How to Pivot After 9/11 | Inez Ribustello


Scary Opportunities Can Open Bigger Doors

Ep. 229 - Inez Ribustello placed as second runner up in the Best Sommelier in America competition held in New York, is a member of the Alumni Hall of Fame for the Institute of Culinary Education and was Beverages Director at Windows on the World before 9/11. She’s passionate about wine, beer, and food. In this episode, Inez talks about her passion for wine and her career in the sector over the years. Listen in to learn how 9/11 impacted Inez Ribustello both professionally and personally and how she pivoted after the tragedy. You will also learn how taking on some opportunities can open even bigger doors for you.

Key Takeaways:

  • How to pivot and take opportunities no matter how many times life knocks you down
  • Learning how to sacrifice some opportunities to succeed in what you believe in
  • How to follow your passion and do what you love despite the roadblocks

"There are sacrifices and there are opportunities in everything." - Inez Ribustello


Inez Ribustello got her start in the world of food and wine after moving to New York City from her home state of North Carolina. Though she grew up in the small town of Tarboro, and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1998 with a degree in journalism and mass communications, her dream was to pursue a career in cooking. She chose New York’s Institute of Culinary Education to get her started.

There, she began to learn about wine, which inspired her to take a job at Best Cellars, the groundbreaking, mid-priced wine store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Her wine career took a huge leap forward when she became an Assistant Cellar Master at the renowned World Trade Center restaurant Windows on the World.

In a very short time, she was promoted to Beverage Director, putting her in the position as wine buyer for the largest grossing restaurant in North America.  It was here where she met her now-husband, Stephen.

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, impacted her both personally and professionally.

Having lost friends, colleagues, and her job in the bombing, she had to face her future. She chose to throw herself into her work and took the position of Beverage Director for Blue Fin Restaurant in the W Hotel-Times Square. At Blue Fin, she created a 500-label wine list, including more than 50 wines by the glass, and developed a cocktail list that received rave reviews from New York magazine.

Having conquered New York, her next move was to return to her hometown with her fiancé. Together they decided to open their own restaurant, wine bar, and retail store called On the Square. The wine list at On the Square holds the prestigious Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator.

Inspired by Best Cellars, they created a user-friendly, non-intimidating wine list, which was well received by people and the press in the eastern North Carolina region.

Inez’s next big venture was Tarboro Brewing Company, a microbrewery that started brewing in February of 2016.  Almost a year later, she and her husband opened a satellite taproom serving tacos in the Rocky Mount Mills.

In 2009, Inez placed 2nd runner-up in the Best Sommelier in America competition held in New York City. She is a member of the Alumni Hall of Fame for the Institute of Culinary Education and a graduate of the Court of Master Sommelier’s Advanced Exam.

While wine, food & beer are her passions, Inez’s real love is for Edgecombe County Public Schools where she feels the most at home as that is her true alma mater.

Having just retired as board chair for Teach for America in Eastern North Carolina’s region, Inez loves the children of her home county and works tirelessly to support the great growth happening right this minute in her community.  She knows that part of that work comes in creating businesses that attract talented and loving teachers.

In September of 2021, Inez self-published her memoir Life After Windows, a book she has been working on for the past 20 years.

In this episode you’ll discover:

Inez explains how she got into the wine business after attending culinary school [1:55]

She describes her job as an assistant cellar master for the Windows on the World restaurant [6:36]

She highlights some of the memorable moments she had serving wine at Windows on the World [8:47]

The professional and personal loss she experienced after 9/11 and how that shifted her life [10:55]

How she pivoted after 9/11 and later started her now 19-year-old restaurant [15:48]

How she and her husband got into beer brewing and the journey it has been [19:24]

Inez on the magical experience that writing her new book has been [24:22]


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