Cha McCoy could easily be the star of that famous beer commercial as the “most interesting person in the world.” She is definitely one of a kind. McCoy holds the unique title of Chief Visionary Officer (CVO) and Founder of CHA Squared LLC, a hospitality consulting company that focuses on Tourism and Gastronomy. The name derived from her first name of course, and the fact that she wanted a reminder that she believes she must work twice as hard to achieve the success she wants, but that is just the beginning of the story.
McCoy earned an MBA in Italy, which, thanks to the physical closeness of countries there, has led her to drink and eat in close to 20 countries. That ignited her love of all things wine and culinary and she would proceed to foster wine relations and create experiences in several wine countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, the United States, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and Hungary. She would go on to achieve the Certified Sommelier Level with the Court of The Master Sommeliers and WSET Level 2 Wine & Spirits Award. She is currently undergoing WSET Level 3 Advanced Certification in Wine. It would be fair to say McCoy knows a thing or two, or three, about good wine.
A public speaker, curator and host for intimate wine experiences, McCoy was honored with an invitation by Food Network’s Chopped winner Chef Airis Johnson to prepare the wine menu for her Creole themed Thanksgiving dinner at the James Beard House in 2017. The invitation is a very high honor for chefs and McCoy was humbled to assist with executing the wine for Chef Airis’ special dinner. The James Beard Foundation’s mission, per their website, “is to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone. Towards this end, chefs are invited to “perform” at the Beard House by presenting dinners to Foundation members and the public.” McCoy’s invite was a sign of the respect and she developed recognition for her pairing ability with nontraditional wine and food pairings from the diaspora. All the more interesting considering she is a trained civil engineer, having developed a career for over a decade as a Real Estate and Construction Project Manager.
Once her culinary passions were ignited during her time traveling through Europe, McCoy never looked back and began to weave her passions into her schedule while keeping her day job. Her love and knowledge of wines soon became a business. She is simply someone who loves cultures and finds you can learn a lot about people and cultures from their food and wine. “Gastronomy is about local cultures,” McCoy explained, when talking about what she has learned about the differences from country to country. “Local spices, produce and cuisine all come from the traditions and history of each country and/or region. Terroir is term commonly used in wine to describe even the microclimates and soil between vineyards even in the same region. As for wine, generally Old World wine, which is basically Europe, tend to be more traditional and regulated when it comes to winemaking. However, with New World wine, I find there is a lot more attraction to new styles of winemaking practices and a sense of flexibility for creativity from these countries. To many consumers they don’t know enough about New World wines so they tend to be more open minded with wine their wine selections.”
McCoy is aware that as a minority she stands out in this field as a woman of color with her business in these industries, especially who travels for wine extensively. She does see an increase in minorities traveling than she used to over the last decade. “I always do a scan of the plane when I am traveling overseas. It’s interesting sometimes I am the only visible minority that is easy to identify on the plane…I will never forget, this family of two Black women with two toddlers, who were the most well behaved children I have ever seen on the plane about 5 years ago. We were flying to Milan, Italy. From their behavior you could tell they fly often.” McCoy added, “Social media I believe is a big influence on watching who travels and to where and has increased some brands awareness to minorities spending trends based on influencers. I recall when I moved to Italy in 2010 and I posted my first picture on Facebook, some people assumed I was just there on vacation. Now that we have Instagram and Instagram Live and Stories, people seem more connected to travelers with active feeds and good content showing them something new. For me, anything that is attracting more traveling support, especially if it is a positive influence. Now influencers must do the work to be a mindful traveler. We have to be conscious of wat type of impact are travelers making when they visit 3rd world countries or even just ones with a lack of access to meeting someone that looks like you, these interactions are REAL and you don’t get see from the perfect picture once posted on Instagram. I am always advocating for people to take away something from their trips, leave a little more open minded about the people you encountered and the culture.”
