After the city of Houston ordered restaurants and bars to close a few weeks ago, nearly all of the city’s wine professionals have been either furloughed or laid off. Jaime De Leon, the Adult Beverage Sales Manager for Kroger’s Houston Division is also an Advanced Sommelier and a leading member of the Houston sommelier community.
He is also one of the few sommeliers in Houston who is still employed:
The Houston Press spoke to De Leon this week and asked him about the immense challenges the city’s wine community is facing. This interview is the first in a series of posts featuring local wine professionals and how they are coping with the crisis.
HP: First of all, how are you and your family?
JDL: It’s me, my wife, my 17-year-old son and my niece that lives here with us. We’re sheltering in place and everyone is doing fine. We’re doing good, just honoring the laws and staying home.
HP: What is your workday like?
JDL: I frequent several of our stores when I can just to try to manage the service and any stores’ needs from the vendors perspective. We’re basically on call right now for our stores if there’s anything that they need for support.
HP: What is your company doing to ensure the safety of its employees and shoppers?
JDL: Our new [Houston Division] president, Joe Kelley, is focused on the associates’ safety for the entire Houston Division. That is paramount and the safety of our employees is the number one priority of our leadership. Our daily conference call is always about safety and giving thanks back for all the employees are doing on a daily basis. Our employees are on the front lines of this pandemic.
Our division leadership communicates on a daily basis with any updates and the day-to-day and hour-to-hour changes that occur. Our human resources department sends out daily communications to the employees on what they are allowed to do and how to follow the state and the federal regulations on what’s expected of them. And the [outside] wine consultants follow the same guidelines that we give to all our vendors.
HP: Are there any employment opportunities for Houston sommeliers right now?
JDL: Unfortunately, a lot of my friends and peers are furloughed. There’s a handful of friends and peers that are still employed, which is fortunate. But yes, a lot of them have been furloughed. I stay in contact with a lot of them. All we can do is wait. There is opportunity for employment with the Kroger company and it’s been extended to those who would like to find employment with the Kroger company. I’ve extended the website Kroger jobs site [jobs.kroger.com] to everyone. And I’ve told them that they can use my name as a reference if they need it.
Kroger is definitely welcoming anyone and everyone that’s willing to seek employment with the Kroger company. Feel free to apply. We are looking for help. It’s not a good time for the total industry and our economy but thank God there are still avenues that are still available for a way to make some money.
HP: How are you feeling these days and what is your outlook for the future?
JDL: A part of me is broken with what’s happening in the restaurant industry and my heart goes out to every one of them. And any which way I can, I’m doing everything possible to provide some kind of assistance, whether it’s through a connection for someone. Or just providing something. I’m doing everything that I can. They say that after 28 days, a person picks up new habits. Yes, there are going to be new habits.
But I think that one of the things we learn from this is that we can depend on each other. And we will come out of it together. My thoughts and prayers go out to those families that either have a loved one who is sick or has passed due to this terrible, terrible illness. But I think that most importantly, as a community, we have the final say-so on how fast we want this to turn around. It all sums up with staying home saves lives.
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