The honeymoon is not the least bit over for Cappie Peete Chapman, although this month marks the conclusion of her first year as director of beverage and education for one of the South's preeminent restaurant groups as well as her sixth anniversary at NDG. Her infatuation with beverage began while studying hotel, restaurant, and tourism management at the University of South Carolina when she took a wine and spirits course and fell—surprisingly and completely—in love with vino. After college, she joined NDG where she steadily progressed from working as a server at McCrady's—the group's fine-dining landmark in Charleston—to leading the beverage planning and education program across the group's esteemed portfolio, which includes Husk, in Charleston and Nashville, Tennessee; Minero in Charleston and Atlanta; and Chicago's Steak and Seafood in the Atlanta suburb of Roswell.
At McCrady's, beverage director and sommelier Clint Sloan took her under his wing, a logical start given that she was a Certified Sommelier. "Clint taught me the program and all of the behind-the-scenes responsibilities," Peete Chapman says. When Sloan left the restaurant, she was promoted to wine director—and at 26, Peete Chapman became the youngest Advanced Sommelier in Charleston. From there she stepped up to beverage director, becoming more involved with beer and spirits. At that point, the company was about to open Minero—a more casual dining experience with a focus on Mexican cuisine that was envisioned by Husk's James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock. "We wanted a beverage program that was strong in mezcal and tequila, as well as beer," Peete Chapman explains. "I got to build a fun, casual beverage program to go with the tacos and Mexican street food."
The restaurant's success in Charleston led NDG to open another Minero in Atlanta, and that was when, she says, "I became involved on a company level with building the beverage programs at all of our restaurants, as well as with education and training for all of the employees." No small undertaking, given the company employs some 400 to 500 people, the wine list at McCrady's numbers 500 to 550 labels, the wine list at each Husk location is around 100 labels, and the beer and spirits programs are ever-growing.
Now, in addition to spending time in each restaurant, she conducts monthly educational seminars that are open to everyone in the company. "One day I'll put together a seminar on the differences between the villages of red Burgundy for the servers of McCrady's, the next I'll help the bartenders at Minero understand the flavors of the different agaves used in mezcal production, and the next I'll help the cocktail staff at Husk comprehend the differences between Japanese whiskey and other whiskeys," Peete Chapman says. "There's never a dull moment; that makes my job fun and extremely rewarding."
The hour-long seminars, which cover beer, wine, and spirits, may be more specific to one restaurant than another on any given month—but Peete Chapman envisions making them more comprehensive and expanding the topics to involve back-of-house interests. "I'd like to have a farmer series, charcuterie lectures, and more technical cooking lessons, because we'd like these seminars to involve everyone in the company not just the front of house, where my knowledge is," she explains. "Another goal is to start filming the seminars and posting them online, so when I do a lecture in Atlanta, it can be available to people in Nashville and Charleston as well."
She also hopes to launch field trips, as an added incentive for employees to engage with the seminars, and ultimately her dream is to use the company's event spaces to host educational lectures, seminars, and tastings for the public.
While wine remains her first love, the educational aspect of her job has become a newfound passion. "The management of the beverage programs is always interesting because I am constantly learning something new, and doing this across three states is interesting because there are different beers coming into each market. But my favorite part is the education," she says. "I get great feedback from the staff, and I see that translate into sales."
What's next on her agenda? Studying for the title of Master Sommelier—she put those studies on hold in 2015, because that was also the year she got married, so between a wedding and the added responsibilities at NDG, it simply wasn't the time to pursue that auspicious title. But it's on her list, as is "paying attention to areas of the beverage program in each restaurant that I feel are under-developed. Like at McCrady's," she surmises, "I'd like to bring in offerings in categories that people know less about, like sherry, vermouth, and Madeira, but that go really well with the cuisine. And at Husk, maybe play up the beer program." For each restaurant, she has specific goals that she hopes to develop.