At the time of his accident, Benjamin worked as a sommelier (somm) on the floor of Jean-Georges, one of New York’s fanciest restaurants.
“My parents were both in the industry, and I always knew I wanted to be a somm,” he remembers. “I was the weird nine-year-old practicing uncorking and pouring at family get-togethers. So, to arrive at a restaurant like Jean-Georges at such a young age… well, that was a dream come true.”
The issue was: Bejamin couldn’t return to his field post-accident. When, after months recovering in the hospital and then at his parents’ home uptown, he did start applying, no one would hire him.
“I called in every favor… left no stone unturned,” Benjamin explains. “But when I finally had my first interview, the guy literally laughed in my face. He wasn’t trying to be mean; he just assumed I must have hurt myself skiing and would be up and running in a matter of weeks. It was simply unbelievable that someone in a wheelchair could expect to work on the client-facing floor of his restaurant.”
Benjamin was denied job after job, watching less qualified somms fill positions where his wheelchair was either logistically impossible (many restaurants don’t have accessible wine cellars) or potentially upsetting to guests. And while we find it hard to believe this was all legal, Benjamin isn’t that kind of guy.
“I eventually got ‘back on my feet,’” he laughs, a testament to his unfailing humor. “A man named Jean-Luc Le Du gave me a shot at his wine store in the West Village, and I now work as a sommelier for one of New York’s most prestigious associations, the University Club. Granted, it’s been more than a decade. But what I remember most about that time isn’t anger — it’s insecurity.”