focus on connected systems that enable better communication and more efficient transactions. The company has immediate plans to accelerate hiring across engineering, customer support, sales, operations, and marketing, guided by its initiatives for recruiting diverse talent. The funding will also enhance SevenFifty's ability to explore future M&A prospects that could boost its tech capabilities and its market reach.
"We've done exceptionally well backing domain experts who build critical technology in complex and fragmented industries, especially as those industries undergo secular shifts towards technology adoption. We have been impressed by SevenFifty's ability to expand its footprint over the past few years, growing the value of the platform beyond just restaurant and retail buyers and earning the trust of producers, importers, and distributors working across the trade," said Ben Levin, founder and co-CEO of Level Equity, who will join SevenFifty's board of directors. "The company stands out for its industry-specific deep technology solutions and superior, specialized dataset that powers a dynamic suite of products and services. We're excited to support their commitment to meaningful innovation."
SevenFifty brings innovative technology and data insights to importers, producers, distributors, and restaurant and retail buyers, so they can connect with each other and do business in a modern world.
These 12 leaders are shaping the beverage alcohol industry while trailblazing more opportunities for AAPI professionals
The overwhelmingly white image of alcohol culture eclipses the work of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders whose influence rings through all three tiers of the system.
We have our stars: The recently retired Annette Alvarez-Peters, who moved markets from the helm of a $2 billion wine program at Costco; Alpana Singh, the youngest American woman and only South Asian to achieve the rank of Master Sommelier (which she renounced in 2020 in light of sexual harassment allegations in the organization); and Hae Un Lee, who in 1981 opened a small liquor shop in Las Vegas and grew it into the largest alcohol retailer in Nevada—Lee's Discount Liquor.
But beyond these established names, we're shining our light on a new class of AAPI innovators—and their latest innovations.
Located across the U.S., these 12 drinks professionals are brand creators, bamboo ceiling breakers, culture ambassadors, all of them walking uncharted territory as the only one, or one of a few, who look like them in the room.
Caer Maiko and Sharon Yeung. Photo by Sam McCracken.
Celebrating Asian Culture Through Cocktail Pop-Ups
Caer Maiko and Sharon Yeung, Co-creators, Daijoubu, Austin, Texas
Until bartenders Caer Maiko and Sharon Yeung joined forces in 2019, Asian-inspired cocktails in Austin were defined by the overuse of lychee. But at their Daijoubu pop-ups (meaning "it's fine" in Japanese), the veteran bartenders can finally dig into their roots, using childhood ingredients in their inventive concoctions. The Tapioca Express—aged rum, Earl Grey tea cream, homemade Italicus bergamot liqueur-infused boba—and Milk and Hunnay shots—Yakult, vodka, sake, and honeydew melon served inside Yakult cups—have been surefire hits.
A group of Asian guests "saw me pour the shot into a Yakult cup, and all of them gasped. They were like, 'This is my childhood, and now you made it into an alcoholic beverage,' and it gave me this moment of, 'Oh, yes, you feel like you belong. I feel like I belong,'" recounts Maiko.
The pop-ups present a fun and holistic way of celebrating Asian culture and community. Yeung and Maiko, who studied and taught at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, are masters at taking over a space and creating a vibe whether it's a dance party with fifteen different bamboo plants with giant pandas at a restaurant or a collaborative state-wide tour in their fire engine-red "Bruce the Daijoubus" (named after Bruce Lee) cocktail truck with Indian-, Vietnamese-, and Korean-American bartenders. They're currently saving up for a nationwide tour in 2022.
Guests can feel good about themselves, too. Japanese-American Maiko and Chinese-American Yeung have donated $13,000 of their pop-up revenue to AAPI nonprofits like Chinatown Community Development Center and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
Thanh Nam Vo Duy. Photo by Brent Herrig Photography.
Paving the Way for Future AAPI Leaders
Thanh Nam Vo Duy, Vice President, Commercial Development, Moët Hennessy USA
Sixteen years into his career at Moët Hennessy USA, Thanh Nam Vo Duy is now leading a team of over 200 brand specialists, ambassadors, influencers, and merchandisers, which he grew from a third of its size. His trajectory is proof of his leadership skills—double-digit sales growth turnaround for Hennessy, the launch of Hennessy Black, which quickly topped sales projections. Yet he recognizes his path is one not often experienced by Asian Americans.
Vo Duy admits that "not having a mentor, a role model" particularly stung. A Vietnamese immigrant by way of France, he had to learn to adapt to American culture and "speak up," countering Asian customs of respecting one's elders, speaking only when spoken to, and having a shut-up-and-work mindset.
