The New Guard: Caitlin Mackey
General Manager, The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards
“I knew that I moved out here for a reason and I knew what I wanted from my career and my life, and somebody else’s opinion wasn’t going to deter me from that.”
BC: How did your career trajectory bring you to Wente?
CM: I’m actually from New York, and went to the Culinary Institute of America. I transferred to the [campus] in Napa. I was working as a sous chef for quite a while in Napa and met my now fiance. He’s from Dublin and this area, so we moved to Walnut Creek and I found Wente, to cut the commute and move our lives this way.
BC: Growing up, what brought you into this industry and what inspired you in the first place to dive into this world?
CM: I always loved to cook since I was little. I loved baking, cooking dinner, all the time. I remember in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to go to college for because nothing sounded exciting. Then I thought, oh, I could cook for a living and work in a restaurant for a living. Just cooking with my dad and my family brought me here, and one day I decided to make the move to the front of the house. I was working at a place in Yountville, and they needed a front of house manager. They said, “you should do it, you’re personable. And if you hate it, you can always come back to the kitchen.”
BC: Is there anything you specifically miss from the kitchen or felt that you gained from the back of house? Or have you really just enjoyed stepping into that front of house role?
CM: It’s a little of both. The kitchen is hard. It’s a hard place to work and I definitely learned sense of urgency and a different kind of work ethic from working in a kitchen. It definitely brings you a lot of structure.
BC: When do recall the first moment of your career you felt truly proud of what you were doing, whether it was a specific dish or an experience front or back of house?
CM: I was the Assistant General Manager here, and making that transition when the job position was open. I wasn’t sure, I’d never had experience as a general manager, so I wondering what way the company was going to go, but they just felt so confident in me rather than even looking outside. They just said, “this is yours.” I think the proudest moment of that was my staff, how excited they were, it was nice to feel that from them and excited I was taking control.
BC: What have you noticed women uniquely bring to the back of house and front of house?
CM: I would say they bring a sense of direction and encouragement. It’s empowering to see women in roles that typically men have and inspiring them to see their side of things. Carolyn Wente is just one of those women that did it all. Especially in a men-driven industry, she just took the reins and did it. I’ve worked in kitchens where I was the only female, and it was [an attitude of] “you’re a women and you’re not going to make it.” It wasn’t anything against me personally, it’s just that they’d never seen a women in the kitchen before and they didn’t know what to do about it.
BC: How did you overcome that?
CM: I knew that I moved out here for a reason and I knew what I wanted from my career and my life, and somebody else’s opinion wasn’t going to deter me from that.