Written by Vicki Tomiser
I’ve come a long way baby!
What was I 30 years ago? A barmaid? A lady bartender? The girl behind the bar? Pretty lucky to have the job, I suppose, seeing as right around the time I was born 26 states had laws prohibiting women from tending bar. (Seriously! Because of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, these laws were able to be struck down starting in the 1970’s.) But for me, tending bar and waiting tables was a means to an end, not a political statement. And “the end” was the bar at the TGIFriday’s across the parking lot from the restaurant where I worked where I may have been more interested in finding a husband than a career. I had no intention of making a career in the restaurant business though I was also pretty sure by that time that I was not going to be making my career in what I studied and planned for in college: theater or social work.
Two things happened to change my idea about the rest of my life: First, I worked at a restaurant run by wine lovers who made sure we tasted wines every week. On Saturday mornings we sat through wine classes that detailed winemaking practices and growing regions around the world. I was smitten. I loved nuance in wine, and, with practice, I could use those nuances to tell me what varietal I was tasting and where it was grown and why I liked it or loathed it. I loved how wine changed with food and food changed with wine. I knew that I wanted wine to be a part of my life for the rest of my life.
The second thing was someone believed in me and was in a position to give me a chance. That someone was a woman who was probably the age I am right now. At 26, Sandy Layne, (shout out to Sandy!) offered me the position of Beverage Director for Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge, near Orlando Florida. I interviewed with Arnold Palmer himself *. It was a big job. I chose the wine beer and spirits for every outlet in the club as well as corporate tents and events during the Bay Hill Golf Tournament. I had never done anything to prepare myself for tasting, choosing, and purchasing wine, creating wine programs, managing people, preparing profit and loss statements, reconciling inventory and maintaining a pour cost. I knew it was an opportunity of a lifetime and I was right.
“Bay Hill” was equal to full university degree in running a beverage program and one of my first lessons was that there were not many other women doing what I was in the Orlando area. I attended every event, trade show, wine dinner and educational seminar that I could find. I would scan the room from the door before entering to get the lay of the land. There were lots of dark grey suits and the occasional blue blazer and khakis, but I was usually the only black mini skirt and cute boots in the room. I never had to wait in line for the bathroom. I always had a willing dance partner. I got noticed. I know at first I was noticed because of my gender and age, but as I learned more and asserted myself, I became noticed for being the young woman who was developing a creative wine program, training her staff and selling more wine while managing costs effectively and making a profit for our business. What I noticed was that I was having fun and that wine was not only a part of my life, it was now part of my identity.
Arnold Palmer’s Favorite Cocktail – The Bay Hill Hummer
Steps to Make It:
Fun fact - In my tenure at Bay Hill Club and Lodge, I made approximately, a bazillion of these
Fun fact #2 - During the golf tournament, we actually made them in a huge Hobart Mixer that looked like a cement mixer.
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