Uncorking an Exceptional Life
When Mandie Silver was a sophomore at University at North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she was already considering the food industry as a career option. A business major also studying Spanish literature, she took a position at the Carolina Inn, an historic hotel and restaurant on the Chapel Hill campus. “I worked with a great chef that had been an ice carver for the American Culinary Federation and taught classes in Gaithersburg [Md.],” she says. “He told me that if I wanted to get a culinary education with a shorter program post-college, that L’Academie de Cuisine was the best.” After receiving her bachelors at UNC, she relocated to Maryland.
“L’Academie had a great one-year program with a paid externship.” She says she eventually focused on front-of-house work and learned how to run restaurants and hotel food and beverage departments and did just that for nearly a decade while in the Washington D.C./Georgetown/Bethesda area.
When she moved to the Grand Strand in 2004, Silver’s career trajectory shifted, leading her into the wine business at the suggestion of John Flavin, northeast regional manager for Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. “He told me that I would be great at sales. I said, ‘I don’t think so. I’m an operations girl.’ He said I would be surprised.”
Flavin put Silver in touch with Southern Wine and Spirits. She interviewed, was hired and worked for the outfit for seven months as a wine salesperson for the south end of the Grand Strand. “I was sort of hurting the business of our competition – so the competition that my mother jokingly calls Benedict Arnold [Ben Arnold Beverage Company] stole me away.” She worked with Ben Arnold for six years as an on-premise salesperson for the North Myrtle Beach/Little River area.
“So I got my feet wet in the sales industry with the restaurants, hotels and a few independent stores,” she says. Because she had done well selling Oregon wines in this area, Ben Arnold sent her on a trip to Oregon, where she got noticed and ultimately hired by Jim Bernau, founder of Willamette Valley Vineyards.
“That was my step from distributor into a supplier position,” she says. It is sometimes difficult for people to transition into the supplier world without being in an upper level position. I was lucky enough as an on-premise salesperson level to be acquired.”
She worked for Willamette for nearly three years before transitioning in April to her current position as Southeast Regional Manager for O’Neill Vintners and Distillers, a California-based bulk production winery and distillery.
“I had established somewhat of a vocation for myself in the supplier world, which is quite small – because the travel for a living isn’t always on everyone’s agenda. And also having a supplier position requires a different set of skills and a tolerance level that other folks might not think are so glamorous. So once you are doing pretty well, the recruiters start calling – and I had a lovely call from a recruiter, and they convinced me that I should talk to the folks from O’Neill. That turned out to be a great decision.”
Silver contends that distributor relations is her No. 1 focus – making sure that they are profitable and that she is profitable. “That involves me assisting and training their sales forces – holding sales meetings, being involved in blitzes – as well as sales agendas that are from ground level – a specific hotel, restaurant or store – through a network or chain – like doing a proposal for a major grocer.” Supermarket chain Winn-Dixie recently began carrying O’Neill brands.
Silver has hosted more than 200 wine dinners and has taught classes from TIPS training to basic wine and food pairings. She is very comfortable with public speaking and enjoys the traveling in connection with her work.
Decompression time includes yoga at Shanti Yoga Studio in Myrtle Beach, where she has been practicing for more than five years. “I consider myself to be fairly un-athletic. I am absolutely amazed that I can do forearm balances and headstands – and yoga forces you to only think about one thing at a time.”
Silver makes time to hit up local restaurants, enjoys live music and says she is an avid sun tanner, for better or for worse.
“A lot of people ask me why I don’t live in Charlotte [N.C.] or Charleston, but I like the way of life that Myrtle Beach has to offer. I was once told that some people are motivated by stress and other people are de-motivated by stress because they create enough of their own. I create enough of my own stress – so being in a low-key environment is more of what makes me happy.”