DOWNTOWN SPOTLIGHT: Meet the general manager elevating Dayton’s wine game

The door into the world of wine is wide open in downtown Dayton at Sueño thanks to sommelier Lauren Gay.

Gay, born and raised in Dayton, is a graduate of Northmont High School. After graduating from Ohio State University, she served in the Peace Corps in Kenya working on economic development for youth.

With intentions to pursue a career in music management, a move to Los Angeles would instead lead to a fruitful and adventurous career in wine. Gay honed her skills in the L.A. wine industry while working under the prestigious Nancy Silverton, co-owner of Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles and Newport Beach as well as Osteria Mozza, Mozza2Go and chi SPACCA in Los Angeles.

“It’s interesting, there’s the stereotype that a woman’s place is in the kitchen,” Gay said. “But if you think about how many high-achieving chefs there are in the world of hospitality, there’s definitely more men. Same as in the world of wine, so it was really amazing that I was able to work around so many empowered women in leadership roles.”

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Since her start in L.A., Gay has worked with and managed award-winning wine programs in Las Vegas, San Francisco, several cities in Ohio, and recently got her hands dirty making wine in Napa Valley for the 2020 harvest.

Today, she directs the wine program at Sueño and Tender Mercy, both located side-by-side in the Avant-Garde building at 607 E. 3rd St. in downtown Dayton. Sueño, an upscale Mexican restaurant that opened in July last year, and Tender Mercy, an upscale, underground cocktail bar that opened just before the onset of the COVID pandemic in March 2020, are concepts by The Idea Collective, a multi-disciplinary concept development and design firm.

Gay is also general manager at Sueño.

“She’s a beautiful human that cares deeply about our team,” said David Kittredge, co-owner and partner at The Idea Collective. “We have to make her stop working a lot of times, even on her off days, because she’s so passionate about what she does.”

At Sueño and Tender Mercy, Gay is working to make the world of wine more approachable, less intimidating and a free space for anyone interested to ask questions.

“Lauren is relatively young to be a (sommelier),” said Ginger Roddick, co-owner and partner at The Idea Collective. “Also, because she’s a woman, it’s a pretty male-dominated field... She was out there (in California) while we were not (yet) able to be open at Tender Mercy to further her knowledge.”

During the major California wildfires in 2020, Gay continued to learn more about the world of wine — working through the harvest period, the fermentation process, cleaning the tanks and everything in between.

“It was during the time when the vineyards were on fire,” Roddick said. “She drove cross-country, by herself, and went out there to learn. It just shows like the tenacity of who she is, and her spirit of really wanting to understand.”

Currently, Sueño doesn’t have any scheduled wine events or special dinners planned. However, anyone interested in learning more about wine and starting their own journey in wine education can follow the restaurant on Facebook or to stay up to date on future events.

“I feel very fortunate looking back at all the things I’ve had the opportunity to do in my life,” Gay said. “You know, I’m still relatively young and so, I don’t know. I just I feel very lucky.”

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