This feature is part of a regular series called “How I Got Promoted,” which spotlights the stories of how top hospitality professionals took their careers to the next level. Today, we are turning to Ann-Marie Verdi of The Bellwether, who went from Red Robin bartender to co-owner and beverage director of one of Los Angeles’ hottest restaurants.
My family owned liquor stores and restaurants, so I grew up learning customer service and how to count back change to people and inventory. That was my first introduction to the business, and when I was 15, I was really excited to get my own job in a restaurant. My brother was a server at Red Robin at the time, so I started there. I worked every single position and paid my way through college with that money. One day, the manager asked if I wanted to learn to be a bartender and, of course, I said yes because I knew that knowing that skill would open up opportunities for me.
After I graduated college, I moved to London — I am a planner, and I had always known this was what I wanted to do after school. I walked into this pub called The Holly Bush in Hampstead, I talked to the publican at the time, and told him I needed a job. He saw my bartending experience, and he hired me. Eventually, the owner moved to Australia, so I told him I could run the pub for as long as he was gone — I was still learning, of course, but I took the initiative. He ended up never coming back, so I took over.
My mentality was always, like, I’ve got this. You don’t have to worry. I showed interest and initiative, and I was trustworthy to everybody, so it worked.
I ended up running that pub for years until I got homesick and went back to California. I was hired at a place called Slidebar, which was, at the time, one of the biggest openings in Orange County. Five hundred bartenders applied for ten jobs, and I got to be one of the opening staff members; the owners, again, recognized my initiative, my experience, my work ethic. Not long after we opened, the bar manager was fired. I got a call at 9 a.m. saying, “We had to let someone go. Can you come in and help us do an order?” The owners didn’t know how to do it. So, in ten minutes, I showed up, figured out the system, and after a week, I had just taken over all the responsibilities of a bar manager — so they gave me the job.
From there, I was hired at Haven Gastropub as part of the opening team. I saw the opportunity to learn about craft beer and wine and finer cocktails — and to be at the forefront of the gastropub movement. I knew it was a strategic move for me. I took the chance to learn a lot about the craft beer scene, and as things got busier and busier, the beverage director stepped down, and once again, I took over.
I think people were impressed with my interest and desire to learn. I was always the one to be like, “Let’s go to the breweries and talk to them. Let’s change it up. Let’s try these new bottles.”
Those ideas impressed people — they saw the potential for me to not only be a bar manager, but in the long run to be a general manager, and to open up another location for them — which is exactly what I did. I built the business. I had never opened up a store before, but I was excited for the new challenge. I knew it would be a fantastic learning experience. [Read more…]