Weinstein said the success of FAB relies on her personal pillars of "total transparency and zero bullshit." | Photos by Ruta Smith

Randi Weinstein wants women in Charleston’s hospitality industry to be badasses.

The City Paper caught up with Weinstein at her West Ashley home which also serves as the headquarters for her educational business workshop called FAB. The bright, art-filled house overlooks the Wappoo Creek. A stunning stained-glass window hangs above the area where Weinstein works in her kitchen, filling the space with colored light. Her art collection includes works by Richard Hagerty, Mary Edna Fraser and Sermet Aslan, pointing to her love of the area.

Sitting on her blue velvet couch with her morkie, Roscoe, Weinstein explained how she found the inspiration for FAB — and the skills she needed to pull it off — through her career in the hospitality industry, which included working at the then-named Charleston Food and Wine Festival for seven years and serving as Butcher & Bee’s project manager. She also started a scholarship fund called “Bad Bitches” which in 2014 raised more than $50,000 in scholarships for women in the food and beverage (F&B) industry. 

Weinstein’s career successes deepened her passion for educating and empowering women in hospitality and forged the path for the creation of FAB, which kicked off its first workshop in June 2017. 

The annual Charleston-based workshop continues to grow, now bringing together more than 400 women in the industry each year. The intent of FAB is to be a place for women to connect, share stories, become each other’s resources, champions, and ultimately, empower one another. Tickets are on sale now for this year’s three-day June workshop at thisisfab.com.

The winding path to FAB

Originally from Long Island, New York, Weinstein moved to Charleston in 1988.

“My family was a garment-center family. My father manufactured sweaters. I worked in food and bev in my teenage years, managing restaurants, waiting tables and bartending.”

Weinstein said one of her first real jobs was working in a children’s showroom.

“I wound up actually buying the showroom. And I loved working there,” she said. “At that same time, I started dating my now ex-husband, who was born and raised in Charleston. I’m a very ‘go with the flow’ person, so I moved here in 1988. Seven years later we divorced, and then it was a big decision, should I stay or should I go? And I wound up staying here. And that really propelled my whole journey.”

She said nothing she did in New York was transferable to Charleston, which had no garment industry.

“I didn’t want to work in retail, and so I wound up working for someone who does promotional items. It was not the most exciting thing, but it was fine, and it enabled me to take care of my young son.” 

Weinstein works out of her art-filled West Ashley home overlooking the Wappoo River. | Photos by Ruta Smith

Then her dad died suddenly.

“I had this epiphany — life is short, and I need to really kind of do whatever it is I want to do. And I had always wanted to own a restaurant.”

Planting the seeds

Weinstein started working with Serment Aslan to open the downtown location of Sermet’s Corner, located on Wentworth and King streets until 2017. She loved the fast-paced role but she needed something more sustainable while she was raising her son Seth. So, she put a pin in her restaurant career, and moved into the mental health space for a while. She created educational and recreational programming for schizophrenic and bipolar individuals while working for a now-defunct nonprofit called Palmetto Pathways. 

“That’s when I started getting to plan events, because I had to fundraise for my position. And I just loved it because it was kind of melding my passions of doing events and helping a population that really needed it.”

Everything changed for Weinstein when she attended the first year of the Charleston Food and Wine Festival in 2005.

“I went to year one as an attendee and I loved it. I said f*** it. I’m just going to email this executive director. I wrote this ..super-long email about the virtues of hiring me. The director at the time, Angel Postell, emails back like, ‘We’re not hiring right now.’ And I was just like, ‘No, you want me on your team.’ ”

Weinstein laughed and said she “was pretty relentless” until Postell finally brought her in for an interview.

Weinstein said the first seeds of FAB were planted in that first year while working at the festival, especially in overseeing its trade day event.

“It was basically an information trade [of things like] how to design a restaurant, how to make an award wine list. And it always stuck in the back of my mind.”

‘I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer’

There are multiple points in Weinstein’s story that point to her tenacity — and her ability to craft an impactful email. 

“When I left there in 2014, I sent out this email saying, ‘I’m starting a new journey.’ And Michael Shemtov, who owns Butcher & Bee, reached out probably within three minutes, like, ‘I have no idea what for, but I would love to hire you.’ It was being back in restaurants that I was really excited about.”

She organized events in that role, including a themed dinner series with all-female chefs. That’s when she met chef Sarah Adams and pastry chef Kelly Kleisner, with whom she created a scholarship fund called “Bad Bitches” in 2014. 

Weinstein, Adams and Kleisner decided that, in tandem with the dinner series, they wanted to raise scholarship money for the women who were working the events. 

“We raised just under $50,000. I had been the one to contact all of the scholarship recipients. It was really rewarding. We sent people to culinary school. We sent Danetra Richardson to chocolate making class in Chicago. Stephanie Burt started her podcast from that money. We had a number of people take their sommelier certifications.”

Weinstein decided she wanted to take her work empowering women in the hospitality industry a step further by providing educational resources. 

“These women needed to understand, though, the business of the industry — what opening a restaurant means, what you have to do — tax returns, paperwork, all that stuff that people don’t think about. So that’s when I started planning FAB. I wanted to create an educational workshop with the overarching message to invest in yourself.

“You have to know one thing about me: I am never afraid to ask anyone for anything. If I see it, I can believe it. I’m just not going to ever take ‘no’ for an answer, because if I think it’s a good idea, I’m going for it.”

Weinstein said her hope with FAB is that people in Charleston, and especially women, learn the value of investing in themselves. 

Of 120 national scholarship applicants this year, 48 were awarded. Weinstein said only 12 of those applications were local, and she would like to see that change. 

“Invest in yourself, know your worth and knowledge is power. I love seeing people flourish. I love hearing all of the connections that people have made at FAB. I love when people are making those connections, expanding their businesses and being able to take other people under their wing. That’s what really makes me continue this journey.”

THE LOWDOWN ON Randi Weinstein

Age: 59 (ugh). 

Birthplace: New York City.

Education: Northeastern University and Fashion Institute of Technology. 

Family: Husband and four children. 

Something people would be surprised to learn about you: “I use a shoehorn to put on all my shoes; yes, sneakers too.” 

Favorite thing to do outside of work: Shoot hoops. 

Books on bedside table: Think Again, by Adam Grant, and Black, White and Grey, by Mashama Bailey. 

Favorite food to eat: Pasta or anything Italian.

Favorite cocktail or beverage: Ketel One on the rocks with a slice of lemon — simple like me.

Five foods you always need in your refrigerator: Castelvetrano olives, hearts of palm, chicken, mustard
and lemons.

Three people (alive or dead) you’d like to dine with: “If I can have two groups, Jerry Garcia, Tom Petty and Chris Cornell. The other group is my dad, mom and poppa Sam.”  

What meal would you want served to you for your last supper: “Slice of pizza from New York, baked ziti and a chicken parm hero; also a smoked fish sampler from Russ & Daughters.” 

Guilty pleasure: Phish Food ice cream by Ben & Jerry’s.

Describe your best day in 50 words
or less:
“Wake up, have coffee, exercise, listen to music, have lunch on my dock, chill and go out for dinner and drinks — and have someone come on board as a big financial supporter of FAB. That would be a 10-out-of-10 day.”

Philosophy: “ASK. All they can say is no, but also know, I never take no for an answer.” 

Your advice for better living: “Have fun. Life is way too short for bullshit.”

Your advice for someone new to Charleston: “Get involved in the local politics and understand how this city works.”

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