FITL's Live It - Love It Career Series
Being part of Families in the Loop has lots of perks. At the top of the list is the incredible group of Chicago professionals and business owners I’ve come to know over the past year. Each day they’re hard at work, achieving excellence in their industries and inspiring dreamy entrepreneurs like me to keep going. So this month I’m dedicating the Families in the Loop blog to these Chicago superstars. And since it’s the month of love, I’ve added a twist. I have asked these experts to share how love has factored into their career choice. Was it love at first sight? How about a breakup? Find out here, all throughout the month of February. Parents, it’s time to recharge our career batteries with FITL’s “Live It - Love It” career series.
Love in a Bottle
By Dave Thomas
If love can be compared to a fine wine, then I’m clearly in the right business. As a wine distributor, I easily fall for a good vintage red or white. Even more than that, however, I love the conviviality that arises when people come together over a bottle or two. That’s where it all started for me.
Growing up, my family would drive across the border from Buffalo, NY, into Canada for Sunday dinners at my maternal grandparents’ house. It was always a celebratory meal with roast beef, turkey, or something that smelled great and looked amazing, and we always had a glass of wine with our meal. And every fall we would help my grandfather make the wine. We would squish the grapes with our hands in big plastic containers. He would add the yeast and a little sugar, and we would bottle the wine a few months later.
As I got older, I realized that at those Sunday family dinners something amazing happened: We talked. Then our family moved three times in five years, forcing us to leave those Sunday dinners with my grandparents behind. The one constant was the dinner table. The evening meal remained the time when we reconnected. The dinner table was also the place where we could safely talk about anything, from what type of toilet paper we liked to how hard it was to find new friends.
Then I grew up and the Internet happened. I spent the next few years traveling the country teaching people how to find jobs and recruit job candidates online. You may be wondering how this relates to food and wine, but imagine this: I’m traveling to every major city in the country and meeting with top executives at Fortune 500 companies. What do all these people like to do? They all eat, of course, and well. I spent three years with an expense account and an excuse to eat at top establishments all over the country. With every meal I would order a bottle of wine, and I kept a notebook of aspects of the wine I liked and didn't. By the end of my time with this company, I had eaten at about every well-known restaurant in the country and tried more wines than I care to admit.
Later, I took a job working for a large consulting firm. I was traveling again, four days a week every week. Soon I became the go-to guy for restaurant and wine suggestions, which became a side job all its own. I even took weekly wine education classes from the master, Kevin Zraly, in NYC.
It wasn’t long before I started thinking about how to start a business of my own that would let me drink wine, travel, and eat great food full-time. About this time I also met my wife to be and began spending more time in Chicago. I was still learning about wine, and Kevin had set me up on a fantastic trip to Italy where we met some amazing producers. Meanwhile, I was buying more and more wine from Sam's Wine and Spirits while at home. Finally, my fiancé forbade me to bring another case of wine home. I had to figure something out quickly. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.
I had an idea for a chain of restaurants focused on wine. I also had the business moxie, but I needed some inside industry information. So I called the person at Sam's I had been buying all this wine from, and he agreed to meet me for a drink. About midway through our conversation, he asked if I had ever thought about running a distributorship. I told him I had not since I knew nothing about specific wineries and had no contacts in the industry. He proceeded to tell me that he and his wife did but that they didn't have the business experience. We agreed to talk in a week and see if a business partnership would work.
When we opened H2Vino, we were selling about 100 wines, mostly French, and working with about 50 accounts. We now distribute more than 500 wines imported from France, Spain, Italy, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, and Australia. We also work with wineries in the U.S. and have more than 500 accounts across the Illinois area. It’s amazing where the love of something as simple as family dinner can lead.
Today, our family still eats Sunday dinner together, now with my wife, daughter, father, brother, and sister-in-law. Dinner still centers on a roast, stew, or bird and a bottle of wine, but the best thing that comes out of the meal is always the conversation. I love what I do, but I love the people who are part of it even more.
~By Dave Thomas, co-founder, H2Vino
Growing up with a French mother and gourmet father greatly influenced entrepreneur Dave Thomas, who spent much of his time trying to figure out how to start a business that would allow him to eat, drink and travel. In 2006 opportunity struck and, with co-founders Todd and Veronica Hess, H2Vino was born. Fast forward four years, and H2Vino is now an importer and wholesale distributor of fine wines from around the world, many of which are biodynamic, sustainable, organic or organically farmed. Dave, who lives in East Lakeview with wife and H2Vino co-founder, Victoria, and their daughter, Sophie, summarizes his philosophy with the phrase “the circle of life” stating that “everything is centered around supporting restaurants and small businesses in the community.”
Filed under: Live It - Love It... Career Stories