We met up with Allegra Angelo at The Vanity Project nail salon to chat about her long-time twin obsessions: nails and wine.
Hi Allegra, thank you for letting us enjoy this afternoon with you! Let’s start with the basics. Tell us a little bit about your background:
I have been in the hospitality industry my entire life. I grew up in Connecticut and went to a New England prep school. When most kids were off at exotic summer camps, I landed my first summer job at Dunkin’ Donuts. It sounds silly, but since then I was hooked on the service industry. Later on, when I was 23 and in culinary school, I discovered the pleasures of wine (I never drank in high school or college). I didn’t realize that wine overlapped with so many professions until I worked at Jean-Georges in New York City. It was there, working as a pastry chef, that I got my first peek into the life of a sommelier. I was intrigued.
I planted my seeds as a sommelier in Miami, thankfully interrupted by a four-year stint in San Francisco, a city and community that allowed me to sharpen my skills, not only in wine but also in business and technology. I was able to be the head sommelier and a manager for a restaurant group, work as a sales director and web editor for a national importer, as well as create my own wine and beauty pop-up. When I returned to Miami, I tried to open my own project but failed several times. Then, through a mutual friend, I was fortunate to meet Nick Garcia and Mauricio Garavno – the true enablers and creators of Vinya. It’s as if they had the recipe for the cake, then I came along with the rainbow sprinkles and the ribbons.
How did your fascination with nails start?
It might sound vain but I love anything related to beauty and self-pampering. I don’t know why, but I’m also intrigued by the beauty and wellness industry. It’s fascinating to me. When I was in San Francisco, I went to this salon in my neighborhood called Sugar Coat. I loved it so I’d go every Sunday, which was my day off. When you work in the hospitality industry, your day off is so sacred and precious, I wanted to pamper myself by getting a manicure and pedicure. Also, having my nails done and hands cared for gives me that added confidence to sell a good wine. So I just became obsessed with this place!
What I learned from going to salons in San Francisco is that they are very gender neutral. Everybody goes. Females, males, straight males…I even got my father to get a pedicure done!
It’s not just about getting your nails done, it’s an escape, like going to the movies. It’s an “I feel good, happy, safe” place. The same feeling you get when you go to a hotel and jump in the bed or open that little fridge.
I started going to more salons in San Francisco and it got me thinking that I wanted to pour wine in a salon. Since I was a frequent client at Sugar Coat and had met the owner, I started inquiring there. The owner was traveling in Vietnam, but I met with the managers a bunch of times with a 3-page plan explaining my idea for pouring wine and selling tickets. They were confused by it and because the owner was absent it was a dead-end. I started emailing all the top nails salons in San Francisco, like 20 different salons. This was back in December 2015. The only person who emailed me back was the owner of a salon called Za Za. She told me she had a beer and wine license, so we met up that January and started doing events together. Since I was obsessed with the name Sugar Coat, we called it Bottle Coat and sold tickets for a pedicure with wine. We did these events for almost 2 years. It’s the same industry as wine. It’s hospitality, service, beauty. So I felt it was a workable connection.
What was the best part of doing these events?
I think it was the refreshing factor. I’m serving and engaging people with wine outside of the restaurant scene and it was so much fun to do! Here I am at the nail salon, acting like a sommelier, pouring people wine and getting people to buy wine.
What were peoples’ reactions towards the event?
They loved it! I think it was the surprise of going to a nail salon and being poured a biodynamic Rose from Provence that you cannot get anywhere else or an amazing glass of Chablis or this tiny, little-known producer of Pinot, etc. In an unexpected way, I was connecting with the right clientele. These were people who were willing to pay $35 for a nice manicure, versus $20. They were the same people who were likely to spend $20 on a bottle of wine, rather than $9.
Would you say there’s a similar relationship between the nail artist and the client as there is between the bartender and guest in a bar?
It’s very similar in that you want to engage in a conversation, but not too much because you don’t want to interrupt what they are doing, especially at the moment when they are focused on their craft. Still, you are having a conversation and getting to know each other and it’s a mutual, feel-good experience.
Which wines are you drinking these days? Any specific region?
I try to drink a little bit of everything to keep my palate flexible and engaged, but lately I’ve been drinking a lot of regional Burgundy wines, like Bourgogne, Coteaux Bourguignons and Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, the whites or reds.
What do you foresee as the next big trend in wine?
I’m hesitant about supporting trends because they are not necessarily indicative of quality. I am, though, passionate about the renewed interest in “fine wine.” This was a term that producers, importers, and sommeliers worked hard to promote in the 20th century, until trends like spritzes, canned wine, a booming cocktail culture, and even the natural wine movement shuffled “fine wine” to the back of the deck. To me, fine wines from classic regions like Rioja, Chianti Classico, the Wachau, the Mâconnais, Alsace, and Bordeaux (and so many others) are like your jean jacket, high-top Nikes, or black velvet blazer: critical essentials and reliably high-quality!
Which are your go-to places in Miami for a nice wine-by-the-glass selection?
That’s a tough one because we need more of them! There is a wide-open lane in Miami for restaurants that stand by fine wine and a professional sommelier who can drive sales and develop a contagious wine culture. To me, the places that truly “get it” are: Macchialina, the Genuine Hospitality Group, Le Jardinier, Fooq’s, Zuma, Fiola, Nave, Proper Sausages, and, mainly for their aggressive pricing model (not selection), the Hillstone’s Group.
What are your favorite wine tasting events in Miami?
I tend to lay low (I’m not fond of crowds), so my favorite is my wine-tasting group called “Les Punts.”
What’s your opinion on the state of wine education and consumption in Miami?
In terms of the consumer, people tend to be addicted to information wrapped in a fun, engaging setting. In terms of the buyer or sommelier, we can’t solely rely on seminars or events to catalog knowledge; it’s up to everyone to push themselves individually, whether that means getting up 30 minutes earlier each day or staying up later each night to do the research and dive into the grit. Overall, the community is much more rich and layered than it was 5 years ago, but the top is an upward moving target; we’ve got a ton of work ahead of us if we want to be respected at an international level.
What are you currently doing? Where can we find you?
You’ve made strides in hospitality, nail and wine events and now you are starting Vinya. What’s next on your agenda?
I’d definitely like to write a book, but not a wine book. I started a draft three years ago and will finish it one of these days! It’s a fictitious, humorous coming-of-age story with elements of wine, food, and drink seamlessly woven into the novel!