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Know Your Sommeliers: Jamie Harrison Rubin

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28/03/2024 Philadelphia native Jamie Harrison Rubin is an experienced restaurateur and wine specialist who thrives on improving dining experiences, emphasizing client satisfaction, education, and sales growth, all the while exhibiting empathy and leadership.

Experienced restaurateur and wine expert Jamie Harrison Rubin, of Philadelphia, offers a special combination of skill and enthusiasm to his position at Kidstuff Hospitality. Jamie's journey shows his dedication to enhancing East Coast vineyard hospitality and advancing Philadelphia as a top dining destination. Jamie began his career as a bartender before focusing on wine.

Jamie discovered his calling in the beverage sector because of his everlasting passion for the environment and the nuances of wine. The pull of wine's relationship to agriculture and all the stories, intricacies, and science that go into it led him to pursue a career as a sommelier. His sincere desire to impart his enthusiasm and knowledge to others is the foundation of his methodology.

Jamie's manner of interacting with customers is indicative of his empathy and dedication to providing individualized attention. He makes sure that each guest has a memorable meal by posing perceptive questions and customizing recommendations to suit individual interests. His strict training programs for new hires, which place a high value on ongoing education and setting clear goals, demonstrate his commitment to continuous progress.

Outside of his career, Jamie draws inspiration from a variety of media, including books like "A Confederacy of Dunces" and "The Overstory" and television programs like "The West Wing." His own professional aspiration is to grow his company's clientele and influence while remaining committed to hard work, enjoyment, and learning.

Jamie looks at important indicators like sales performance, inventory turnover, staff and guest happiness, and media recognition when assessing the success of his wine program. Jamie Harrison Rubin stays a prominent in Philadelphia's thriving food scene with his constant commitment to quality and natural ability to connect with both clients and business associates. To gain a deeper comprehension of Jamie's mindset and level of competence, read to his interview to get a sense of his approach to sommeliership and hospitality.

Your current place of work.

Kidstuff Hospitality

Tell us about yourself.

I am a wine person and restaurant operator from Philadelphia. My career began with an ill-advised turn through college studying biology and wound a path from craft bartending through wine and now consulting and recruiting. I'm focused on raising the bar in East Coast winery hospitality and continuing to bring notoriety to Philadelphia as a great dining city.

Image: Jamie Harrison Rubin

Why did you want to become a sommelier?

I was already in the beverage world, running bar programs. As a lifelong environmentalist, the proximity of wine to agriculture was extremely appealing. And as I continued down the path, the stories and complexity and science and excitement have continued to keep me engaged.

Questions you would ask a customer who doesn't know anything about wine?

How do you like your coffee? What type of beer do you like? Can you remember a wine that you've loved? What's your favorite cocktail?

What are some of the most important skills for a sommelier?

Empathy, organization, leadership, expansive knowledge, and most crucially, an undeniable, magnetic floor presence.

How I would train my new staff member in their first 7 days of joining.

Training begins with the clear setting of expectations which includes detailed manuals and regular one-on-ones. Each day is scheduled to address a different position within the restaurant, giving insight into the flow of business through the space. There are specific topics to touch on daily and a review or quiz finishes out the day. Management face time is hugely important to gauge success and retention.

What methods do you use to grow wine sales - top line? Please explain with examples.

The primary method is education. The more informed your staff is, the more opportunity there is to inform, and sell to, guests. There must be daily, weekly, and monthly education goals to drive this effort and keep everyone excited. 

The list itself is a sales tool and needs to be written in an accessible way so that guests can read and understand it. Wine is incredibly opaque as a baseline and having consistent and easy-to-read lists is a step in the right direction. The list should also help reflect the expertise of the staff. In an operation with a full wine team, the list can be expansive and have little extra information. The opposite is true in smaller places without a wine team.

Lastly, the culture of the restaurant needs to align with wine sales. The dining room should be set up for service. Bottles and service ware should be visible to guests and tables should be set up for service with glassware.

