Apronomics: Angela Ortmann

Eating good food, drinking fine wine and sharing the experience is a job description most of us would love to have. Angela Ortmann made the dream a reality when she started STLwinegirl. What began as a blog in 2008 quickly evolved into an event and consulting business. Whether hosting in-home tastings or helping restaurants manage their social media, Ortmann is dedicated to bringing people together to enjoy the dining experience. And if she didn’t already have enough on her plate, last year, she started a series of events called Love to Eat, Eat to Love to celebrate the collaboration and diversity that make the St. Louis food scene so rich.

Ortmann grew up in St. Charles, and while she was no stranger to restaurants, she didn’t have a passion for food when she was younger. “Like most teenagers, I worked as a waitress because it was an easy way to make money,” she recalls. “But I was always more interested in design and art.” She attended the University of Missouri before moving to San Francisco to study architectural design. Her career goal? “I wanted to design restaurants,” she says. “I liked the idea of creating flow and efficiency, and my work experience pushed my interests in that direction. Still, I never really thought about pursuing a career with the food, wine and hospitality side of the business.”

Working in San Francisco, however, sparked Ortmann’s epicurean passion. “I landed jobs at 3-, 4- and 5-star restaurants,” she says. “I was totally immersed in a food and beverage world I had never experienced before.” She discovered a knack for food and wine pairing, which was nurtured by a chef she worked with. “I don’t think people always think about how what they eat and drink go together,” she notes. “I was intrigued by the mystery of bringing the two together to elevate them both. When I made the connection about the synergy and flow of flavors, it really inspired me and changed my perspective.”

While in California, she worked with esteemed chefs like Gary Danko and Michael Mina. Ortmann recalls the experiences as slightly terrifying. “They were throwing out words I didn’t recognize, and I thought for sure I would be fired,” she jokes. Thankfully, she wasn’t, and her time spent working with the culinary stars shaped her approach to hospitality. “They taught me that as much as you think you know, there’s always going to be another level—new food, new techniques, new vintages,” she says. “It was really eye-opening.” Ortmann also realized hospitality provided the perfect opportunity to use both her creative and organizational talents. “I knew I could bring all of my interests together in one world,” she says.

After stints in New York and Chicago, Ortmann returned home to St. Louis where she brought her expertise to Monarch, The Chase Park Plaza and The Ritz-Carlton. It was a big transition from her previous experiences, and after a night spent talking with a friend over a bottle of wine, she had an idea: She would document her navigation of the St. Louis culinary scene in a blog. That was the beginning of STLwinegirl. “It really was an accidental business,” she says. “I didn’t expect it to become my career, but the blog ended up catching a lot of attention.”

Ortmann began organizing dinners, tasting events and classes to teach people about wine. “I realized that with my laid-back, goofy attitude, I could make a pretty intimidating topic more accessible,” she says. “For me, it’s all about authenticity, whether its writing or teaching.” Her approach made the STLwinegirl brand a success. After winning awards for her social media presence, restaurants started asking for help managing their brands. Her company is constantly evolving, and Ortmann is happy to go with the flow. “I’ve never actually written a business plan,” she says. “I just roll with the punches and see where everything takes me.”

Her newest venture, Love to Eat, Eat to Love, originated after the travel ban in early 2017. Ortmann was distressed to hear that immigrant restaurant owners were being targeted online with bad reviews and other abuse. “It really bothered me because these restaurants had been a part of St. Louis for years,” she recalls. “I don’t care about politics; they are a part of our community.” She created a Facebook post calling on chefs not facing discrimination to collaborate with immigrant chefs. The post received hundreds of comments, and suddenly Ortmann found herself organizing an event. Qui Tran of Mai Lee offered the restaurant as a venue, and 26 chef teams created unique dishes. The sold-out event raised money to support the International Institute. “It really showed that our culinary scene wouldn’t be as great without diversity,” Ortmann says.

The success of the event left one lingering question on people’s minds: When’s the next one? Her second Love to Eat, Eat to Love dinner in the fall of 2017 was called Force de Femme to spotlight women in the local culinary scene. Ortmann has plans for a third installment of the series focused on the mental, emotional and behavioral health of people working in the industry. “It’s something we’re all aware of, and the death of Anthony Bourdain has sparked a lot of conversation,” she says. “I want to invest in the health of local people who create wonderful experiences for others.” It all boils down to connecting the St. Louis culinary community. “I love bringing people together,” Ortmann says. “Everything I do is about coming together to enjoy the experience of eating and drinking.”