Outer Boro Broad Q&A with Spirits Guru Francine Cohen

New York City-based Wine & Spirits expert and founder and editor of industry trade publication Inside F&B Francine Cohen sits down with Outer Boro Broad to share her career path in the beverage industry as well as her true love for her home, New York City.

Q: You're one of the coolest New Yorkers I know. Tell me your story. Where were you born and raised? 

A: That’s quite a compliment, thank you! I’d say I’m probably the most southern New Yorker you know. I’ve had family here since the 1960s and spent many visits soaking it all in before I moved to town myself 30 years ago. But I am originally from Washington, D.C., and was raised in Maryland (with a little Norfolk, VA thrown in for good measure).

Q: Where do you live now in New York City? 

A: Within walking distance of Zabar’s; I am a diehard Upper West Sider.

Q: Why is the NYC dining and cocktail scene so dynamic, in your opinion? 

A: There are two things that drive the scene; a glorious immigrant food culture and good old capitalism. Despite the grittier parts of the city getting gentrified and pricing so many people out, there’s still that mystique about New York that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. And to some degree that’s true. Immigrant cuisine blossoms to feed its native countrymen who have come here to build a life and their doors are welcoming to all. An adventure on every plate. And then you’ve got the money.  

While not every restaurant is expensive, and plenty of them close every year, the ones that succeed do so because, good service, food and drink aside, they have a consumer base who can afford to patronize them. Grabbing a dollar slice after enjoying two $20 cocktails or $18 glasses of wine isn’t an unusual thing.

This money, and appreciation for interesting food and drink, enables and drives chefs and bartenders to be creative. But competition is fierce; better be top of your game.

Q: What are your top five favorite cocktail bars in New York?  

Who doesn’t love a good presentation, amiright?!

Who doesn’t love a good presentation, amiright?!

A: I simply don’t have favorites because they’re all special in their own way, and I turn to different places for different reasons at different times. And frankly, it’s as much about the service as it is the drinks; I’d rather have a glass of wine poured by one of the friendly, knowledgeable and engaged bartenders at Porter House or Morrell’s than some fancy cocktail in a place where I’m supposed to be in awe of the scene. I will say I miss the Oak Bar at the Plaza a lot; that just felt like New York and all I ever imagined it would be.

I will throw out there that when I find myself near Times Square I always head to The Rum House. Pegu Club still draws me in when I am downtown. And recently I had a couple of outstanding cocktails at Dante which makes me want to return and try more. But five favorites?? Impossible!

Q: You are a female entrepreneur with an incredible story. Tell me about your career path. 

A: If my career path had a theme it might be “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”; a little twisty, turney and mysteriously unclear at some points along the way. I’ve landed where I am because there was no other way to go. What is an asset to my clients now- having a 360 degree view of their communications/marketing strategy- was a challenge on my way here. So many people didn’t appreciate translatable skills and experience.

For example, if you were applying for a job at an ad agency on a car company account you’d better already have automotive industry experience. Knowing the process and having the tools to get the job done didn’t count. So I just pursued knowledge and skills at every turn, going from an ad agency on the creative side, to a public relations firm, to working in-house as communications director of a non-profit, to working in in-house communications departments in the hospitality and entertainment industry.

It all really offered a wide breadth of experience, knowledge and skill I put to good use daily.

Q: What advice would you give to fellow women in the business world?  

A: Strategically I would say: Listen. And leap. Chase your passion, take on that project, hear what is going on around you and figure out how to make it work for you. Set some goals, but realize they’re fungible. Network, network, network.

Tactically: Make time for yourself, whatever that means. Separate yourself from work at some point. It is NOT necessary to return every email within 15 minutes of its receipt. Find a mentor if you can. Or be one.

Q: If you had to do it all over again, what advice would you give to your younger self when starting a business?

A: Give up some control for outside capital infusion.

Questions? Comments? Want to hear more from Francine? If so, please use our comments section below.

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