This feature is part of a regular series called “How I Got Promoted,” which spotlights the stories of how top hospitality professionals took their careers to the next level. Today, we are turning to Ann-Marie Verdi of The Bellwether, who went from Red Robin bartender to co-owner and beverage director of one of Los Angeles’ hottest restaurants.
My family owned liquor stores and restaurants, so I grew up learning customer service and how to count back change to people and inventory. That was my first introduction to the business, and when I was 15, I was really excited to get my own job in a restaurant. My brother was a server at Red Robin at the time, so I started there. I worked every single position and paid my way through college with that money. One day, the manager asked if I wanted to learn to be a bartender and, of course, I said yes because I knew that knowing that skill would open up opportunities for me.
After I graduated college, I moved to London — I am a planner, and I had always known this was what I wanted to do after school. I walked into this pub called The Holly Bush in Hampstead, I talked to the publican at the time, and told him I needed a job. He saw my bartending experience, and he hired me. Eventually, the owner moved to Australia, so I told him I could run the pub for as long as he was gone — I was still learning, of course, but I took the initiative. He ended up never coming back, so I took over.
My mentality was always, like, I’ve got this. You don’t have to worry. I showed interest and initiative, and I was trustworthy to everybody, so it worked.
I ended up running that pub for years until I got homesick and went back to California. I was hired at a place called Slidebar, which was, at the time, one of the biggest openings in Orange County. Five hundred bartenders applied for ten jobs, and I got to be one of the opening staff members; the owners, again, recognized my initiative, my experience, my work ethic. Not long after we opened, the bar manager was fired. I got a call at 9 a.m. saying, “We had to let someone go. Can you come in and help us do an order?” The owners didn’t know how to do it. So, in ten minutes, I showed up, figured out the system, and after a week, I had just taken over all the responsibilities of a bar manager — so they gave me the job.
From there, I was hired at Haven Gastropub as part of the opening team. I saw the opportunity to learn about craft beer and wine and finer cocktails — and to be at the forefront of the gastropub movement. I knew it was a strategic move for me. I took the chance to learn a lot about the craft beer scene, and as things got busier and busier, the beverage director stepped down, and once again, I took over.
I think people were impressed with my interest and desire to learn. I was always the one to be like, “Let’s go to the breweries and talk to them. Let’s change it up. Let’s try these new bottles.”
Those ideas impressed people — they saw the potential for me to not only be a bar manager, but in the long run to be a general manager, and to open up another location for them — which is exactly what I did. I built the business. I had never opened up a store before, but I was excited for the new challenge. I knew it would be a fantastic learning experience.
I went on to Father’s Office, where I got to work alongside my good friend Ted Hopson. One day, we were walking to work, and he asked me if I had ever thought about opening my own restaurant. I told him I was interested, and eventually, we opened The Bellwether together. I took all my experience and poured it into this restaurant, and I think that’s the reason we have had a lot of accolades and success. We have a ridiculously high retention rate of staff, amazing food and cocktails, and most importantly, we all care about the restaurant and we care for each other.
I have learned from every single job I have had.
To this day when I am at the door at work, I think about hosting at the Red Robin at age 16, and the things they told me then. I took a little bit from every position and kept it with me, both the good and the bad, and applied it to the Bellwether to make it the best possible bar and restaurant that I could. I am determined. I don’t let people tell me I can’t do things. I set my mind to something and I do it. I’ve always kept that mentality with me.
Photo credit: Marie Buck.