Story by Liesel Schmidt | Portrait by Lucia Smith
As the head of operations and management for some of Alexandria's most popular hotspots (Fontaine, Kaizen Tavern, Grape + Bean of Rosemont and recently acquired Sonoma Cellar), Stacey Wharam prides herself on being the matriarch of the family culture she’s created within them. “We are a family and we rely strongly on one another,” she says. “Establishing a sense of comradery among our teams and across all our restaurants has always been my top priority.”
That sense of comradery is one she fosters through the company's official ethos, "Small. Local. Eclectic." In that spirit, Wharam has made some very critical changes to the structure of each business. “When Fontaine was purchased, 100% of the staff was part-time, which meant that most of them needed a second job,” says Wharam. “That didn’t feel right or good to me, so my focus became creating an environment where everyone can depend on a full-time income and have access to health benefits for themselves and their families." Taking care of each restaurant's team is not just a job to Wharam; to her, it's as personal as caring for her own family.
"You have to create conditions that allow competent people to succeed.”
Under Wharam’s leadership, her restaurants have created meaningful partnerships with other local businesses. Some of these include Acme Pie Company, Bubba’s Sweet Nectar, Pawfectly Delicious, Roastee Toastee and Caffe Amouri, which provides barista training for all locations and coffee sourcing for Grape + Bean. In partnership with Wharam, Caffe Amouri is also preparing to launch a craft, pour-over coffee program at Sonoma Cellar. "I'm just doing my part to sustain small businesses whenever and wherever I can."
“My mom is a Type 1 diabetic, so I learned at a very young age that you need to advocate for your own health. Diet, exercise and a sense of community are important aspects of heart health and, as an employer, I feel the responsibility of helping people find better work-life balance.” -Stacey Wharam
But the partnership that is most near and dear to Wharam's heart is with the non-profit organization, Together We Bake. "They are my favorite charity ever, working with women who are transitioning out of prison, escaping domestic abuse or assimilating to life in a new country," Wharam boasts. "There is so much that we, as Americans, take for granted. Something as simple as visiting the DMV to get a driver's license can seem impossible to immigrants from other countries, especially when language barriers become a factor. Together We Bake not only provides these women with a community to lean on but also a skill set that will make them employable within the restaurant industry."
Restauranteering may have been Wharam's professional calling, but there is no doubt that her true passion is her children. "I have three kids, who are all adults now. Charlotte is an Honors student at Longwood University and graduating this year and Nate is a talented chef at Quirk Hotel in Charlottesville," she explains. Her oldest child, Kate, recently relocated to Alexandria and is following in her mother's footsteps. You can find her behind the counter at Grape + Bean in Del Ray. Like her mom, she always has a smile and kind word to pass to everyone she meets. "No matter where life takes any of my kids, my deepest desire is that they all know how proud I am of them. I love them with everything I have and, in my heart, they will always be my greatest achievement."
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