After working as the general manager and beverage director at Hampden’s True Chesapeake Oyster Co. since October, Chelsea Gregoire has decided that it’s time to move on.
Gregoire will devote herself full time to her restaurant consulting company, Drinkable Genius.
“I’ve been in this industry a long time,” says Gregoire, who is currently studying for her sommelier certification. “It’s not a massive surprise to anyone that restaurants are really struggling, and the whole business model is really difficult, especially when people cannot gather together. When I started to feel like there was a possibility we might be coming back to work soon, I had to stop and reflect on what my role will be in this new landscape and what that meant for my team.”
It was a decision she made for the greater good. “I knew that if I was able to stay on and take a salary when not everyone was going to be able to come back to work, it wouldn’t sit well with me, especially when I have my own business,” she says. “I’ve bounced back before and I have the ability to do that, so I was in the best position to make that sacrifice and say, ‘You know what? Don’t pay me a salary. Let me make this decision for the good of everyone. You don’t need a general manager for 10 tables and then 20 tables,’” she adds, referring to the reduced capacity for in-person dining.
Gregoire started her wryly named Drinkable Genius in 2016, and went on to help open Ida B’s Table and True Chesapeake Oyster Co., as well as a revamp the cocktail menu for Market Tavern in Sykesville. The modest Gregoire, who was named Esquire magazine’s Beverage Director of the Year in 2019, doesn’t want anyone to think that she’s calling herself a genius with the name of her company.
“The name rolled off the tongue one day,” she says. “And I had to step back and say, ‘Does that make me sound like a jerk?’ Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t think of myself that way, but rather I like to say that I create drinkable works of genius, something exciting and innovative that you can either drink in a cocktail glass or take in through an experience. That’s how the name plays out.”
She has also worked for a number of spirit brands and collaborated on events centered on community building.
“I’ve helped a variety of different restaurants and concepts open for the first time or just provided some guidance in making changes and fine-tuning things,” Gregoire says. “I think people seek me out because of my approach to hospitality. I try to come in and help with all of the math and the costs, as well. Right now, business owners need the ability to step back and figure out how they can save money and earn more money despite the climate. I’m not expecting a ton of response, but I’m hoping that if there’s someone out there who needs a hand and some fresh ideas, they give me a call.”
Gregoire, who earned a master’s degree in theology, found her True North from behind the bar. “A bar creates this wonderful atmosphere of great energy and great community,” says the Baltimore-born, Annapolis-raised hospitality veteran. “Making cocktails and learning about wine and spirits and beer scratches that creative itch and being behind the bar scratches that community itch for me—I just fell in love.”
On Sunday night, Gregoire worked her last shift at True Chesapeake, a project that was years in the making.
“It was bittersweet,” she says. “It always is. You work really hard on a project and get really close to the ownership team and your staff that you curated and brought together. But when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. I feel like we had a great last few days. ‘The kids’ threw me a little get together on Saturday night. Ten of us got together and sat around talked about our memories. On my last night chef [Zack Mills] and I had a glass of Champagne together. It was just really good send off.”
Then again, Gregoire, who lives in Whitehall Mill on the grounds of the restaurant, isn’t straying very far. “I know we will stay in touch,” she says.