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Erin Lyman

Owner, Champion Wine Cellars

Erin's love of food and wine pairing started at the age of 8 in Honolulu. Her grandfather felt education was very important, so he bribed her with a fine dining experience if she got straight A's. She got straight A's for a long time! But that very first time in the 1980s in her flowery dress and patent leather shoes set the tone for her life. She spent a three-hour dinner with perfect posture and a desire to order a Shirley Temple with two cherries. Ever since, she has tried to recreate that special experience for everyone else through her work in the hospitality industry.

At 15, her mother told her it was time to either a) get a job or b) volunteer. How much sense did it make to find work in a restaurant where she would not only get paid, but also get a free meal every shift?! She worked at Zippy's Restaurant on Oahu, a diner with a bakery, deli, and to-go area. Only after she left for another job did she realize why people stayed there so long. It wasn't just because it was a small island with limited jobs, it was because Zippy's provided health care, a 401k retirement fund, paid time off, and quarterly raises. Some of the people who trained her on waiting tables are still there 20 years later. Erin left for the sparkling lights of Waikiki when she was 19 and that is when reality set in.

In her early serving years, she would see people order wine, but to her all booze was the same: spirits, beer, wine, whatever. People who liked wine made it seem glamorous and acted like drinking it opened the heavens. She thought it tasted like vinegar. Looking back to the 80s and 90s, she thinks the only companies who could afford to ship wine to Hawaii were big brands, and boats didn't have great refrigeration systems, nor was wine protected from light. It probably was like vinegar.

A bar manager she worked with in Hawaii offered her a job at Ohana Restaurant in Seattle. After working there a few years, she moved to the Washington Athletic Club and worked at Torchy's where she had her first real taste of wine. It wasn't cooked on a ship! This began her long obsession with wine. She moved on to Purple in downtown Seattle where she discovered French wine, her lifetime love. She left to make more money on the waterfront at The Crab Pot restaurant, staying five years until they fired her (her first and only firing). Instead of being a negative, it was one of the most influential moments of her life. It allowed her to take a break and reassess where she was going. She was 28 and feeling like she'd sold out on her dream of restaurants. Maybe it was time to find another line of work.

But no. She still loved the beauty of the table, the fact that restaurants served as meeting places for people to talk and be present. She felt it was beautiful to be part of and witness. It drew her back. In 2011 she became part of the opening team at RN74 in Seattle, staying about a year. She moved to Café Campagne where she met Sommelier Cyril Frechier who became her wine mentor. She loved Café Campagne but wanted to increase her knowledge of cocktails. She moved to Zig Zag Café and two of the bartenders pushed her to become a bartender. She studied, watched, and practiced, becoming a bar back and eventually only the second female bartender at Zig Zag.

When she turned 30 the hours that had seemed so easily worked became harder and harder. Deciding she couldn't physically continue being a bartender she returned to Café Campagne. When Cyril left the Café, Erin took over the wine program as Wine Director. During this time, she completed the French Wine Scholar program and became a French Wine Scholar. She also passed The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 3. Over the years, she spent a total of seven years at Café Campagne. She loved it so much she could have stayed 30, but knew she had to keep trying new things.

Cyril introduced her to Emile Ninaud, owner of Champion Wine Cellars, who was looking to sell his business after 48 years. She and her partner, Suthap Manivong, purchased the wine shop in 2017 and moved it from Queen Anne to Greenwood.

January 2020


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