How a Marathoner and Sommelier Spends His Sundays

In New York wine industry circles, Yannick Benjamin is known as one of the top sommeliers. He learned his trade as a young man at places like Jean-Georges and Le Cirque. His work in hospitality took on a new meaning in 2003, when he was in a car accident at age 25 and became paralyzed from the waist down.

After receiving a sommelier certification the next year, Mr. Benjamin began to throw some of his energy toward supporting other people with disabilities. He and a friend, Alex Elegudin, started the nonprofit Wheeling Forward, which offers a variety of services and programs. Another nonprofit, Wine on Wheels, grew out of that, with Mr. Benjamin using his connections to help raise money and “bring awareness to the hospitality industry that people with disabilities need to be treated with respect and dignity.”

In 2021, Mr. Benjamin put his vision to the test by opening Contento in East Harlem with his friend George Gallego. The restaurant quickly became known as a model for accessibility in dining, with modifications for wheelchair users, a menu in Braille and adaptive flatware.

Mr. Benjamin, 46, was raised in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan by French immigrant parents, and last year he opened Beaupierre Wines & Spirits in the neighborhood with his wife, Heidi Turzyn Benjamin. The couple live in a two-bedroom apartment in the Concourse section of the Bronx with their dog, Amélie.

Mr. Benjamin said meditation is an important part of his morning.Credit…Brittainy Newman for The New York Times

EARLY RISER I love waking up in the morning. From 4:30 a.m. to about 8:30 a.m., I’m free of any kind of anxiety. It’s the time that I own. I don’t have to worry about a phone call or anything like that. The first thing that I always try to do in the morning — I have one of these little timers — I try to practice the “pomodoro” method. I’ll put it on for about 20, 25 minutes. I go straight to my water cooler, have a glass of water, electrolytes, brush my teeth. Then I go straight into what I call my own form of meditation.

Back to top button