Wine & Shine
Local sommelier is driven to perfection
By Jessica Laskey
When I catch up with Elizabeth-Rose Mandalou by phone, she apologizes if I hear weird noises. The restaurateur is busy delivering wine to the local eateries—Woodlake Tavern and Uptown Pizza on Del Paso Boulevard, and Allora on Folsom Boulevard—which she owns with husband Deneb Williams.
“I like to multitask,” she says as boxes scrape in the background.
Mandalou’s ability to do many things at once has been a hallmark of her meteoric rise through the local food scene. The Citrus Heights native was introduced to cooking by her father, a chef whose father was also a chef. She was taught to bake by her mother. At age 18, Mandalou got her first serving job at Olive Garden. Not long after, she took an additional job at The Firehouse Restaurant in Old Sacramento to learn more about wine.
After finding herself in a romantic relationship with Williams (then The Firehouse’s executive chef), Mandalou decided to forge her own path. She went to work for Cafeteria 15L, a project of prolific restaurateur brothers Alan, Mason and Curtis Wong, that was just opening. But while Mandalou was working in the industry that had captivated her since childhood, she felt like something was missing.
“I started getting emotions,” Mandalou says. “I thought I wasn’t doing anything with my life. I wasn’t going to college and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be.”
Mandalou briefly toyed with the idea of going into criminal justice and working for the California Highway Patrol. She passed the written and physical exams, and was scheduled for an interview when she realized she couldn’t imagine doing the job long-term.
She briefly left hospitality to work in radio sales, but missed family time with her husband and two stepdaughters. So back to hospitality she went. Alan Wong welcomed her back at Cafeteria 15L, but Mandalou still believed she needed to challenge herself.
“My personality is not satisfied with doing the bare minimum,” she says. “I’m driven and competitive with myself. I want to be really good at whatever I’m doing.”
After taking a job at the fine-dining establishment Ella, Mandalou noticed that almost every one of her fellow servers wore a pin on their lapel. Ella’s sommelier and general manager Joseph Vaccaro informed Mandalou the pin indicated the wearer was a sommelier—a trained wine steward who specializes in all aspects of wine service, as well as wine and food pairing.
Never one to lag behind, Mandalou was determined to become a sommelier. She took classes from mentors at The Firehouse and Ella, and studied flash cards every spare moment. In 2012, she passed her first exam at the Court of Master Sommeliers. In July 2017, she passed the advanced exam, becoming the region’s only female advanced sommelier. She was named one of Wine & Spirits magazine’s “Best New Sommeliers of 2018” last October.
Being a driven person, Mandalou couldn’t simply study for the exam. She studied while preparing to open Woodlake Tavern in January 2017 and Uptown Pizza in March 2017 in the former home of Cask & Barrel (owned by her business partner David Hardie). And she recovered from a herniated disc.
At the same time, she was drawing plans for Allora, the wine-driven, modern-Italian seafood restaurant inspired by Williams’ upbringing on San Juan Island in Washington and Mandalou’s expertise in new world wines.
“If I could spend the rest of my life studying Greek and Italian wines, I’d be so happy,” Mandalou says. “My goal is to sit for my master (sommelier) exam in 2020. I’m so excited to invest in this knowledge for my restaurant and to share that knowledge with guests and staff. Sommeliers are humble servants, guiding guests to new experiences.”
With a palate this perfected and a spirit this driven, Mandalou is the best guide a Sacramento diner could hope for.
Allora is located at 5215 Folsom Blvd. For more information, visit allorasacramento.com.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at email@example.com.