Brandon Boudreau began his career in the hospitality industry working as a waiter.
After interviewing at several of the best restaurants in Northeast Florida, Boudreau, who grew up on Fleming Island, realized his lack of knowledge about wine and spirits was probably the reason he wasn’t getting job offers.
So he sought out Bob Smith, a sommelier who was then running Cask, a wine shop in Five Points (he’s now at the Georgian Room at the Cloister on Sea Island), and began taking classes from him.
Boudreau, now 25, quickly “caught the wine bug.”
That led him to apply for a job at Orsay, not as waiter but as a member of the support staff helping the bartender. That meant a year of living off ramen since someone doing that job makes less money than a waiter.
“I considered it almost like an internship,” Boudreau said.
While working at Orsay, he earned a scholarship from the Merendino Foundation. The Robert D. Merendino Memorial Scholarship Grant Program provides scholarships for people employed in the craft alcohol trade to further their educations. It was established by the estate of the late Bob Merendino, who helped spread an appreciation of fine wine in Jacksonville during a long career as a purveyor of wine and spirits.
Boudreau never met Merendino, who died in 2015. But he knows about him.
“I’ve met with some people he touched,” said Boudreau, who, like Merendino, has a tasting group that meets regularly.
Boudreau has been using the scholarship funds to take wine classes.
In November, Boudreau, who is currently working as sommelier and server at Rue St. Marc in San Marco, won the Walter Clore Award by earning the highest score on the certified sommelier exam administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers at the Ponte Vedra Inn.
That was “a critical step in my career,” he said. “… My desire is to work with the fine wines of the world.”
Now he’s studying to become a certified specialist of wine by taking a test administered by the Society of Wine Educators.
“I need to learn about theory,” he said. “I have to be well rounded.”
He has also been traveling a lot this year visiting restaurants in Chicago, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. He was particularly impressed with Sepia, a Chicago restaurant.
“It set a goal in my mind,” he said. “Very poetic and cutting edge.”
Ultimately, Boudreau has lofty goals: to be a food and beverage director at a five-star resort or perhaps the head wine buyer for a national distributor. But those goals could change, he said.
“I’m still pretty young,” he said. “I’m not closing any doors.”
Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413