That's why he co-founded the Asian Employee Resource Group (ERG) in 2020 at Moët Hennessy USA. "None of us could look up to a VP who looked like us, and we had similar stories of how to speak up in meetings and how to advance our career," says Vo Duy. At the ERG, "you talk about those issues with people you can relate to culturally."
The ERG also provides mentorship opportunities, speaker series and celebration of cultural holidays. "I dream of a world where there's more diversity at the top," says Vo Duy. "It happens by us, the people who are in the ERG, doing everything we can to become the people on the top."
Ed Marszewski. Photo by Reuben Kincaid.
The Serial Community-Focused Entrepreneur
Ed Marszewski, Co-owner, Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar, Chicago
Chicago would not be what it is today without Ed Marszewski, who has been building a highly synergistic drinks-food empire since 2010. He grew up watching his mother, Maria Marszewski, engage in kye—a private lending circle often used among Korean immigrants—which in 1987 allowed her to save up, buy out, and operate Kaplan's Liquors in the South Side of Chicago.
"To see how all these Korean ladies chipped in money together to help each other run their businesses—that spirit of helping people in your community embedded in me," says Ed. "You know, immigrant families helping each other out."
Inspired by her entrepreneurial savvy and knack for drawing a diverse crowd, Ed started to forge a community-focused, family-owned complex. He converted Kaplan's to Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar, a 41-tap, two-bar "slashie" (liquor store-slash-bar), and built the Marz Community Brewing Co., a 15-barrel brewhouse and taproom whose inventive and conscientious brews—like the Triple Crown rice lager with jasmine, via a partnership with the eponymous dim sum restaurant—are sold at Maria's.
The slashie has long been cherished for its fantastic selection of local craft beers such as Half Acre and Off Color, a range of eclectic ciders, bottled house-made cocktails like the Royal Wailuku—gin, orgeat syrup, pineapple, lemon, and Peychaud's bitters—and Marz-label CBD-infused sodas and coffees.
Maria's long-running "policy of tolerance and respect for others" is another draw for guests. "We have a really mixed group of people coming to our establishment," says Marszewski. "We try to be open to all demographics and all people."
Next door to Maria's, Marszewski opened two counter-service restaurants: Kimski, serving riffs on the foods he ate in his Korean-Polish home and Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream. He's also building a second outpost for the brewery.
Carol Pak. Photo courtesy of Makku.
Bringing Korea's Oldest Alcoholic Drink Stateside
Carol Pak, Founder, Makku, New York City
Makgeolli isn't yet a household name among non-Korean drinkers, but Carol Pak is trying to change that. That's why the Columbia Business School graduate and Anheuser-Busch alumna is canning the centuries-old fermented rice alcohol for nationwide distribution under her Makku brand.
Makgeolli's complex personality—milky, fizzy, sweet, and sour—is achieved through a complicated brewing process that America is literally not equipped for. Makku requires a brewery with both sake and beer production capacity, equipment for canning, carbonation and pasteurization, and the capability to handle a fermentation agent called nuruk that's "uncontrollable like a wild child," describes Pak.
"But no one in all of America that I could find—and I talked to brewers, scientists, founders, everyone I could possibly think of—could figure out how to pasteurize this product," says Pak.
With maxed-out credit cards and depleted savings, she finally drew in Strong Ventures as an investor, teamed up with a brewery in South Korea, and launched Makku in 2019.
For Pak, the trouble is worth it, particularly in a country where cultural appropriation is common. "I'm doing this because I'm Korean, and I'm proud to do it," she says, recalling makgeolli flowing at family dinners in the Korean immigrant enclave of Flushing, Queens. "I'm supposed to be the one who's bringing makgeolli over." She's selling Makku at spots like Momofuku Noodle Bar and Sunac Natural Market and trying to start a new alcohol category for makgeolli (which can either be classified as beer or sake currently) while she's at it.
Krista Farrell. Photo by Eugene Lee.
Championing Craft Spirits
Krista Farrell, Spirits Sales Manager for the Northeast and Spirits Specialist, Skurnik Wines & Spirits, New York City
Before Krista Farrell gets behind a spirit, she zeroes in on its production. Was it made in a farm distillery? Is the distillery growing its own grain? Malting it?
"Whether it be in New York or Martinique or Guadeloupe, it's just so cool to see people using what is endemic to their land, supplying their communities and their GDP with their own products," says the Korean-American industry vet who grew up gaining insights from a small family distributorship in Martha's Vineyard. "It keeps the craft in craft spirits."
