Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits (SGWS) is furthering its commitment to hospitality and food service education with a new training facility in Miami. Earlier this year, Market Watch was given an exclusive first look at the SGWS Wynwood multi-purpose venue and met with company executives to discuss the vision they have for the complex, how suppliers will participate, and how the SGWS sales staff and retail partners will benefit.
Renovation of the 17,000-square-foot former gallery—located in the heart of Miami’s arts and cultural district, Wynwood—took four years to complete, but SGWS executives say the facility is now the crown jewel in the company’s hospitality training collective. “It was a huge investment for us,” says SGWS president and CEO Wayne Chaplin. “But over time, it will add value.” Located at 2105 North Miami Avenue, the venue, which boasts a brick façade and open, spacious ceilings throughout, is ideal for “hosting key customers and suppliers,” Chaplin explains. “We fell in love with the bones of the building.”
SGWS Wynwood is clearly designed for food and beverage professionals. The space boasts a mixology lounge, demonstration kitchen, tasting room, and Founders room featuring conference-style seating. SGWS Wynwood is also now home to the company’s Artisanal Fine Wine & Spirits division, as well as its communications, corporate social responsibility, and special events departments. The modern-industrial facility features natural wood and porcelain floors designed to resemble concrete tile and is equipped with state-of-the-art audiovisual technology throughout the premises.
Upscale Classroom Settings
The 1,600-square-foot mixology lounge is outfitted with a 31-foot bar and classroom seating for 40 guests, making it ideal for cocktail demonstrations and other seated or reception-style events. The 1,300-square-foot kitchen, meanwhile, features state-of-the-art equipment and chef’s-table seating for eight guests—perfect for intimate chef demonstrations, or interactive cocktail or dinner stations. According to Chaplin, the kitchen space will be available for new chefs entering the market to use as a test kitchen. SGWS Wynwood’s tasting room—optimal for wine-tasting events—spans nearly 1,300 square feet and can accommodate classroom-style seating for 24 guests. And the 1,300-square-foot Founders room features a custom-built 24-foot-long walnut table, prime for an intimate dinner or wine tasting. An outdoor terrace is also planned for the space.
Artisanal Fine Wine & Spirits, the distributor’s four-year-old boutique division, is now headquartered in the Wynwood facility. To support it, the space features a temperature-controlled showroom and storage facility for some of the division’s finest and rarest wines. The showroom can also be utilized for wine-tasting opportunities. Led by master sommelier, vice president, and general manager Laura DePasquale, the Artisanal division is dedicated to small, rare, and family-owned wineries and importers from around the world.
SGWS’ communications, corporate social responsibility, and special events departments—headed up by Lee Schrager, senior vice president of communications and corporate social responsibility—are also housed at the venue. In fact, Chaplin credits Schrager for his oversight on the new facility. “Lee has been an amazing part of this project,” he says.
In addition to internal usage, SGWS Wynwood is available as a private event and meeting space for the likes of wine- or cocktail-focused dinners, chef pop-ups, master classes, pairing seminars, and new product launches. Full-service catering is provided by Constellation Culinary Group, a division of Paris-based Elior Group, which has a strategic partnership with Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse.
Finally, the venue, like a number of other SGWS facilities around the country, features a direct warehouse store from which local retailers can purchase select wine and spirits on demand. “The Wynwood location is convenient for South Beach restaurant operators to access product, if needed,” Chaplin explains.
Long Education Tradition
Southern Glazer’s has a long tradition of supporting drinks education for its employees and trade partners, and SGWS Wynwood is just the latest example of that commitment. In 2015, for example, a year prior to its merger with Glazer’s Wholesale Distributors, Southern Wine & Spirits unveiled its Academy of Beverages and Fine Service Learning Center in Las Vegas. “It was Southern Wine & Spirits Nevada senior managing director Larry Ruvo’s idea to have a place where we could train hospitality industry members, bartenders, and waitstaff and help them progress with their careers,” says Chaplin. That venue has since been renamed the Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits Academy.
The Las Vegas facility served as the basis for the Wynwood space, notes Chaplin. But the Florida location will allow the company to train not only bar staff, but also those who work in food service, with features like the venue’s kitchen now at hand. And the Wynwood site will offer numerous educational opportunities for SGWS employees. “We want to make sure our sales team and managers are well trained,” Chaplin says. “Our vision is that our staff is always better trained than our customers, so we can be a more effective partner. The value of a trained sales force and the knowledge they can bring to our customers—whether on-premise or off-premise—is so important.”
Chaplin notes that in the past, much of the training for industry members focused on wine, but with changing consumer demand and demographics, that’s no longer enough. “Today, the spirits business is more complicated,” he says. “Consumers want to know the difference between Bourbons. They want to know what a whisk(e)y’s mashbill is.” As a result, the Wynwood facility will play host to winemakers, distillers, brand owners, and educators across all wine and spirits categories. “They will come here and train our sales force,” Chaplin adds. Indeed, employee training in Wynwood will only enhance an already exceptionally knowledgeable staff. As of late last year, more than 10,000 of SGWS’ 22,000 employees had successfully completed wine, spirits, and sake education training, including certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, the Court of Master Sommeliers, the Society of Wine Educators, and the Wine Scholar Guild.
SGWS’ commitment to educating and training hospitality professionals in south Florida doesn’t end with the Wynwood facility. The company has been a decades-long sponsor of Florida International University’s hospitality school, which in 2011 was renamed the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
The Wynwood location was pivotal to SGWS’ newest hospitality and education venue. “We wanted to be close to South Beach, the design district, and Wynwood, the cultural center of what’s happening in Miami,” Chaplin says. “The area is still transforming itself. It has been for the last 15-20 years. Our vision is that in 5-10 years, this area will be completely transformed. We want to be part of the transformation.” As a new corporate member of the neighborhood, SGWS Wynwood will work to source local ingredients and partner with local vendors, Schrager notes.
Miami-based SGWS now operates in 45 states and Canada. According to Market Watch sister publication Impact, sales revenue for the company reached $19 billion in 2019. Chaplin’s father, Harvey, helped found Southern Wine & Spirits in 1968, and the following year the company acquired a small California distributor. By 1990, Southern had emerged as the largest wine and spirits wholesaler in the country, with sales of $1.3 billion and operations in Florida, California, and Nevada. Ten years later, sales revenue had nearly tripled and the company had operations in five additional states. From 2000 to 2015, Southern drove wine and spirits wholesaler consolidation, emerging with a near 25% share of the U.S. market, businesses in 34 states and Washington, D.C., and sales of nearly $12 billion. In 2016, Southern agreed to join forces with Texas-based Glazer’s Inc., originally founded in 1909, to create the distribution powerhouse that it is today. The company services some 282,000 on- and off-premise retailers annually.
While the Wynwood center is now complete, SGWS has no plans to ease up on its mission to educate its employees and partners in the beverage and hospitality industries. Chaplin says the company is working with a designer to renovate its current meeting and conference space in New York to make it more suitable for hospitality training. As the leader in wine and spirits distribution, training is something SGWS takes seriously. “Along with our supplier partners, hospitality education is an important role for us to play,” says Chaplin.