Having worked in restaurants since he was 14 years old, Ian Hulon described his career as more of a love affair with the industry.
Hulon started working at Harry’s Restaurant in downtown Manhattan in 2006 as a bartender and server. He began to work more closely with the restaurant’s wine list about four or five years ago, before moving into his current position as wine manager.
Hulon’s passion for wine is a big part of what makes his job fun, he said.
“What other profession in the world can you study wine and liquor and beer every day and have that be productive?” he said, smiling.
In developing the restaurant’s current wine list of around 210 offerings, Hulon said he limited his search to mostly small producers and is always on the lookout for new wines that most people haven’t tried before.
Located on the first floor of the historic Wareham Hotel building, Harry’s has a reputation as one of the more upscale spots in Manhattan. The restaurant will celebrate its 25th year of business this August.
Hulon mentioned the 1920s architecture of the building as one of the restaurant’s most unusual qualities, but he said that what he loves most is its comfortable atmosphere.
“It’s a place where people can come in and relax a little bit,” he said. “You don’t necessarily feel like you’re going out to eat — you feel like you’re sitting down with family.”
“I love that aspect of it,” he continued. “It’s easy to go to work there every day.”
Having grown up in Lyndon, about 30 miles south of Topeka, Hulon moved to Manhattan to attend Kansas State University. He originally planned to earn a history degree and go onto law school after graduation but quickly realized that being an attorney wasn’t the direction he wanted to go in.
“Working in restaurants was pretty much a constant for me,” Hulon said. “I worked at everything from little mom-and-pop pizza joints in a small town to corporate restaurants to bars in Aggieville to Harry’s. I just felt like I wanted to get as much experience as possible in all aspects of the industry.”
Megan Maxwell, who manages Harry’s Deli, said she and Ian have been working closely together as service managers for about two years. “His positive attitude & passion for the restaurant industry are infectious,” she said.
Hulon said he really discovered his interest in wine shortly after Evan and Andrea Grier bought Harry’s in 2006. That was about three months after Hulon himself had started working at the restaurant, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer.
Working closely with the Griers, Hulon was able to earn his sommelier certification, indicating extensive knowledge of wine service, including production, taste and pairings.
Hulon said he thought Manhattan has embraced the wine culture more than any other community in Kansas in recent years. “People like experimenting and trying new things,” he said.
He connected the growing interest, paradoxically, to the economic recession that began in 2008. With shrinking budgets, he said, many restaurants closer to the coasts had had to cut back their wine lists, prompting wineries to reach farther into the middle of the country for new markets.
“The culture around the country has shifted as well,” he went on. “People are more interested in the hows and whys, rather than just having the product available for them. ‘Where is it from? How is it made? What’s in it?’ Those are the sorts of questions they’re asking.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “Because my job as a wine guy is to know all those answers.”
“Each time I sit in on a wine tasting of any kind that Ian leads, I’m reminded how much he really knows about wine and how good he is at communicating that info to others,” Maxwell said.
“He has done tremendous work getting Harry’s name out into the wine community, which inevitably is moving the restaurant in a positive direction,” she added.
With all the development taking place in downtown Manhattan over the past few years, Hulon has noticed more new faces coming through the door at Harry’s.
“The more the merrier,” he said of the numerous other restaurants and bars that have been popping up in the neighborhood.
But as for him personally, Hulon doesn’t see himself going anywhere else in the near future. “I love (Harry’s),” he said. “It’s an easy place to love, and it’s not a hard place to work. You just have to be willing to work hard as soon as you walk in the door.”