Amy Heffner joined DeLuca’s Market on Charles Street as its wine cellar manager right around last Thanksgiving, although the job offer had been first broached to her several years prior following a chance encounter she had with one of the longstanding business’s current owners at the Myrtle Street Playground.
That’s where Heffner first met Caroline Aiello, who, with her sister, Victoria, now owns and operates DeLuca’s, and also where Heffner and Caroline struck up a fateful conversation while their respective sons were playing together.
“We started talking about DeLuca’s and how she and her sister planned on taking over the business,” said Heffner, who lived on Bowdoin Street until the fall of 2019 when she relocated to Needham.
Caroline had even mentioned there might be a place for Heffner at DeLuca’s down the line after the Aiello sisters assumed ownership of the business from their father, Virgil Aiello – a change that didn’t become official until the beginning of this year. Heffner admits, though, she thought it was likely all just friendly chatter at the time.
A 1997 graduate of Emerson College, Heffner worked at Panificio Bistro & Café, formerly of Charles Street, while she was pursuing her degree there. She distinctly remembers visiting DeLuca’s wine cellar, which was always bustling back then.
“DeLuca’s was the place to go in the ‘90s,” Heffner recalls. “It was hopping.”
Heffner grew up on Cape Cod and has been working in the restaurant and hospitality industry since the age of 15. She started out at Giardino’s in West Yarmouth, a restaurant owned by her friend’s family, and where she worked throughout high school and during summers when she was in college.
Heffner has also worked at several venerable Boston restaurants over the years, including Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons and Bar Mezzana in the South End. But it was her lengthy stint at Lineage, a now-shuttered restaurant once located in Brookline’s Coolidge Corner, where Heffner said she was first educated on wine, spirits, and beer.
Working at Lineage, Heffner befriended bartender Ryan Lotz, who now serves as beverage director for Traveler Street Hospitality, a self-described group of “South End-centric restaurants,” including Bar Mezzana and Shore Leave.
“He was really into cocktails, spirits, wine, and beer, so I felt like I really had to keep up,” Heffner said of Lotz. “I knew the basics, but not enough to run a wine program.”
During the more than six years that she worked at Lineage, Heffner said she “really got into wine” and earned a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) certification in 2012, as well as her Court of Master Sommelier certification the following year.
Heffner is now working part time at both Bin Ends, a Needham wine store, and at DeLuca’s, where she now hopes to help return the wine cellar return to its former halcyon days.
“The hope is that it can get as busy as it used to be and can kind of be the go-to spot for wine for people who live in the neighborhood and for tourists,” said Heffner. “We want people to come for something as simple as grabbing a bottle of wine to have with dinner, or to get a nice gift for someone. It can be as lowkey or fun as they want it to be – we have the whole range.”
For Caroline, Heffner is a welcome addition to DeLuca’s staff, as well as an old friend from the neighborhood.
“Amy joining us at DeLuca’s is an example of why the Hill is such a special place to operate a business,” Caroline wrote in an email. “A friendship formed watching our boys play at the Myrtle Street Playground grew into a work relationship, where Amy combines her understanding of the neighborhood with her deep knowledge of wines. I love that Amy has curated a really interesting and welcoming cellar, and brought in a range of amazing craft beers. It’s been really fun to see the process and learn from her.”
And for Heffner, coming to work at DeLuca’s has brought everything “full circle” for her in the neighborhood where she spent some of her most formative years.
“I really love Beacon Hill,” said Heffner. “I went to college in the area and worked at Panificio for so many years and then had my son be born and lived there. I still see some of the same people so it’s really fun. Now, I feel like I’m coming full circle.”