In a difficult year for the Triangle service industry, new and happier beginnings are afoot for one local bartender: On Wednesday, the LEE Initiative (Let’s Empower Employment) announced that Sarah McCabe, who bartends at Chapel Hill Italian restaurant Osteria Georgi, has been chosen as a mentee in their “Women Culinary and Spirits Program.”

The LEE Initiative’s mission lies in increasing diversity, training, and equity in the food and drink industry; the organization also works in food relief and has distributed over 1.5 million meals throughout the pandemic. Now in its fourth year, the Women Culinary and Spirits program—which provides culinary experience and connections to selected mentees, including two 7-day externships to a restaurant and farm—was awarded to 15 women across the United States out of 300 applicants. 

Studies show that female bartenders are less represented in higher paying bartender jobs and experience higher rates of harassment than men.  

McCabe, who has worked at Osteria Georgi since it opened back in April, told the INDY that she is excited for the network she’s been dropped into.

“I was so excited and so in shock to be a part of this organization, and the amount of support and excitement that I’ve gotten, not just from my friends and family but from my local service industry community has just been truly inspiring and humbling,” McCabe says. “I’ve been feeling a lot of love.”

McCabe has worked in the food and drink industry for the past nine years, previously bartending at Fox’s Liquor Bar in Raleigh. In celebration of her menteeship, Osteria Georgi is donating a portion of proceeds from McCabe’s featured monthly cocktail, “Insieme” (which means “Together” in Italian), to the LEE Initiative. For every cocktail sold, $1 will go to the program. 

“At Osteria Georgi, we have been blessed with our community’s support,” McCabe said in a press release. “While offering true North Carolina hospitality, we work hard to also bring a little piece of Italy to Chapel Hill. As a born ‘n raised North Carolinian, it’s important to me to support local farmers and small businesses as much as possible.”

Last month, Dan Jackson, executive chef at Oseria Georgi, also landed national acclaim when he won Food Network’s culinary competition Chopped. 

“It really feels like a blessing to be part of such a supportive restaurant group. They instantly were just like we are so excited for you and for these opportunities and this beautiful knowledge base I could bring back,”  McCabe says. “They really wanted to find a way to share the excitement with the local community.”

McCabe hopes this is indicative of incoming positivity for the food industry, after over a year of struggle. 

“From here, we can all join together a little bit tighter,” she says. 

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