Minding the business

Blake Leonard. Photograph by Sebastián Flores.

From scooping ice cream and breaking down wine boxes as a teenager in Stew Leonard’s supermarkets to marketing and advertising its wines as an adult, Blake Leonard has always been part of the family business, sharing its passion for quality food and wine. 

“I remember making my first 25 cents putting sprinkles on an ice cream cone,” she says of her early days. 

Even so, working for Stew Leonard’s full time was never a given, and Blake’s father, Stew Jr.,  CEO of the company, always encouraged all of his children, nieces and nephews, to explore their own passions before deciding whether or not to join Stew Leonard’s signature winding aisles. 

“We have a rule that you have to work three years outside the business before even being considered for a position,” Blake Leonard says. 

Another rule:  Work hard while staying humble. “I have all of these memories of a work ethic being instilled from a very young age,” she says.

She took those memories with her to The New School, where she graduated with a B.A. in cultural and media studies, and to the wine industry, working for Gallo Wines in Los Angeles and Terroir Selections in New York. 

Despite her name, her career has not been without challenges, which have only solidified her determination to succeed.

“What I have learned from obstacles is to not take ‘no’ for an answer,” she says.“When I ask a question now, instead of saying, ‘Can I do this?’ I say, ‘How can I do this?” 

That attitude has been paramount in navigating her way through the male-dominated wine industry. Growing up the oldest of four daughters, Blake was surrounded by women. The world of fine wines was a bit of a shock. But, she says, “You can’t think about being the only woman in the room. You just need to be yourself.”

When asked where her passion for wine came from, she says that when given the choice of stacking boxes of wine or boxes of milk as a teenager, the decision seemed simple.

“Milk or wine, what would you chose?” she asks jokingly. 

Her stock girl days behind her, she has been enjoying working as a marketing consultant and spokeswoman for the past two years. Integrating what she has learned from the marketing expertise of both her father and grandfather with the new advertising tools provided by social media, she has been focusing on expanding the company’s digital market and media influence. 

“Each of the wine stores have their own Facebook and Instagram accounts,” she says.

Looking forward to the future of Stew Leonard’s, Blake adds that it is important to recognize the foundation of its success — family. 

“I’m definitely incredibly proud of the business that my family has built. As our generation transitions, we need to understand all of the intricacies that come with running a successful family business.”

For more, visit stewswines.com. 

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