In 2019, she transitioned from Caribbean rum producer Spiribam, where she managed Northeast sales, to one of its distributors, Skurnik, which offered her a more diverse portfolio of wines and spirits to sell from. "As a supplier, it was cool to see a distributor who was mindful about the things that they put in their books and not just picking up things because they could sell tons of volume of it," says Farrell. To her, Skurnik had a tight spirits portfolio that really delved into a producer's key sustainability practices like farming processes, packaging, disposal of distilled waste, energy efficiency for production and transportation, and impact on the surrounding communities.
It was a perfect match for Farrell's farm-first approach. Some of her favorite producers—which she sells to on- and off-premise venues through Pennsylvania, California, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky—include Uruapan Charanda Blanco, an "under-represented, historically significant" Mexican rum that highlights the country's sugarcane cultivation on volcanic soil, and combines sugarcane and molasses in its distillate for "a really funky yet accessible rum," and Idaho-based Square One Vodkas which is distilled exclusively from Montana-grown rye—infusing a nutty complexity—and is the largest consumer of Rocky Mountain Wind Power.
Farrell is also helping expand the Skurnik portfolio with more women and BIPOC producers.Ran Duan. Photo by Jesse Hsu.
Building Creative, Cross-Cultural Cocktail Programs
Ran Duan spots opportunities that others don't. He seizes them, and then blows them out of the water.
When his dad asked for help with the bar inside the family's Chinese restaurant, he taught himself to bartend and built Baldwin Bar into an acclaimed tiki cocktail destination, drawing bloggers and journalists out to a small suburb outside Boston to pair homestyle Sichuan cuisine with Duan's creative Mai Tais.
For his second act, Duan saw how Latin and Sichuan cuisines overlapped and conceived tropical drinks with the likes of cinnamon and star anise for Blossom Bar, located in his dad's other restaurant.
Duan's latest is an original concept: A seafood restaurant and oyster bar with multicultural flavors called Ivory Pearl that specializes in wine-inspired, carbonated cocktails like the Champagne Papi—a blend of vodka, fermented koji rice, honeydew, and citric acid, sold in both single-serve and large formats.
Fanfare follows all his projects—all undergirded by a deep sense of gratitude to his immigrant father who had sacrificed his passion for opera to provide for the family.
"The American dream for me is being able to set my kids up for success in the future, making sure they don't experience the same struggle as me," says Duan. "We're gonna work as hard as we can until we get there, even if that's seven days a week, twelve hours a day. That's the intelligence my parents were able to put in me. It's all about legacy."
Maya and Naoko Dalla Valle. Photo by Jimmy Hayes.
Revitalizing a Legacy Cult Wine
Naoko Dalla Valle, Founder, farmer, and proprietor, Dalla Valle Vineyards, Napa Valley
Maya Dalla Valle, Winemaker, director, Dalla Valle Vineyards, Napa Valley.
When the husband-and-wife Dalla Valle team—Japanese-born Naoko and Italian-native Gustav—purchased their eponymous vineyard in 1982, they had no idea their estate would catapult to cult wine status, fetching $500 a bottle.
Dalla Valle's 1992 Maya cuvée, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend, earned a rare perfect score from Robert Parker. The Maya is still considered one of Napa Valley's greatest wines featuring Cabernet Franc.
Since Gustav's death in 1995, Naoko, who lives at the vineyard, has been directing the daily vineyard operations, walking weekly through the vines, and sorting grapes. "We work so hard to grow those grapes and this is the moment of truth," she says. "So yes, I take my pride in touching pretty much all the grapes." She's also ensuring that her daughter Maya, the famed wine's namesake, continues the legacy.
With oenology degrees from Cornell University and Bordeaux Science Agro, stints at renowned wineries like Ornellaia e Masseto and Château Latour, and four Dalla Valle vintages under her belt, Maya is now head winemaker and vineyard director. She has been pushing the company in new directions, by aging wine in clay amphorae instead of oak, and spearheading the conversion to biodynamics.
She's already observed higher vineyard resilience despite the increasingly extreme weather conditions. "One of our biggest issues was trying to protect the vines from the heat," says Maya. "And 2020 was the first year there was no sunburn on the grapes, which is rare." Microbial diversity has also increased with eight different types of naturally occurring yeasts which she employs for native fermentations.
"I really feel like the future is bright. By becoming a winemaker, it's like having your own destiny in your hand, and she does," Naoko proudly says of Maya. "She is the complete picture of the ideal winery owner—everything that's built into her."
Jhonel Faelnar. Photo by Mike Rush.
Setting the Standard for Wine and Korean Food Pairings
Pairing wine with Korean food is a relatively new thing, one that's followed the development of haute-Korean, Michelin-starred tasting menu restaurants like Atomix, where Filipino-American Jhonel Faelnar is leading the charge in this front.
