PHCP: Tell us a little bit about your background and your path to becoming Fridays’ Director of Bar and Beverage Innovation?
Anna: I started in the restaurant industry at 18 years old waiting tables. During the day, they needed a daytime bartende.At the time, I knew nothing about it! Never even had a sip of alcohol before! They taught me how to bartend; I worked the day bar, and I continued along that path. I went into management with independent restaurants and knew that I always had a passion for training. I was part of new restaurant openings [created training] and wanted to pursue that path.
One of my regulars in my restaurant worked for Chili’s and always tried to recruit me. I called him one day and said, “I think it’s time to make the jump! Do you have room for me?” That’s how I ended up working with Brinker. I started in Learning, Development & Training and quickly switched focus to Maggiano’s. I was in that role for 1 year and moved to the Communications department. At this point, I knew that the greatest area of opportunity of check growth was beverage, specifically wine and that the greatest gap of knowledge was beverage, specifically wine.
I decided I wanted to add value and create a training program to help our operators be more confident in wine. Specifically, I wanted a Certified Sommelier on the floor of all our restaurants. Well, you can’t create a training program until you do it, right? So that’s how I started down the path of my certification. I started with a CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) through Society of Wine Educators. Through Court of Master Sommeliers, I completed Intro then Certified, then went back to get a CSS (Certified Specialist of Spirits).
By that time, I convinced my senior leaders that I was the right person to run the beverage program at Maggiano’s. We were such a small team at that time that I was doing both roles for about a year [Communication & Beverage] before I got moved over to a full-time beverage position. I was in that role when I got recruited to Fridays! I believed it was a great opportunity to grow and add value in a larger footprint, so I decided to make the jump.
PHCP: I think it’s amazing that you are a Certified Sommelier! What was your favorite part or adventure about getting the certification? Was it as tough as it sounds? Is it like learning a new language? Or was it just all fun?
Anna: Literally all of the above! So, it is absolutely as hard as you hear it is. It is a ton of chemistry, history, geography and language. It almost feels like to be a wine expert, you are an everything expert, which seems very daunting – and it is and it should be! You know, the whole wide world of wine is the history of the world! They talk about wine in the Bible and you can follow the path of wineries from when the Romans conquered. It’s bonkers!
It’s love and war and it opens your world up to a whole history that for me - never a big history buff, never a big geography person or a language person– halfway through my wine studies, I was like, “Wow I knew so much more than I ever did before and not just about wine.”
I had so much fun – it was so hard! The craziest thing is that I took my Certified Sommelier test when I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant – that was pretty insane. I had taken my Intro and found out I was pregnant. I knew that if I didn’t go ahead and just knock it out, it would be much more difficult for me to get it done after I had my second baby. At the time, I also had a toddler and my husband was getting his PhD. I look back at that time in my life and think, “How in the world did I do that?” but you do things that are important to you and you make it happen!
PHCP: What did you want to do with your life at age 13?
Anna: It’s funny because I grew up Southern Baptist and we didn’t even drink! I didn’t have my first sip of alcohol until I was 22 I think? It was never a part of the frame of my world. At 13, I wanted to be a marine biologist – I was fascinated with sharks.
Even when I was a bartender at casual dining, I didn’t really think about it. It wasn’t until I got into independent and more polished restaurants that I realized the strength of a strong beverage program, and it wasn’t honestly until I worked for Maggiano’s that [I knew] this was a job and now I found my forever job!
PHCP: What’s something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?
Anna: Swimming with sharks. That would be amazing and scary!
PHCP: What are three words to describe living in Dallas?
Anna: Hmmm… I would say…Can I use more than 3 words? I would say, better than you think. It’s an amazing city! There’s more to it than people think.
PHCP: What is your favorite book of all time?
Anna: Michael Crichton is my favorite author, so anything he writes is my favorite. I could read anything he writes. What I love about him is that he is a physician by profession before he became a writer, so all his books have a scientific basis and they’re just beyond realistic. It’s like you can read his books and go, “Maybe that can happen in 10 years!”. His stories are not so far-fetched that it’s realistic.
PHCP: What is your favorite alcoholic beverage of all time?
Anna: This is an impossible question. I’m very much an occasion-based drinker: If I’m laying by the pool, I want a crisp, white wine. If I’m eating Thai food, I want something sweet. If I’m watching The Walking Dead, I want a big, fat juicy red wine. Generally speaking, my health wine would probably be a Crémant Sparkling Rosé from Loire.
PHCP: What’s one item in your bar at home that you’d be ashamed to admit?
Anna: I am truly equal opportunity! There is nothing that I would say, “I can’t believe I have that!” but moreover, I am lover of beverages and I want everyone to be a lover of beverages. So, I believe that if you like malt beverages, awesome! Whatever you love, I want to encourage you to drink it! I don’t want to put any restrictions on their love. I think people’s palates expand with experience and you got to get them in somewhere, so I love having a little bit of everything in my house for all the people in my life.
PHCP: Where do you get your inspiration for beverage innovation in the bar?
Anna: I believe that there’s nothing new in the world, there is just interpretations of existing things. What I try to do is look at the state of our business – what are the gaps in our offerings and execution? Whatever the gap is, I ask myself, “What’s out there that can help fill that gap and how do we make it our own?” I believe that innovation is really about pushing the limits of traditional thinking.
PHCP: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
- I would love to visit all the major wine regions of the world (visit the entire world, really) – that would be incredible.
- Visit as many renowned and well-known chefs as possible. I mean, all my everything is centered around food & beverage, okay?
- Come back to me on this one.
PHCP: 11. What is your favorite cuisine, or is that another impossible question? Maybe tell us your go-to cuisine instead!
Anna: Comfort food is Asian food – I love it all! I lean closer to Thai food more than anything. Green Curry Thai dish is my favorite!
PHCP: What is your favorite Fridays fun fact – something that most people don’t know about Fridays?
Anna: I don’t know how well known it is - I did not know until I started here – that Fridays started as a singles bar. The guy who opened Fridays wanted to meet chicks, so he hired male models & actors to be the bartenders to attract women.
I believe that Fridays really set the stage for everything we currently know as the beverage on-premise industry. They brought women in the bar, but at the time, there weren’t many fruity-styled drinks, so the bartenders essentially cultivated these drinks – we can call it mixology – to appeal to the clientele they were bringing in. They were really the first mixology bar! Everything we know about experiential events (beverage occasions) that our guests are looking for today (putting on a show, over-the-top garnishes), started with flair at Fridays!
Everything now that we look at as the norm in the beverage community, I would argue that Fridays was the one to put it in the forefront and set the standard moving forward. The training aspect, the elite-ness of the bartender – I believe started at Fridays and that is something I’m very, very proud of.Author: admin
Category: Client Love