How one Wall Streeter ditched her day job for her true passion

From Merrill Lynch to Merlot

Former investment banker Sharon Sevrens liked her job, but found what she really loved was wine — drinking it, studying it and teaching others about it.

And by the late 1990s, her passion became so intense that she was convinced a career surrounded by pinot grigio and merlot would be more satisfying than the paycheck she brought home from her number-crunching gig.

So in 2005, she left Wall Street and opened a liquor store called Amanti Vino, which specializes in fine wine, craft beer and artisanal spirits.

Sevrens' career pivot came amid strong growth in wine consumption, which has increased in the U.S. every year since 2000. All this activity is keeping her business buzzing. About 50,000 customers pass through Sevrens' shop doors each year, including talk show host Stephen Colbert and actor Patrick Wilson.

Sharon Sevrens founder of Amanti Vino in Montclair, NJ.
Photo: Michael Stahl, Best Friend Photography

Sevrens shared her advice for other people who want to make a big career switch:

  • Do what you love: Being an entrepreneur is time consuming and is only going to be rewarding if you truly love it.
  • Be flexible: Nothing ever goes according to plan, so be ready to act on your feet and go with the flow. You must always be ready to roll up your sleeves and do whatever it takes.
  • It's all about your team. Find yourself a great team that you can count on and listen to them. Some of the best developments have come from team brainstorming sessions.

Sevrens started slow. She began her spirits career by learning about varietals and starting a wine consulting business while working full time in finance. That changed in 2004 when she discovered her local Whole Foods store was relinquishing its liquor license. She decided to buy it, quit her job and see if her idea for an artisanal liquor store had legs.

"I said, 'I love to teach and I want to educate consumers," Sevrens recalled during a 2013 interview with CNBC. "I want to have wines at all price points from around the world and I want a store that is all about food and wine pairings because we have 50 BYOBs in town." She vowed to taste every bottle before she brought it into the store.

Sevrens later found a well-trafficked shop location in Montclair, New Jersey, with plenty of room for a ground floor-store and an upstairs classroom. Still, she endured some early growing pains.

"When we first opened, we barely had credit-card machines," Sevrens said. "I didn't have price tags on the shelves. I wasn't trying to be fancy. I was just a member of the community trying to do this cool, new thing."

Since then, the shop has doubled in size and now carries more than 900 labels of wine, 200 beers and more than 100 artisanal spirits. It has also introduced its own private wine labels, expanded delivery service and increased the number of wine classes and wine pairing dinners it offers each year.

"Drinking wine is about the experience," Sevrens said. "It's about pairing wine with food and enjoying it with friends. And that's what makes me happy in life."

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