Learning the importance of breathing and actively working to take deep breaths before speaking and reacting. There is a reason I do some form of yoga each day, and it’s because my productivity as well as my discernment for what decisions need to be made quickly are stronger when I make sure my breathing is focused.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Inez Ribustello.
In September of 2021, Inez self-published her memoir Life After Windows, a book she wrote chronicling her journey from North Carolina to Manhattan where she ended up finding her dream job as Beverage Director at Windows on the World in 1 WTC. After the events of 9/11, Inez eventually found her way home to the town that raised her where she has started multiple businesses and a family. A staunch public school supporter, Inez works hard at keeping her businesses relevant and cash flow positive as well as being a part of systemic change in regards to racial equity.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I was born and bred in Tarboro, NC, a small, rural town in eastern NC. I attended K-12 in our public schools before attending UNC Chapel Hill where I had big goals of becoming a news anchor for a national network (Katie Couric was my hero). After getting an internship in Washington D.C. after my sophomore year of college where I cooked for the family I lived with, I changed directions and decided I wanted to be a chef instead. I graduated in 1998 and moved to NYC to attend Peter Kump’s NY Cooking School. While I was in school, I got a part time job at Best Cellars, a wine store located at 86th & Lexington. After working in wine for a few short weeks, I realized I liked to drink a lot more than I liked to cook. I pursued my love of wine and landed a job as an assistant cellarmaster at Windows on the World at the top of One World Trade Center. It was here where my career became real, and I ended up moving up the wine ladder to become Beverage Manager and ultimately Beverage Director. On 9/11/2001, I lost my job and many co-workers who had become like my family. Fortunately, my boyfriend (now husband) had not gone to work yet, and so the two of us forged a life together back in my hometown, opening a small restaurant and wine store in October of 2002, and eventually a brewery in 2016; and then a satellite taproom in 2017. While wine was a great love of mine, I now work almost exclusively at our brewery directing wholesale sales and leading a small team whose mission is to be a national model for breweries in small, rural communities.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Unfortunately, the most interesting story in my career seems to be the story of 9/11. Losing my world as I knew it at 25 years old while in the height of my career changed my life, and ultimately, transformed me into the person I am today. Since September 11th, I have opened several restaurants (Blue Fin in the W Times Square Hotel on NYE 2001), Borgata Casino, Hotel & Spa in July of 2003, and of course my own, and in meetings when managers and VPs would start talking about all of the what ifs of what could go wrong during service, I would just tune out thinking, “Ya’ll have no idea what the worst thing that can happen is — I’ve already lived through what the worst thing that can happen, and none of your scenarios can touch it.” My perspective on life and what ifs is so different because of the loss that came from that tragic day, and because of that, I’m less likely to unravel when mistakes happen and the unknown occurs. When America shut down in March of 2020, while I was afraid, I was also grounded in the fact that I’ve already survived something that was of greater loss for me.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are a business in eastern North Carolina that put roots down in a place that people believed was not viable and would not be supported. Our restaurant will be 20 years old in October 2022 and our brewery turns six in February. We followed the “If you build it, they will come,” and while it’s been scary at times with the lack of foot traffic in a small town, it has also been incredibly rewarding having people come eat and drink from all over the world and share the praises of “This is the best meal or beer I’ve ever eaten or drunk.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
When I think about someone who really changed my career path, I go back to Best Cellars, the wine shop on the upper East Side that was located 6 blocks south from where I attended culinary school. I would stop in every afternoon when I finished class and look at all the wines on the shelf. The assistant manager, Mollie Battenhouse, came up to me one day and said, “You’d save a lot of money if you just got a job here.” Because she approached me, I applied for the job where I learned that wine was my passion (at the time) and followed a dream I never knew was possible.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is a feeling and an action. I define it as feeling like your back is being held up by a bunch of your closest people letting you know you will not fall, and then acting as if that is the god’s honest truth. People who act resilient have this feeling, and they are getting up every single day going into public spaces and showing everyone that no matter what happened the day, the week, the month, the year before, I am not going to let that keep me from being present.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage is a moment, but resilience is a movement. We can act courageous and present at a board meeting, but that doesn’t make us resilient. Resilience is when we go back to the same board and present again even though the board shot down our initial efforts.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I dedicated an entire chapter in my book to my childhood friend Veronica Higgs Cope. When we were 12, she became pregnant, and despite having a child as a teenager with very little resources, she willed herself to graduate and to go to college and ultimately law school where she served on the law review. She is now a judge for Gwinnett County State Court in Georgia, being a mom to three boys — one of whom is now 34. Her journey inspires me every single day, and I am honored to have her as my dear friend.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
I’ve heard the impossible word many times — at first it was about being taken seriously as a sommelier as a 20-something-year-old woman; later it was about running a successful restaurant in eastern North Carolina; and most recently, it was about starting a brewery that might not be viable in an oversaturated market. I’ve had to raise money for our start-up brewery three times now, and most likely, will have to raise money again in the new year. I had board members tell me I would not be able to get investors when we weren’t showing a profit, and yet, I have been successful three times. While I always feel the pang of failure when I have to raise capital, I am confident I will be successful again.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
In 2016, I made a poor personal decision that brought doubt in my leadership from many of my investors. I felt like I had been kicked in the gut and left in an alley where no one cared if I survived or not. It was the closest I had ever come to giving up, moving away and calling it quits. Investing in therapy, reading Glennon Doyle, finding a leadership coach who advised me in a myriad of ways and hiring a dynamic, persevering co-worker who shares the emotional and physical workload helped me to come out of the hurricane with more confidence and stamina than I ever imagined. Because of this period in my life where I felt alone and unsupported, I now know how strong I am.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Looking back, I believe my resilience came when I was five years old when my mom moved away and left my dad with my sister and me. I felt a great responsibility as the oldest child to take care of my dad and my sister and keep everyone happy. It was a sad time for me, and yet I kept it all in for the sake of my dad and my sister. This was easily the most painful part of my childhood and yet, it also built a base of resilience knowing I was a survivor.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
1) Learning the importance of breathing and actively working to take deep breaths before speaking and reacting. There is a reason I do some form of yoga each day, and it’s because my productivity as well as my discernment for what decisions need to be made quickly are stronger when I make sure my breathing is focused.
2) Listening to the stories of others in their times of great strength as well as in their times of deep weakness. Not a week goes by where I don’t find myself organically or intentionally sitting at a table with people who are willing to tell me about personal and professional highs and lows. Because of this invaluable time (between 30 minutes and two hours), I am able to find motivation, compassion and a willingness to do things better and/or differently in life or business.
3) Finding a trusted coach/mentor who shares your same vision and mission for not just business but for social issues as well. Our team works with our leadership coach once a month, and I work with him every other week. He helps me with setting goals as well as holding me accountable for them. The best part of our work is helping me become a leader who inspires our team.
4) Writing/Journaling about the successes and the setbacks, celebrating the highlights and allowing them to be resources of strength when you’re writing about the stories of non-success. Journaling is my therapy, and being able to go back to days, months, years that were especially low reminds me how I overcame; and of course, reading about the highlights allows me to remember the positive moments that also give me momentum.
5). Sharing your journey to anyone(s) who may benefit. Accepting offers to speak at community meetings or visiting classrooms in the community (no matter how big or how small), take these moments of opportunity to share your story and give back because it will always remind you of how far you’ve come and what you’re capable of doing.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Ending racism across the world forever.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them
My two favorites are Austin Channing and Glennon Doyle — I love their writing and their genuine desire to talk about the hard things as well as use their voices to advocate for those whose voices are not heard.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Best place to find me is on Instagram @inezribustello
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!