Tonya Pitts - A sommelier for over 20 years & the wine director at One Market Restaurant.
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I have been in the restaurant industry for over 30 years. I have been a sommelier for well over 20 years. My career has been spent working in high end restaurant for star chefs: the late Judy Rogers, Jeremiah Tower and Mark Dommen, just to name a few. I have been the Wine Director at One Market Restaurant in San Francisco, my current restaurant for thirteen years.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
I had always loved wine and I have a good palate. It was at the urging of other women in the industry — Loretta Keller, a female chef owner and Sylvie Laly, a female wine director — who propelled me to the possibility of a career in wine as a woman and as a Black woman.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
There are so many things— the sparkle in the guest’s eyes when they love the wine suggested, being a role model for someone else and inspiring them to work with wine.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
It a double- edged sword, I am a female sommelier and a Black woman. After all this time, people are still surprised and expect a man to show up at the table. But the worst is when you host an event and you are ignored at the tasting table. The person pouring has no idea that you are the host, and they have let their prejudice prevail about gender and possibly race.
Women are victims of the patriarchy as well, and often are more judgmental of other women as a result. How can we as women become more aware of our own prejudice towards each other and change that behavior?
We have to keep an open mind. Just because the idea is new and different it doesn’t mean it is bad and vice versa. We must listen to each other and really hear what that person is saying with an open mind.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
There are a lot of opportunities in our industry for women. The more programs we offer in wine education and mentorship across the board, the more women of all ages and ethnic backgrounds will know that it is possible to work in our industry.
What changes do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I think we will see a lot more ingenuity in business models, especially in this new age of pivoting the current business model for the food and beverage industry. We will see a lot more people of color in this space.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
It is possible to be in the wine industry even if you don’t see anyone that looks like you. Do not be afraid to ask someone to mentor you, especially if it is someone you look up to or admire. If you have a new concept, an idea, something that has not been done before or in a different way— do not be afraid to try it.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equality means being seen for your worth, what you bring to the table and how you lift up your collective community. It is being seen as your true, authentic self and being equally monetarily compensated for your work.
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I use my platform to highlight women in the wine industry: winemakers, executives, winery owners, anyone that helps to create the wine project. Also, It’s important to highlight people of color in my projects.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
She is fearless, not afraid to fail when trying something new and different, she is not afraid of change, she is strong, she is smart, she takes care of her collective community and she doesn’t forget to fill her up her own cup to sustain herself.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
There are so many women during my long career and women in the current world of wine who are holding it down and getting it done for the collective community and the sisterhood of women in wine.