You would think with all the traveling she does, McCoy would have her favorite places, but she says she does not, finding much to love about almost every place she goes. “I can’t choose (a favorite place). I do love traveling to Islamic countries to be honest. You typically know where you are right away, that ‘in your face’ culture shock. Here religion is culture and the lifestyle, you can witness it from the local’s attire or the call to worship reminding us all to take time out to meditate and be grateful, which I appreciate. My travels to Zanzibar, Turkey and Morocco are great examples, the UAE is another world in relation to the other Islamic countries, I appreciate being able to compare the experiences. But I fell in love with the Mediterranean lifestyle. Settling down in Italy and making it home was a great experience and have influenced my habits since and my way of life. This was a real transformation for me beyond learning how to appreciate wine. The sense of la dolce vita is real, and in Rome, I felt like it was common practice to live life as you pleased compared to New York, and you can find beauty in the mundane like simply have a glass of wine with your meals and not treat it as luxury or strolling the streets at midnight for gelato after a long day.”
McCoy grew up in New York watching her mother work hard every day to survive as a single parent. Her father made sure her and her brother had no fear of flying by putting them on a plane at a young age. She says her mother though, worked multiple jobs up to her retirement and at one point realized she just did not want to work to live. McCoy says, “I recall her saying there will always be bills to pay.” Then they eventually started implementing family vacations to visit family in California and became heavy cruisers around the Caribbean by the time they were in grade school. Her father influenced her love for food. She says he was the family chef, owned a local restaurant in Harlem and attended culinary school. He was, in a sense, the first ‘foodie’ McCoy ever knew, obsessed with the restaurant scene and seeking out quality and authentic dishes by local chefs in NYC. McCoy would take things a step further than her parents probably expected though by going so far as to become an expat. She says a number of things factored into that decision. “There were a few things, but timing was a major part,” she said. “I wanted to study abroad during my time as an undergraduate, I was offered the opportunity to study in London for my junior year. I stayed on campus instead in order to keep up with my grades and join my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. But I eventually visited my friends in London and knew I was coming back to Europe after that trip. Years later when I decided to do my MBA while working full time as an engineer, my Grad Advisor asked if I was interested in doing a semester abroad in Rome. I thought it was impossible and did not give any thought further about it. But once I evaluated my personal and professional life, and realized this sounded like a great way to rejuvenate my life outside of the rat race I was living at that time. I then asked beyond the semester abroad program, but instead to be transferred completely to the Rome campus. I would be remised to not mention that I also read “Eat, Pray, Love” right before the release of the movie this same year that was the additional push to visualize a life in Italy.”
She went on, “I am choosing this lifestyle again but not Italy, this time in Portugal, with more of a focus on my wine business and a much longer term growth within the country. Portugal is very special to me, even though it has become trendy in the recent years. I had been dreaming about visiting but never did because I knew a week would not be enough to dive deep into taste its culture. I already had a 6th sense that when I visited, I would love it and would not want to leave…Happy to be building here and planting roots in Lisbon with winemakers, tourism boards and new clients.”
McCoy has taken her experiences and built a business from it. She has hosted wine trips and built itineraries for groups of various sizes. One special experience she created, The Communion, is an intimate wine dinner she has hosted in multiple cities in the US and abroad in Canada, Spain and Italy. Local expats and tourist come to participate in the experience she creates around the world giving them a unique wine experience. Creating a welcoming environment for people means everything to McCoy and is the cornerstone of her business and the experience she creates. She uses the term, “hospitality equality”, which is the idea of equal service to all. Restaurants, bars and hotels still service with underlining stereotype and bias minorities, women, LGBTQ and people who are differently abled. The welcoming spirit as patrons you expect and paid for is not often provided, unfortunately, the ‘No Coloreds’ sign may have been removed but the segregation is still there. I speak out about the misconceptions and unfair treatment I even receive as a Black, female, millennial, and the quality level of service I can expect in comparison to white patrons and why this is basically injustice but also bad for business.”
Creating a sustainable community is vital to McCoy. She believes the hospitality industry can play a huge role in revitalizing and rebuilding urban communities as well. She says the way to do that is by getting involved in the local community in an authentic and consistent way. “Get involved in the local community. Research the neighborhood before you move your business there, find connections and ways to incorporate local culture into your establishment. Gentrification will only continue to grow as new business owners, open restaurants and bars in areas they are foreign to them with plans to only develop a ‘new’ neighborhood, however, this is not mutually beneficial because they rarely focus on serving the native people to the community. Developing a revitalization plan incorporating all the parties shows that the new business is there to be part of the solution of rebuilding the community not just to take advantage of it lower property value.”
As we stated, Cha McCoy is one of the most interesting people in the world, for sure.
Photo Credits: Photographer: Dima Malikov (cover image) Photographer: April Nicole (headshot)