With the majority of his family already entrenched in the restaurant industry, all it took was a mention from his cousin Leo to pull Alex Abreu up into the club. The now 28-year-old general manager of the Upper Kirby location of CRÚ Food & Wine Bar, remembers his first job when he was 16 years old, which introduced him to just about every restaurant task except cooking. At Cabernet Steak House in an upscale neighborhood of his hometown of Atlanta, Abreu barbacked and bartended, he bussed tables and served, he hosted, he washed dishes.
Four years later, and fresh on the job at The Diner at North Point, 20-year-old Abreu met 19-year-old Jackie Gilberto and this check had FOH love written all over it. At the same time, during staff wine tastings, Abreu was beginning to pick up the nuances of flavor in what he was swishing about his palate, but it wasn’t until two years later on their anniversary dinner at sister restaurant Sage Woodfire Tavern that he got the feeling. Amid a bar table feathered in rose petals sat a surprise bottle of Whitehaven sauvignon blanc bobbing in an ice bucket. Characteristically crisp and fresh with ethereal notes of grapefruit and lemongrass, “It was the first time I had ever had ‘good’ wine before—I loved it.”
Soon after, like his big brother before him, Abreu joined the U.S. Navy Reserve and began a four-year service that took him from a grueling boot camp in Chicago to a much more relaxed atmosphere in sunny San Diego, and finally a post at the Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, GA. His job: Mineman. Which meant he specialized in underwater mines, though he regrets the fact that he never witnessed a detonation. “The funny thing about the military is about 5 percent of your career will match up to the exciting commercials, it’s a whole lot of hurry up and wait.”
In 2017, as his final contract with the Navy Reserve came to a close, Abreu took a job with Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Atlanta and a year later requested a transfer to Houston to be with Gilberto who is now in her final year as a Ph.D. student in Industrial/ Organizational Psychology at Rice University. Yes, through letters and Skype dates they stayed together the whole time.
Stepping up to serve as general manager of CRÚ Food & Wine Bar in May, Abreu remembers recently tasting his first Burgundy there. Having surfed through the Willamette’s and the Californian, “light, bright, fruit bombs,” of his favorite varietal, pinot noir, he describes the eye-opening experience of tasting this legendary terroir. “Characteristics there, they are still light, but something else… a lot more complexity.”
CRÚ Food & Wine Bar, with 300 labels, offers 13 wine flights from cabernet sauvignon to funky finds to a tour of the world, and Abreu says it’s constantly changing. Having passed his level one certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers, he plans to keep studying. “The best thing about wine is it’s not so much a work thing, it’s not so much selling wine and having a great service and things like that—it’s hosting a dinner party, or celebrating an anniversary. Wine is about life.”