Now in its 11th year, The Business of Wine continues to be one of the most popular professional certificate programs at SDSU’s College of Extended Studies. The program is geared for professionals and entrepreneurs in the wine, food, and hospitality fields who want to quickly expand their knowledge of wine topics; those interested in moving into wine or hospitality careers; and wine enthusiasts seeking a professional-level education.
Students experience the world of wine twofold: wine education and business education. Grant Tondro, sommelier and proprietor of The Barrel Room, Urge GastroPub, and Brothers Provisions, was one such student, and one of the program’s earliest graduates.
What did you hope to gain from the Business of Wine program?
I come from a family of restaurant owners so I had already been in the business a few years and was a certified sommelier. My best friend and I were in the process of opening The Barrel Room and when we heard about the program, we thought here was an opportunity to have face-to-face time with industry professionals and learn more on the business side rather than just the enjoyment side of wine. I completed the program just before we opened our first restaurant, The Barrel Room, in January 2007.
Did the program meet your expectations?
Definitely. We made some good connections through networking. We filled in some knowledge gaps that we had about the wine business and were set up to get going and get our restaurant launched. In retrospect, it would have been more challenging the first six months had the course not existed. It gave us insights into the training of employees, plus gave us lots of resources through networking ̶ who we could call if we had a problem, who could help point us in the right direction.
What was your career at the time?
I was working in wine distribution for Southern Wine and Spirits.
What do you think is the biggest strength of the Business of Wine certificate program?
The breadth of the courses. If someone like me, who’s already an industry professional, has gaps to fill, there’s a course for them.
How has the industry evolved since you were a student?
It’s changed a lot. When the program first started , wine bars were one of the hottest concepts in the hospitality industry. Not that that concept will ever go away, but it seemed there was a wine bar on every corner. Some of those guys who came to the table without a lot of experience have gone away. Those who were better prepared with knowledge and a good plan have survived, as the herd has been thinned over the years.
You’re now a co-owner in three restaurants: The Barrel Room, Urge GastroPub, and Brothers Provisions, all of which are wildly successful, judging by Yelp reviews. To what do you attribute this success?
Lots of hard work and lots of caring about what we do, day in and day out. One of the biggest commitments we have is to bake all of our bread in-house, make all of our desserts in-house and make all of our dressings. That commitment to quality comes through in the food.
Do you recommend the Business of Wine certificate program to your employees?
Yes, absolutely and we’ve had a couple of employees over the years that have gotten a certificate as well. Molly Brooks Thornton is a sommelier at Bankers Hill Restaurant. She was former employee. We paid for a portion of her tuition.
You’re very knowledgeable about beer as well; Brothers has 15 rotating draft beers on tap, Urge has 51, and both have hundreds more in bottles. Did you perhaps take SDSU’s Business of Craft Beer certificate program or did you learn on the job?
I learned on the job, but I’m definitely interested in perhaps teaching one of the beer courses and having our restaurants participate in some of the food pairings with Dr. Bill’s course. [Editor’s note: Craft Beer and Food Pairing, taught by Bill Sysak, craft beer ambassador and certified Cicerone®, Stone Brewing Co.]
If you had to choose between beer or wine for life, which would it be?
That’s not even fair. I’ll cheat and say beer aged in a wine barrel.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue their dream of a career in the wine or beer industry?
Go after it with both hands, but arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible.
Anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask?
The program is absolutely worth it and you can get out of it as much as you put into it.