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Women to Watch

Six Movers & Shakers in the Tri-Valley
Sarah Schultz

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we are shining the spotlight on a few females who help to shape our community—and are laying the groundwork for the next generation of inspiring women.

Carolyn Wente

As it goes with wine, Wente Family Estates only gets better with age. The well-known winery is nearing 140 years old, and at the helm of the company is Carolyn Wente, CEO and fourth-generation winegrower. As the country’s oldest continuously operated family-owned winery, Wente Family Estates shows no signs of slowing down.

Carolyn is a strong female leader in the industry, but she says that, “I want to be recognized for my accomplishments, what I’ve done well—but not because I’m a woman.” She adds, “Being a strong female leader means being a strong leader.” In whatever she does, whether it’s cooking with ingredients from her garden, traveling to wine countries in Italy and South Africa, or running a company, she calls forth her core values of integrity, honesty, respect and sustainability.

Carolyn was born and raised in the vineyards, but she and her two brothers took over operations in 1977. The family continues to build upon an internationally recognized wine label, locally loved tasting rooms, and a venue that hosts world-class music acts.

Carolyn’s greatest joy comes from watching the family’s next generation hone their individual skills, such as philanthropy, supply chain operations, and viticulture, to take the business to the next level. “They have watched us steward the land, and they bring the same respect and integrity to the work that we have.”

Esin deCarion

Three restaurants, countless menu creations, a handful of awards: Esin deCarion has a lot to be proud of. But recounting her proudest moment, she looks back to opening day of Café Esin in Danville, in 1997. With a six-month-old on her hip, she stood in her namesake restaurant and felt the magnitude of how far she’d come.

Originally from Turkey, Esin left everything she knew in 1983. She landed in South Carolina, and made ends meet by waiting tables. Deeply connecting with the energy of the restaurant scene, she enrolled in culinary school. Passion fueled her, three jobs supported her. It was there she met her now-husband and business partner, Curtis.

The deCarions brought their cooking chops to the East Bay in the 90s, after a year stint in San Francisco. With a growing legacy in the Tri-Valley (Esin Restaurant & Bar and Revel are the couples’ current restaurants—and new, exciting projects are always in the works), Esin has proven herself a leader in the local restaurant scene.

How does she find balance? As a mother, wife, business owner, chef, and manager, she carves time out for herself with trail running. And her advice for women with a passion for the culinary arts? “Once you find it, follow it. Don’t be afraid to fall down, just pick yourself up and keep moving.” Spoken like a true trail runner (and blazer).

Lauren Heanes-Longewell

Like a boomerang, sometimes you have to leave home to come back; case in point: Tri-Valley native Lauren Heanes-Longewell. A talented illustrator and commercial set designer who made a name for herself in places like LA, New York and San Francisco, Lauren is back in her hometown. And lucky for Livermore, she brought all the skill, style and soul of city life with her. She’s the co-owner and creative director of Range Life, a farm-to-table, California-centric restaurant that boasts an innovative menu and, of course, incredible design work.

A borough brimming with art, food and ethos, it was Lauren’s time in Brooklyn that really set things into motion. About a decade ago, Lauren was working under famed commercial set designer Jerry Schwartz, which she pinpoints as changing the course of her career. “I focused more on the physical aspects of design, as opposed to illustration, and learned how to make art function in a business environment—which before had been an abstract concept to me.” Eventually, Lauren and her husband, Waine, decided to expand their horizons, figurately and literally, leaving Brooklyn and heading west.

“I took a larger role when we moved out to Livermore, merging my two careers into one by designing the look of the restaurant and generally overseeing any aspect of the business that is related to design: web and graphic design, dishware, glassware, etc.” The name Range Life was inspired by a song of the same moniker, by 90s indie band Pavement, which speaks to finding and creating the space to settle down.

With a booming business and baby number one on the way, Lauren and Waine—and co-owners Bill and Sarah Niles—found that space nestled in downtown Livermore, in an old brick building that allows room for cuisine, creativity and compassion. Lauren notes that, “Women have the unique capability of being both strong and tough but at the same time, understanding and supportive. And those are such important qualities for good leadership.” True to form, Range Life is closed on Tuesdays so all employees can go enjoy life, out on the range or otherwise.

Sandi Dolan McDonell

“Always laugh, especially at yourself. Laughter is the best medicine … next to beer.” Sandi Dolan McDonell, general manager at the Hop Yard American Alehouse & Grill, speaks her truth with over 20 years of experience working at the Pleasanton-based taproom and restaurant.

The Tri-Valley native and Chico State alum remembers her first time at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. It was the early 90s, when a pint of good beer would run you only four bucks. There were as many craft beer operations in the whole country as there are in the Bay today—about 450, according to Sandi. Sierra Nevada put NorCal on the map, creating the landscape for other local breweries, many of which Sandi works with closely today.

While the beer industry remains highly dominated by men, Sandi has found her place as one of the top beer scouts around. “It’s an interesting time, and it’s growing leaps and bounds. More women than ever are not only drinking beer, but working with it,” Sandi says. The Hop Yard American Alehouse & Grill is known for its impressive list of rotating taps, which Sandi and her team thoughtfully curate based on seasonality, variety and quality (her favorites right now are Berryessa’s Winters Pale Ale, Altamont’s Maui Waui and Russian River’s Blind Pig).

Sandi believes that success is found in passion, listening to those you respect, and not being afraid to make mistakes. “And try every beer. It’s just beer: Go for it.” We’ll cheers to that.

Wendy Rather & Stefanie Jackel

Good beer, great people. That’s the mantra over at Three Sheets Craft Beer Bar in Dublin. Co-owners (and self-proclaimed beer nerds) Wendy Rather and Stefanie Jackel always had a knack for home brewing, but quickly went from amateurs to aficionados when they opened up their first Three Sheets location in November 2014. The Dublin hangout offers patrons 36 rotating taps, corn hole, shuffleboard and a friendly ambiance—all together under one cool, industrial warehouse roof.

Wendy and Stefanie have lived in the Tri-Valley for the better part of a decade and thank the Bay Area’s craft beer industry for sparking their passion. Plus, the duo adds, it keeps them on their toes. As it constantly evolves and innovates, so does Wendy and Stefanie’s business plan. Three Sheets expanded to Las Vegas in 2018, where the burgeoning craft beer scene is giving the Bay Area a run for its money.

The key to their success? Work hard but play harder. “Since becoming business owners, we’ve never worked so hard in our lives. Which makes it that much more important to take time away and enjoy life.”