"It's almost like open territory where nobody really knows what to pair with miyeokguk (seaweed soup) or galbi (barbecued short ribs) or whatnot," says Faelnar. "So then it becomes a process of experimentation and just, truly, freedom. Scary freedom but freedom nonetheless."
To pair chef JungHyun "JP" Park's food—heavy on seafood and vegetables, delicate in flavor—the former NoMad sommelier leans on white wines for 60 to 70 percent of the list, along with plenty of Champagne and lighter reds like Pinot Noir and Burgundy.
So for a deep-fried langoustine with doenjang (soy bean paste) caramel, he suggests Champagne from Jacquesson or a slightly off-dry Riesling with 20 to 30 years of age. For a grilled fish with sesame oil: a Godello from Spain by Raúl Pérez. "Actually, when I opened [the Godello], it had a bit of reduction on it, and was smelling a little bit like sesame oil itself."
Paula de Pano. Photo by Daniel Turbert.
Building a Big Wine Program in a Small Town
Paula de Pano, Beverage and Service Director of The Fearrington Village, Pittsboro, North Carolina
In a town that doesn't have the buying power of New York, Paula de Pano has championed a high-demand beverage program well-suited for the Relais & Châteaux property Fearrington Inn and Restaurant. The former Eleven Madison Park sommelier negotiates hard for every Champagne and Burgundy in Fearrington's roughly $200,000 cellar of 1,500 unique labels.
Heir to an existing wine list that focused on off-the-beaten-path regions like Chile and South Africa, De Pano expanded into classic regions like Italy and Spain during the 10 years she has been at Fearrington.
"We have a bottle for every person," says De Pano. Her well-rounded approach is key because she's charged with catering to the distinct needs of every venue in the villa: lunch counter, pizza and beer garden, fine dining restaurant, bookstore, and spa, in addition to the wine classes that she teaches.
Though De Pano used to doubt whether her opinions and ideas were worthwhile, finding the courage to speak up has resulted in new and exciting ways of approaching wine. "Suddenly you say [your ideas] out loud and people are like, 'Oh yeah, we didn't think about that,'" she says.
Take the "double" wine pairing concept introduced to Fearrington by the Philippines-born beverage director. "I find wine pairings to be subjective," says the Culinary Institute of America graduate. "What you taste might not be something that I taste."
So she'll serve a sea bass with two wines side by side: a Meursault and a Syrah. This way, diners can explore how each wine plays with either the fish or the ingredients in the sauce. Her method also invites a teaching moment for her guests: The perception of Syrah is that it's too full-bodied for fish. De Pano enlightens with a light Rhône Valley Syrah.
Joanie Kwok. Photo courtesy of AB InBev.
Bringing Innovation and Diversity into the Beer and Malt Beverage World
Joanie Kwok, Senior Marketing Director, Flavored Malt Beverages Portfolio and National Co-Chair of Pac-Asia, Anheuser Busch, New York City
Anyone who wants to know what's next in the world of flavored malt beverages—and how to market them to a more diverse consumer base—need only chat up Joanie Kwok.
She and her team have launched six brands (with two more on the way) for the Beyond Beer division at Anheuser Busch—a new group that was formed in response to today's drinking culture of declining beer sales and growing consumption of hard seltzer, whiskey, and tequila.
The second-generation Chinese American brings her lived experiences as an Asian American into the process, helping ensure that AB's products are launched with elevated social impact and culturally inoffensive messaging. For a Budweiser commercial featuring Dwayne Wade and Natalie Johnson, she heightened its impact by helping implement a scholarship to hire more Black brewers. For Super Bowl ads, she guarantees that a diverse list of advertising agency partners is considered.
"I think we're all trying to learn how to sell products in a way that's authentic," says Kwok, noting that contemporary customers are placing more weight on brand values. "There's more emphasis on, 'who am I supporting and are they then supporting my community back?' What is the quid pro quo?"
Reaching the consumer requires a multi-faceted approach, and for Kwok, that includes fostering an inclusive workplace where employees feel heard and educational conversations around experiences like Black Lives Matter happen—and engaging in a good dose of self-reflection.
"What are my privileges? What are the things that I've been taught that I need to unlearn, and then how do I lend a hand?" asks Kwok. "And everyone has the power [to do so] based on the rooms that they're in."Caroline Shin is a food journalist and founder of the "Cooking with Granny" video and workshop series celebrating diverse immigrant grandmothers. She grew up in Queens, NY with all its food, diversity, and attitude. Catch her work on Eater, New York Times, New York Magazine, and @CookingWGranny on Instagram.