Aria Dorsey

Aria Dorsey

Aria Dorsey, Director of Operations & Wine for Rolf & Daughters and Folk, in Nashville, TN shares her career timeline and words of advice for up-and-coming professionals.


What inspires me most is my staff and seeing them succeed. I want to watch them grow, watch them find their passion, and do whatever I can to help them with that. Sometimes it is within the hospitality industry – sometimes not, but if they are happy, then I have done my job.


EXPERIENCE
EDUCATION
While in college I had the opportunity to work for the hotel and restaurant on campus and be a part of a leadership development program. While I was there, I learned one of the most important lessons of my career – how to manage both my peers and people with decades more experience than myself. Not only was I navigating being a boss to my best friends, my classmates, but also to people that had worked in the hotel for 20+ years, who certainly knew more than I did. It taught me the importance of respect and knowing that while you may have a lot to bring to a table, you don’t know everything. You need to rely on those who were there before you to teach you. This has been so important when starting new jobs, both at DBGB in New York City and Rolf & Daughters. Both were established restaurants when I came on board in a management position. I spent the first few weeks just learning how everything is done, getting to know the staff, running drinks and bussing tables. I knew no one was going to listen to me until I proved to them that I was good. You see a lot of new managers come into restaurants wanting to change everything immediately, but then they lose respect from the staff. You can't change something if you don’t know if it works or not.
Any book written by Alice Feiring is essential. Her books have taught me so much about natural wine. When it comes to service, ‘Setting the Table’ by Danny Meyer; I have read it about a dozen times. Whenever I need a bit of inspiration, I pick up that book.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I received was at my first role at DBGB in New York. My direct boss and General Manager, Olivier Rassinoux, stressed the importance of taking care of your employees. In NYC, most of the FOH staff weren’t planning on making the restaurant industry their career, and thus had other jobs mostly in the music and acting industry. They needed time off for shows and performances. Olivier taught me that if you give them the schedule they want, the time off they need, then they will help you out when you need it most. That has held true for me to this day, and what I pass on to everyone. If you take care of them, they will take care of you.
One of the most pivotal moments I had in my career was when interning for a wine store in Tribeca, Frankly Wines – which at the time was owned and run by Christy Frank. This job occurred in the summer before my senior year in college, and while I was familiar with the basics of wine and took a few classes up at Cornell, I had no idea how much was truly out there. Christy introduced me to Jura (before the craze happened – back when it wasn’t crazy expensive), Austrian red wines, light, herbaceous reds like Trousseau and Ploussard, and taught me how to fully appreciate oxidative Savagnin. We would go to Terroir Tribeca and drink every possible riesling and chat about wine and the industry. She helped foster my love for wine, and for learning about the producers behind the different labels.
I was one of the very rare and lucky people that pretty much knew what I wanted to do in high school, and managed to get fairly close to it. I was obsessed with the show Gilmore Girls growing up and basically wanted to be some combination of Lorelai and Rory. I wanted to go to an Ivy League college and then open my own inn. While at Brooklyn Technical High School, I was working for an artisanal food shop that had a butcher counter, cheese department, fresh bread, and a coffee area. I ran the coffee area and cash register. After a few months they gave me the key to open the store. I became responsible for ordering the baked goods and the coffee; I just fell into it. When looking at colleges, I applied to schools that had solid undergraduate business programs. I was very logical – I wanted a safety net if I changed my mind and I knew that with a business degree I could pretty much go anywhere. But after visiting Cornell, and the Hotel School, I fell in love and knew that’s where I needed to go. Granted, I originally was still on the Lorelai Gilmore track. However, after spending a summer both interning at the Carlyle Hotel and working at The Redhead (a restaurant by Madison Park) – I realized I loved the food & beverage track more than hotels; mostly because you could get to know everyone personally in a restaurant, but in a hotel, that isn’t usually the case due to the size and separations between departments.
Leaving New York and D.C. for Nashville was part of me trying to find a work-life balance. I also think it is important to establish work-life balance boundaries with your employer. When I was hired at Rolf & Daughters, I made a point to express the fact that I will work non-stop, 7 days a week – but when I need to travel or go to an important event, I need to have it off. These trips, even the ones that are work-related, force me to separate from work and just turn off my phone and be in radio silence for just a few days; although, I am always available through email and certainly spend a few moments checking my inbox every morning.
I learn best with hands-on experiences. I have also found the best way to keep myself educated is through travel and so I make sure to visit a wine region at least once a year. I also surround myself with other people to learn from. I have a core group of “wine friends” in Nashville who work in restaurants and at wine distributors. We get together at least once a month, bringing many different bottles and teaching each other.


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