The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2015

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Page 107 of 136

november 2015  /  the tasting panel  /  107 T en years ago, Helen Mackey was Managing Brand Marketing, Emerging Markets and Product Innovation for Diageo by day, and maintaining a burgeoning online wine club and retail business called California Reds by night. Previously, she'd been a producer at Fox News. "When you're younger and at the beginning of your career, you're interested in everything and constantly on the move," says Mackey of her not-quite-linear career path. "It was before I had a family, so I was always looking to the future. I wish I had stopped to enjoy the moments more often because I didn't know that the journey would be incredible." That journey would follow to include selling the California Reds wine club, founding and selling three Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) schools in San Francisco, Napa and Orlando, and eventually working her way through the ranks at Ruth's Hospitality Group (parent company for Ruth's Chris Steakhouses) to her current position as Vice President of Menu Strategy. "I'm a lifelong learner," she says. "Curiosity turned into passion and then teaching. I spent my entire adult life explor- ing business, entrepreneurship, product development and education." Of her decision to join Ruth's Hospitality Group, she explains, "The opportunity to change a fine dining and wine experience is a culmination of those things." At Ruth's, Mackey has happily married her business acumen and passion for wine (for which she earned her WSET Diploma), developing trend-setting programs like the national Happy Hour called "Sizzle, Swizzle and Swirl" and an annual five-part wine and spirit educational dinner series—as well as an award-winning national wine list—to earn both Mackey and Ruth's Hospitality Group major accolades. "Along my career path, I've always had incredible female mentors, all the way from Fox News Network to Ruth's Chris now," she says. In fact, though they never met, Mackey considers Ruth's Chris Steakhouse founder Ruth Fertel a role model. Fertel, a single mother of two boys, made history when she mortgaged her house to buy the original Chris' Steak House in New Orleans in 1965. Today, Ruth's Hospitality Group is the world's leading upscale dining collective. "She was all about the possible," says Mackey. "She only hired other single moms to work in the restaurant. She was gutsy, real and totally inspiring." Mackey and Ruth's Chris have recently partnered with the Women of the Vine Alliance to present regional events across the nation where women alcoholic beverage profes- sionals can meet, network and strategize for change in the male-dominated wine, beer and spirits industry. "I think back to Ruth Fertel and what she did for women in her life—this is something she'd be happy being in the middle of," Mackey says. "These regional events are going to be fantastic. You just have no idea what's going to hap- pen when a lot of smart, interesting women get together!" Mackey intended to complete her wine studies with a Master of Wine certification, but bearing two sons in 2007 and 2008 rerouted that plan. "My boys are really my heart and soul, so I don't want to be working when they're not in school," she says. "I try to get home when they do and spend that time with them until they go to sleep. Then I'll get on the computer if I need to. Ruth's is very respectful of working moms and families," she says, noting that her manager, Senior Vice President and Chief Branding Officer, Cheryl Henry, is also a working mom. A typical day for Mackey, who lives in Winter Park, Florida, starts with her alarm going off and the task of "talk- ing two little guys, seven and eight years old, out of bed." "When they finally get up, after breakfast and going to school, I set my mind for work, which is really a pleasure," she says. "I implement, measure and execute strategies for food and beverage experiences that are very tangible inside the four walls of a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. I see what resonates with the guest and think about ways to make it better." Living nearby to the Winter Park Ruth's Chris location allows Mackey to witness her programs in action. "It propels ideas," she says, "to smell the smells and feel the buzz in the air of people who got the babysitter to celebrate whatever moment they're there to celebrate." For her, though, every night except Friday night ends with homework and pack- ing lunches for the next day. "Friday," she says, "I'm home, having a glass of wine with my husband." About Women of the Vine ® Women of the Vine is a membership-based alliance that empowers and equips women worldwide to advance their careers in the alcohol beverage industry, fostering gender diversity and talent development across the industry at large. The Women of the Vine Global Symposium is scheduled for April 4–7, 2016 in Napa, CA. For more information, visit Helen Mackey: A Woman of the Vine by Jaime Lewis / photo by Joe Brooks

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