This feature is part of a regular series called “How I Got Promoted,” spotlighting the stories of how top hospitality professionals took their careers to the next level. Today we hear from Sean Sant Amour, General Manager and Managing Partner for Blue Ribbon Restaurants, who got his start as a bus person.
I started at [Blue Ribbon co-founder] Eric Bromberg’s very first restaurant in New York City. I applied to be a bartender. I did one trail behind the bar, and the team immediately told me I was not suited to be a bartender — instead they offered me a much lower position: bus person. I ate some humble pie and took it.
Around the same time, Eric was working on a new restaurant across the street called the Crystal Room. His brother, Bruce, had just arrived from France, and the two of them were plotting for it to be this amazing French restaurant in SoHo. I decided to move over to the Crystal Room — still as a bus person. I was excited by the Brombergs’ vision, and they could see that in me.
The Crystal Room eventually transitioned into the very first Blue Ribbon, and that’s how the restaurant empire was born. I remember being there to help demolish the Crystal Room. We were such a small group of people, and we didn’t know what we were doing. But I was passionate about the potential that Blue Ribbon had, so I immediately stepped up however I could to help create that restaurant — whether it was helping craft the service or giving feedback on the design of the space.
When Blue Ribbon eventually opened in 1992, I was a food runner — it was still not a high-level job, but I became the hardest-working food runner ever. I worked every single day that we were open. I became the eyes and ears for Bruce and Eric. I worked closely with the kitchen, constantly bringing back feedback from the guests, and helping to make adjustments on the fly. I made myself invaluable, and I helped to create that Blue Ribbon culture of always wanting to improve.
A year and a half into the Blue Ribbon opening, our opening general manager left. Eric asked if I would be interested in stepping into that role. He knew I had that key ability to mutate, to affect change, and to be a floor general — and I had gained the respect of the staff. I had never been in that sort of position before, but I took the leap. I let Eric and Bruce guide me, I trusted my instincts, and I became a leader for the rest of the staff. As a restaurant professional, the most important skill is your ability to empathize and to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I understood that from the get-go and was always able to connect with both our guests and staff. I learned to be open and attentive, no matter what.
Eric and Bruce eventually made me a managing partner of the restaurant group. I had been committed to their vision since day one, at every step of the process, and they wanted to recognize that. The Blue Ribbon collection of restaurants is growing so steadily now, and I feel lucky to have come in so early to such a great company, where I can wear all these different hats, mentor others, and constantly overcome new challenges.
Photo credit: Steve Hill.