There are many other methods to increase sales by reaching out to the community, creating wine-based events, being sure to connect with other restaurants and distributors to share contacts and information, etc, ad nauseum. In the end, selling wine isn't difficult. It turns out, people love it.

What methods do you use to grow net profits?

The primary method for growing profits is to grow sales. That entails much of the strategy I spoke of above, but applied to all beverages and food. Events and community outreach are massively important. The restaurant must be relevant in its neighborhood. 

Additionally, you need to manage your P&L every day. Floor work is important and the staff needs to have a great model for the best behavior. Cost control should be top of mind for all management and line staff should be reminded of the need to minimize waste consistently. Vendor management, R&M, CGSE inventory, and all other cost centers need to be considered as money flows to the bottom line."

How do you self-learn and improve your skills?

Study plans are made weekly and monthly. Additionally, it is important to put myself in rooms with people who are smarter and more experienced than myself and to take on roles and projects that expand my skillset.

What's the best part of your job?

Flexibility and rigor. I am in a position to learn from the best in the business while driving my own goals. Running my business gives me the freedom to diligently apply my effort where and when it is needed.

How do you elevate the guest experience? Please give 4-5 examples and insights here.

1. Keep guest notes so that dietaries and preferences are always known.

2. Acknowledge all special occasions.

3. Meet folks of all budgets with excitement and excellent service.

4. Say yes when possible and be contrite and empathetic when the answer is "no".

5. Always stay calm and composed.

Your favorite TV show right now?

Historically, The West Wing (only seasons 1-4. Past that is a disaster)

Right this moment I'm astounded by Mindhunters and Sense8

An unforgettable wine experience for you - tell us the whole story!

Went to New York for a portfolio tasting as I was dipping my toes into the wine world. I was making a bunch of money as the head bartender of a great restaurant and learning a ton. There were four of us from the restaurant who took the day to go up for the tasting. 

We ordered a bottle of 1964 Oddero Barolo with a gorgeous roast chicken. I had no recourse but to become a some.

What are the biggest faux pas that customers tend to make when ordering and drinking wine?

Not engaging with the staff to help make decisions.

Do you have any favorite food and wine pairing suggestions for drinks enthusiasts?

Funyuns with Ceritas 'Peter Martin Ray' Chardonnay

Burger with Bleu Cheese and Bacon with Bedrock Old Vines Zinfandel

Your favorite book?

A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

The Overstory - Richard Powers

What's your personal career goal? And how are you investing or planning to get there?

For a long time, my goal was to own my business. Now that I do, my goals are all about growing it in size and impact.  

Give us one good story that you remember about a customer and you.

I have had guests who have turned into regulars, and regulars who've turned into employees and friends. There certainly isn't just one great story.

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How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

As stated above, education. Suppliers have better ties to producers than I do. The more my staff and I feel connected to the product we're selling, the better.

Can you share with us an example of a solid wine program?

Le Caveau

Super Folie

A.Kitchen + Bar

Bloomsday

All are near the restaurants where I run a wine program currently.

What are the four main things you focus on daily?

Pleasure, joy, diligence, and education.

What are the points you look at when selecting a new wine for your wine program?

Will the wine fit in the program from a cost, ethical, and flavor perspective? Is the supply chain stable? Am I able to create context for this wine in my restaurant? Is it absolutely, toe-curlingly delicious?

According to you, what makes a good sommelier, and what qualities do you look for when hiring a sommelier?

Empathy, organization, leadership, expansive knowledge, and most crucially, an undeniable, magnetic floor presence.

What do you look for when you have to evaluate the effectiveness of the wine program?

Sales, inventory movement, guest satisfaction, staff satisfaction, press

A unique opportunity to present your wines to America's top sommeliers. The wine scores are benchmarked for on-premise channels by top sommeliers, master sommeliers, wine directors and restaurant wine buyers. Submission deadline is April 24.