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National Restaurant Association - First job key to sommelier's success

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First job key to sommelier's success

Before becoming a sommelier at Ris in Washington, D.C., Leah Cheston began her career as a hostess and server at a small North Carolina restaurant when she was 16. After graduating from Wake Forest University in 2004, she pursued a career in graphic design. Because of her hospitable nature, she turned to the familiarity of serving in a restaurant and quickly was promoted to manager. She continued to prosper in the business and began running a wine bar at just 22 years old.

“Growing up in a small North Carolina town, I didn’t even know what a sommelier was, let alone that it was a profession.”

Managing the wine bar in North Carolina led her to California, where she worked at another wine bar in Sonoma. From there, she continued her wine education with the U.S. Sommelier Association in Miami. While there, she combined her knowledge in wine and graphic design by creating portfolios and designing websites for wine wholesalers and merchants. Eventually, a wholesaler in Florida transferred her to D.C., where she decided to return to restaurants. 

Throughout her career, she relied on the customer service and people skills she learned in her first restaurant job.

“The restaurant industry is a little bit of love and hate because of the high pressure environment,” she says. “But the beautiful thing about it is that your night ends, and you get to start over the next day.”

In her career, she’s encountered many people with artistic backgrounds. They end up in the restaurant industry because of its artistic and passionate nature, she says.

 “A lot of us do end up in [the restaurant industry] … because we followed a passion,” she says. “I encourage everyone to work in a restaurant at some point because it is a great experience, and it’s not that easy.”


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