One on One Story Unstoppable: The Pebble Beach Food & Wine Classic Founders

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How did two regular guys from the small community of Monterey become producers of two of the most sought-after epicurean festivals in the world? “It’s about the details, even on the big scale,” explained Dave Bernahl, co-founder of the prestigious Pebble Beach Food & Wine Classic.

The Classic is an opulent, four-day festival of over-the-top food and wine experiences. Heading into its sixth year, the event brings chefs, sommeliers, and industry experts from all over the country into one location. It is a foodies’ dream.

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For Dave Bernahl and his business partner, Rob Weakley, it all started with a dream. They wanted to build an exceptional business project. They spent countless nights brainstorming ideas that ranged from dry cleaning to wine making.

Bernahl was cofounder, president, and CEO of Pacific Tweed, Inc., a luxury men’s and women’s apparel company located in Carmel, Calif. Weakley had built a 20-year career in the hospitality industry, with a sixyear stint as food and beverage director of the Highlands Inn Park Hyatt in Carmel.

Weakley was also director of the Masters of Food and Wine, an annual event that brought together chefs and wineries from around the globe at the Highlands Inn Park Hyatt.

For the partners, a serendipitous moment came in 2007 when the Masters event was uprooted to the Park Hyatt Mendoza in Argentina.

The inventive festival puts Los Angeles on the map as a premiere food festival, adding to CLM’s already impressive dossier. “We feel very fortunate and humble because we’ve taken a lot of risk and people have supported and thanked us for that,” said Bernahl.

The gregarious duo recognized the enormous opportunity. Monterey County, one of the largest grape-growing regions in the country did not have a single nationally recognized food and wine event. Bernahl and Weakley were poised to change that by doing what they did best – building relationships.

And they were off. Within a year, they formed Coastal Luxury Management (CLM), a large-scale epicurean planning company that focuses on acquiring, building, and managing unique opportunities in hospitality. The Pebble Beach Food & Wine Classic was born in 2008.

Bernahl and Weakley tapped into their resources to sign a roster of world-class chefs, including Thomas Keller, without having a single sponsor on board. Weakley joked, “Either we were going to be fine, or we were moving to Mexico.” With outstanding chefs on the docket, the big-name sponsors came knocking.

What makes Pebble Beach unique is quality, not quantity. To maintain the standards of the chefs’ craft, the CLM Team mandated one waiter per two guests and one sommelier per five guests. Bernahl explained, “We don’t oversell our events. We figure out what the chefs are cooking and we pair wines that will match the dish. That’s why we have over 42,000 of our own varietal specific stems.”

Asked how it all came together so quickly, Weakley responded, “There’s a fine line between stupidity and bravery. I think we got lucky, but we were also prepared for the opportunity.”

For Bernahl and Weakley, the opportunities keep growing. With the success of Pebble Beach, CLM is building an empire centered around epicurean events. CLM produces Harvest Farm-to-Table, an annual familyfriendly event in Carmel that pairs wineries and chefs with fresh produce from local sources. In addition, CLM’s restaurant division launched Restaurant 1833 and The Cannery Brewing Company in Monterey in 2010.

The Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival is the latest of their ventures. Now in its third year, the four-day event combines music, wine and food. Guests have the opportunity to see and hear film and musical talents while enjoying food and wine experiences. Said Bernahl, “Part of our job is to inspire the chef to raise the bar, to also get creative. Where else will you find Train performing while Daniel Boulud is doing homemade charcuterie, serving it to you?”

The inventive festival puts Los Angeles on the map as a premiere food festival, adding to CLM’s already impressive dossier. “We feel very fortunate and humble because we’ve taken a lot of risk and people have supported and thanked us for that,” said Bernahl.

Despite the rapid growth of their company, Bernahl said that one thing will remain, “For us, it’s not about being bigger. It’s about being better.”

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