It’s 2021 and you can plan an entire weekend visiting restaurants, bars, and retail stores in Atlanta that are owned by women. A femme filled weekend like that would have been hard to come by 30 years ago, so we thought we would catch up with restaurateur/chef Anne Quatrano and wine broker Lisa Bonet to discuss their journey in what was once a male-dominated industry. These ladies paved the way for our success, and we wanted to get their take on the changing landscape.
We asked Chef Anne how Atlanta’s dining scene has changed since 1993 when she opened her first restaurant, Bacchanalia, originally located in Buckhead. We couldn’t agree more with her response. “The dining scene has changed immensely since 1993– all for the good in my opinion. Large restaurant groups and hotel dining dominated the food scene back then with very few, if any, chef owned and operated businesses. It was almost impossible to break into the industry without a big budget and a flashy space. Now, today, if you prepare great food and are friendly you can serve food from a van and be a popular and busy restaurant.”
Quatrano now owns 3 restaurants as well as Star Provisions Market and Café. Not only do her restaurants serve impeccable food day in and day out, the service in each establishment has also led to the success of her company. There is a synergy between the front of the house and back of the house that is obvious during the dining experience.
She comments, “I would say that service is as important if not more important than the food that we serve. This is always a balancing act in fine dining as you want to be friendly, intuitive but also professional. I feel a positive and respectful relationship between your kitchen and the front of the house is essential to give the best service to your guests. It takes a team, of which each individual plays an integral role to pull off a great service. Small, unexpected touches and surprises throughout a meal are what guests remember.” If you’ve ever been to Bacchanalia, we can guarantee you never forgot about the “gifts from the chef” between courses.
Lisa Bonet, co-owner of the wine brokerage B&L Brands, accounts for the increase in gender diversity to there being more female mentorship in the industry. Early on in Lisa’s career, she worked at Camille’s Restaurant in Morningside, a female led Italian eatery that closed in 2002. Being a young mother and new to hospitality, she needed to learn the ropes quickly and Camille took her under her wing, taught her that truth and integrity matter and promoted her to wine buyer.
In the early ‘90s, Camille’s was one of the first restaurants in Atlanta doing wine dinners. Lisa remembers sitting down with the menus and experimenting with pairings all under the guidance of Camille. An event that started off with a few regulars led to a phenomenon with a monthly packed house. Atlanta was catching the wine bug.
It was this introduction into wine and the need for more stable hours that she began working for a wine distributor in 1999. In those days, she was one of a few women in the market and worked hard to prove her place. Despite harassing winemakers and bully bosses, Lisa continued to be the top seller and because of inner confidence and “knowing you have value even though you’re not perfect.” With this conviction she rose through the ranks, learning sometimes she had to be “loud to be heard – not necessarily be a bitch, but take no shit.”
Another challenge Lisa faced was balancing her success with being a single mother. “I had to conscientiously make the decision to build a career and apologize later so we could have what we needed” says Lisa. “Taking time to pause and make decisions with the best intentions will lead you to do the right thing.”
Now Lisa knows that because of these past sacrifices she is the luckiest person in the world with her business that she built with her partner, Bobby Flournoy. including their Oregon wine label, Mile Post.
As far as the future of wine: “When I first started, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was the rage and what everyone was looking for and it was new and exciting. Merlot was still the main red wine (this was pre- “Sideways” – the film that inspired new interest in wine culture). We were one of the first distributors to introduce unique wines like Txakolina and Mencia to the market. As we see it today, these are not so exciting. Today, it is much more expansive, and people want to try new things, so all these unexplored regions are showing up. With that, consumers don’t rely on individual wineries and common varietals because people want to try new things. A whole new world of wine has opened”
Things have certainly changed around Atlanta and now there are women owned businesses in every neighborhood and the wine world is brimming with female representation. As the ‘Good ol’ Boys Club’ mentality erodes and the social landscape of working moms is the norm, more opportunities for place in the market exist. And it will continue as more women are able to stand up, share their stories and build a better, stronger role in the Atlanta hospitality industry.