“You get out from Calgary what you put in. I’ve worked really hard but this city’s been really kind to me,” says Holly Williams, “I’ve been very fortunate, and I’m happy to call this city home.”
Growing up in Nova Scotia, Holly Williams had plans to be a graphic designer and started a General Arts course at NSCAD at 17 years old. But her father had other ideas, telling her that she’d be better off making the picture frames than making the pictures, as at least she’d make some money. By 19, she knew her future was not in art. “Somehow my dad was right, fathers are always right in the end, good job dad!” she laughs.
She realised she was good in restaurants and decided to try her luck in Calgary, starting as a server, then working her way into management at Wildwood, and ending up in 2008 as the opening food and beverage director for Stampede Casino. “There’s something awesome about casinos,” Williams says, “they’re fun, they’re great places to work, it’s a great income, but when you’re food and beverage you don’t work that hard as it’s something to keep people in the casino, not the primary focus of the casino”.
Restaurants are her real passion, and it was time to get back to them again. Williams was hired as General Manager of Vintage Chophouse in 2011, becoming Group Operations Manager last January, with a focus on Vintage and Rush. “To be perfectly honest, if someone had told little 17 year old Holly ‘hey you’re going to run restaurants one day, you’re going to run a $6.2 million business one day,’ I would have laughed,” she says.
So what is the bottle that Williams has been saving?
In fall 2014, Williams’ partner and his brother were at a fundraiser with a silent auction. “He called me and said, ‘There’s this bottle of Grange and I’m going to bid on it, how do you feel about that?’ I said, that’s great – go for it!” she explains. It was for a good cause, so they talked about what to bid, but didn’t expect to buy it. It was only later when he arrived home with an ear-to-ear grin that she realised they had won the magnum of 2003 Penfolds Grange.
Serendipitously, Williams won a trip to Australia this January, in a nationwide wine industry competition, which included a visit to Penfolds. “To just sit and dine there was an amazing experience,” she says. “Penfold’s is what put Australia on the map for wine, and the products are incredible.” She was able to try different vintages of Grange and meet with the Penfolds’ chef, and was excited to see the Penfold’s Grange vines. “They are designated for Grange every single year, and it was so cool to stand there and be like ‘that’s Grange, that’s the grapes of Grange!” she adds. “My life has been like this, I imagine something and it all comes true, I mean the work has to go in but this and going to Australia is very normal for me.”
And when will they open the bottle?
“You can’t just open a cork like that, so we’ve agreed – it has to be within the family for a wedding or the birth of a child between the brothers – and none of those things are happening anytime soon, so we’ll have to sit on it for a bit,” says Williams. “ I don’t think any of us are in any big hurry to open it.”
Photo by Ingrid Kunzel