City Winery staff will pour it on for Puerto Rico

Everyone in this photo will be going to Puerto Rico. Among them were the chief winemaker, associate winemaker, general manager, assistant general manager, floor managers, beverage director, art director, executive chef, chief people officer, V.P. of accounting, graphic designer, marketing director, wine sales director, talent buyer and more. Standing in for Michael Dorf is a cardboard cutout of him, third from right in back row. Everyone is holding the “Covfefe” brand wine (named after Donald Trump’s cryptic tweet), which is not the actual wine being sent to Puerto Rico. Photo by Bob Krasner

BY BOB KRASNER | Michael Dorf has quite a résumé: Among other things, he is the founder of the experimental Downtown live music venue Knitting Factory, an associated record label, a Hebrew School and, more recently, the City Winery, a live music venue and restaurant in Hudson Square that has expanded to Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta and Boston. Not just sporting a clever name, the place is actually a fully functional winery.

In addition, Dorf has produced hundreds of recordings, a television series, concerts and festivals (worldwide), and brought in $1.5 million for music education programs through his tribute concerts at Carnegie Hall and other notable venues, plus raised money for environmental issues and medical research.

The thing that strikes one in talking with Dorf is that his business model goes beyond the bottom line. Speaking of his company, he mentioned that its “core values have always had a component of human responsibility.” In that spirit, he’s preparing not only to put his money where his mouth is, but hands and feet as well. Selected staff from City Winery are about to embark on what the corporate world has traditionally called a “retreat,” but Dorf has never seen it that way.

“We’re not going backwards — we’re growing,” he explained.

The previous eight versions of the excursion —which he calls “Base Camp” — have all had themes and sometimes special guests, all designed for a “deep examination of what our corporate DNA is.”

In addition to bonding, he’s looking for inspiration, as well. After all, he has no intention of becoming “the McDonald’s of music chains.”

As previously mentioned, Dorf has been involved extensively in charity work before, but this time it’s a little different. On Mon., Jan. 29, he will be taking a group of 125 of his top management people from across the country for three days to San Juan, Puerto Rico. There they will deliver shipping containers (6 tons worth) full of everything from first-aid supplies to coffee beans (and wine, of course), along with a sizable monetary contribution and, perhaps most important, a crew that is ready to get their hands dirty.

“Seventy-five percent of what we will be doing there is manual labor,” explained Marketing Director Matt McDonald. “Clearing debris, helping to rebuild structures, getting the fields ready for planting.”

The other 25 percent of their effort will be put into the production of a free concert for the denizens of four local villages. They will be building a stage from scratch and installing a $25,000 sound system, which is being donated by Meyer Sound. Local musicians will be paid by City Winery, and the stage and gear will become the property of Visit Rico, City Winery’s nonprofit “on the ground” partner. Financial sponsorship comes from the Foundation for Puerto Rico, which is collecting donations but taking “zero commissions,” said Dorf.

Beverage Director Ganna Fedorova said she expected to be putting in around 10 hours a day of manual labor, and was looking forward to it.

“I love all the aspects of this trip,” she said. “We need to remind people how important it is to be kind and support each other in a time of need.”

The only thing Fedorova is worried about is that, as she put it, “we won’t be able to do everything that we want to in such a short period of time.”

Dorf was initially undecided about the destination this year — Houston and New Orleans were possibilities — until he saw an image on TV that made up his mind: “Donald Trump throwing paper towels into a crowd [in Puerto Rico]. American citizens there were not getting the same treatment as those in Houston and Napa and New Orleans and Florida,”  he said.

“There’s a Hebrew expression, tikkun olam, that means ‘repair the world,’” Dorf explained. “We, as a company, live by that mandate.”

Information on donating to the project can be found here

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