There’s a thin core of steel that runs through women who have chosen to be in the food and beverage industry. There has to be because, no matter what you throw at them, the women of F&B “get shit done.” In this new column, we look at the women who slice and dice, who change the world, and who do it with a side of sass.
Randi Weinstein was never supposed to be in the food business. Her Long Island family sold sweaters and she was following in their wooly steps at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Sure, she had the usual stints as hostess, bartender, manager, the kinds of things you do to get through school – but fashion was going to be her thing. But when she moved to Charleston in 1988, there wasn’t a big fashion industry to take her in.
Searching for her place, she divorced her first husband and began working with the chronically mentally ill. But, after her father died in 1995, the food and beverage industry seduced her back in.
Convinced that we should all do what we love to do, Randi threw herself into helping to open the now-defunct Sermet’s on Wentworth and King streets. It was a hard job for a young mother.
“My son was 4 going on 5. I was working from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sometimes, the only time I would see my son was if my ex brought him into the restaurant,” she says now, nursing an ice water at Mercantile and Mash.
She begged Angel Postell, who was busy starting up the Charleston Wine & Food Festival, for a job. Postell hired her as a contractor and Weinstein was shocked by the amount of work that had to be done to get a festival off the ground.
“I was there for a month and a half before I got my first paycheck,” she says, laughing.
The training was invaluable for where she is today as the founder of the FAB Workshop. The idea grew out of a venture designed to raise scholarships for women in the food and beverage industry, the Bad Bitches. That group morphed into FAB, a multi-day series of workshops attracting women from all over the country. Young women come to listen to women who are their legends: Boston’s James Beard Award winner Barbara Lynch; chef-owner of New Orleans’ Compere Lapin, Nina Compton; former Food & Wine editor Dana Cowin; and Charleston’s own April Robinson, formerly of Butter Tapas. And the legends themselves say they get joy from telling it like it is, and telling it like it should be.
This isn’t for the meek and mild. Business ideas are pitched, refined and rejected, and attendees tell it like it is.
The FAB Workshop is in Charleston June 10-12 and does popups around the country, including in Atlanta. Registration scholarships are available and, as Randi says, “Invest in yourself and, if you’re an employer, invest in that employee. You’ll get that investment back.”
Helen is a former reporter for The Associated Press. She has been a freelance writer for Skirt magazine, The Post and Courier, Local Palate and Edible Charleston. Helen is a member of the Association of Food Journalists and Les Dames d’Escoffier, a philanthropic organization of women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality.