Food, Wine, Spirits & Special Guest Experts at Bern's Winefest

Meet the team that makes Bern's Winefest so spectacular!

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With a quiet, friendly demeanor, David Laxer, son of Bern’s Steak House’s founders, Bern and Gert Laxer, is now guiding this venerable legend and its other three siblings – Haven, Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits and B&G Little Midway to success. The four businesses continue to adhere to, and use Bern Laxer’s original philosophy, “We Do Things Differently” as a guiding principle that David Laxer believes delineates the business from competitors. 
This philosophy has kept guests returning again and again and the recognition flowing. Bern’s continues to be celebrated for excellence in food and wine and Haven follows closely winning prestigious honors including a 2012 James Beard semi-finalist nod and recognition annually from DiRona, Wine Spectator Magazine (Bern’s has been awarded the Grand Award since 1981 and Haven, an Award of Excellence since 2002) and Florida Trend Magazine’s, “Golden Spoon Award.” In 2002, Bern’s was inducted into Florida Trend’s newly created Hall of Fame for its dining excellence. One of the greatest honors for the Bern's team was the nod from the James Beard Foundation in 2016 with the award for Outstanding Wine Program.
“As my father did, I believe the customer must always come back. We consider every night a big event for the restaurants and we strive to go above and beyond our guests’ needs and wishes. Our goal is to continue to elevate the dining experience with consistency being rule number one,” says Laxer. Laxer continues to purchase the famous prime beef that is dry-aged at Bern’s; he also approves any and all wine purchases and investments for the three businesses. 
Laxer graduated with a degree in Business Administration from Furman University, and later interned at the prestigious New York Restaurant School; an experience that he believes helped him prepare to guide and create Bern’s and its subsidiaries, and our next generation in The Epicurean. 
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Growing up in Paducah, Kentucky, Johnson decided to pursue a culinary career after spending time at his best friend's family's restaurant. He attended the French Culinary Institute in New York where he was determined to learn all he could from the famed staff which included modern culinary luminaries like Jacques Pepin, Andre Soltner and Alain Sailhac. He paid for his own tuition, came in early and stayed late - always pressing his instructors for more information. From these legends, Johnson learned the techniques and traditions that have made French chefs leaders in dining for hundreds of years.

His natural passion for great food combined with his French Culinary Institute education and exposure to some of the country's best restaurants have all influenced Johnson's signature modern cuisine at Haven. |
|I want to take the great iconic dishes, the ones you've loved your entire life , and elevate them. I want it to be the best you've ever had. [category] => Culinary [video_link] => [start_time] => [finish_time] => [code] => 1 [category_website] => 92 [category_sort] => 0 [type_category] => members [category_id] => 315 [youtube_video_id] => ) [2] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 12880 [website] => 92 [entryDate] => 2021-02-12 17:28:21 [newsDate] => 2021-02-12 17:28:21 [section] => members [lastUserID] => 1263 [image] => |079799500201581014933.png [display_order] => 3 [title] => Executive Chef, Bern's Steak House [meta_title] => Habteab Hamde - Bern's Steak House - Executive Chef [name] => Habteab Hamde [keywords] => [description] => [text] => Habteab Hamde|Bern's Steak House|Executive Chef, Bern's Steak House|||||||||||||
Affectionately called "Hab" by everyone at Bern's, Habteab emigrated from the small African country of Eritrea in 1983. Since he enjoyed preparing meals for his family when he was young and everyone predicted he would one day be a chef, he attended the Swedish Culinary Institute in Sudan, Africa.
When he settled in the United States, he left his culinary career behind and began attending USF to pursue a degree in accounting, but soon, the childhood predictions came true and he decided to return to the kitchen.
Hab enjoys cooking because it is so similar to chemistry – especially creating new things with his favorite ingredients, garlic, tomato and onion. He says, "It is truly exciting to take different ingredients, textures and flavors and create something completely new and different and at Bern's we have so many opportunities to utilize some of the best products in the world."
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Brooke Palmer is the creative mastermind behind the PR and Event efforts at all of the Bern’s Steak House properties.  With the exquisite taste she inherited from her mother, and an entrepreneurial spirit instilled by her father, she has dabbled in event planning and business since she was a toddler.  Creating tea parties for friends at five, and discovering a knack for event design at her and her twin sister's birthday pool parties, all while managing a profitable lemonade stand, her hidden talent was noticed early on by her inner circle.

A self-proclaimed 'closet nerd', with a spunky identical twin, Ms. Palmer graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in Molecular Biology , completed studies at the University of South Florida with a Master's in Environmental Science, all before pursuing her MBA.   An accomplished student, golfer, lacrosse player and drummer, beneath those blonde locks, she has a sharp mind, and it is a known fact that she can run in high heels. 

Born and raised in Washington, DC, this happy-go-lucky femme fatale has committed the last twelve years pursuing philanthropic endeavors with all sorts of charitable organizations including The Arts Center (now The Chihuly Collection), the 13 Ugly Men, the Tampa Theatre, and the Florida Aquarium. She is also a former member of the Board of Directors for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.   Brooke additionally shares her talents  in print and on Television, as the scene columnist for Tampa Bay Metro Magazine after stints with TBT* and Bay News 9, and occasionally as party planning expert on ABC Action News and on Daytime, Tampa's NBC Affiliate's syndicated morning show, in over 100 markets. 
With the Bern’s organization since 2009, Brooke is in charge of all Public Relations, Marketing, community Relations efforts for Bern’s, Haven  (formerly SideBern's)  Bern’s Fine Wines, Élevage, EDGE, and Chocolate Pi. She provides support for the Epicurean Hotel in Public Relations efforts as well.  In addition, she has headed up Bern’s Winefest for the last five years, expanding the event and creating a sell-out experience while enhancing sponsorships and overall guest enjoyment.
Brooke was named 30 under 30 by the TBBJ in 2005, and was a finalist for the Tampa Bay Business Journal's 2009 and 2010 Young Businesswoman of the Year. In 2010, she was named an Up and Comer by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.  She was a finalist for National Rising Star 2010 and a finalist in 2011 for Event Planner of the Year by Event Solutions Magazine. Concurrently she was also nominated for Event Planner of the Year 2011 by Biz Bash Florida.  She also is a four-time winner of Best of the Knot, Florida.  Most notably however, was her win as the 2008 Suncoast Woman of the Year by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society raising $60,000 in a ten week fundraising campaign, setting the chapter record for a female.  Her additional interests include her dogs, traveling, good books, golfing, Orangetheory Fitness and pilates.  She remains active through her volunteer work, golf lessons, lacrosse, the occasional good bottle of champagne, teaching herself French, and being 'crafty'-- all while trying to save the world from its perils… or its event mishaps.  Brooke is newly married to Craig Kuhl,  and is obsessed with her Pit Bulls Lily, and Sacrlett, and her Husky Maya.
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Jonathan’s love of food began as a child, growing up with a mixture of Italian and Puerto Rican cuisines.  Growing up in New York City, he was exposed to a wide range of flavors on a daily basis.  He decided to take his passion for food to the next level and complete culinary school at The Art Institute, previously the New York Restaurant School.  After graduating with honors, he took an externship with Francois Payard, learning classic French techniques.  He eventually ended up at famed Soho seafood staple, Aquagrill, where he climbed the ranks and became Chef de Cuisine.  After seven years of service, Jonathan explored other avenues and finally took a job as Executive Sous Chef at Todd English’s Olives in The W Hotel Union Square.  There, he learned about hotel restaurant operations and took part in exciting ventures such as the TV program, Chef Hunter on The Food Network.

Jonathan decided it was time to experience a new city and chose Tampa, partly due to the growing culinary scene.  He accepted a position on the opening team for the Epicurean Hotel and was promoted to Chef d’Cuisine.  Being part of a food-driven concept was exciting and challenging.

Since working at Epicurean for 5 years, Jonathan accepted a new role as Executive Chef at The Karol Hotel in Clearwater. Being part of the opening team was one of the single best career choices he ever made. Being able to lay the Food and Beverage groundwork for this property is an experience that he will carry with him for the rest of his career.

He is proud to be a part of a team that is revolutionizing the food scene in Tampa and across the bay area.

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Brad Dixon, a native of Dixon, Illinois, joined the Bern’s team in 2003. Dixon manages an exceptional team of wine stewards along with two other sommeliers. Brad and his colleagues successfully oversee one of the largest wine collections in the world with 6,500 different selections and more than 500,000 bottles in inventory. His daily operations include managing inventory, cataloging, computerizing, and updating the wine list. Brad also takes the time to consult with Bern’s guests as they survey the 182-page wine list and offers suggestions and pairing choices. 

In order to provide the best service to clientele, Brad continues his education of fine wine with frequent trips to many of the world’s fine wine producing regions. He has frequented regions in France including, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, Alsace, Loire, Champagne, and Cognac. As well as, Hunter Valley, Barossa, Rutherglen, McLaren Vale in Austrailia, Mendoza and Salta in Argentina, and including Australia, Europe and Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Wala Wala, Columbia Valley America on the West Coast of the United States. He, along with the wine team, have been featured in numerous publications and television features. Brad represented Bern’s on Star Watch with Sam Hallenbeck and has appeared in two Travel Channel episodes. 

Brad maintains his passion and respect for vintage wines and continuously studies many of wineries that produce them. He also teaches wine classes at Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits, holds seminars during Bern’s Winefest, and is always available to educate others on the art of fine wine.
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Raised in the world-renowned wine-growing region of the Red Mountain AVA in Washington State, Gregory was exposed to wine at a young age. It was not until the age of nineteen when he took that life experience to the next level and joined the wine cellar team at Bern's Steak House that he started to really develop his passion. Two weeks after turning twenty-one Gregory took and passed his introductory level sommelier test. Shortly thereafter he accepted a harvest internship position in Washington State at Kestrel Vintners; this three-month long internship helped to solidify his growing knowledge and passion in wine. 

After four years enlisted in the Army, Gregory found himself living in Louisville, KY. Eager to get back into the hospitality industry, he took a job working as the event manager at 610 Magnolia. This gave him the opportunity to reacquaint himself with wine and he would work as sommelier in the restaurant. Just nine months after getting out of the Army, he took and passed the Certified Sommelier test through the Court of Master Sommeliers. Gregory was then offered a position working under Master Sommelier Scott Harper at the Bristol Bar and Grille in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Working as the bar manager, he had the chance to be mentored by one of only 211 Master Sommeliers in the world. While living in Louisville, Gregory received a degree in Beverage Management from Sullivan University. In addition to being a Certified Sommelier, Gregory is also a Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Specialist of Spirits through the Society of Wine Educators.
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Brent was born and raised in Rome, GA, just north of Atlanta and not far from his grandparent’s farm in rural Alabama.  Looking back on his childhood, the time he spent on the farm represents some of his fondest memories.  There he learned to appreciate the hard work of producing food.  However, Brent didn’t originally have his eye on the culinary profession. 

He attended college at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga working towards an environmental science major and chemistry minor.  After taking a job with friend and successful chef, Toby Willis, his love for food and the fast pace of the kitchen began.  Eventually, he moved to Atlanta, to seek out new opportunities.  He accepted an entry – level kitchen position at the city’s premiere restaurant group, Buckhead Life.  Forgoing a formal culinary education, he questioned recent culinary graduates about what text books to buy and study and went to work early every day to learn a new skill from the chefs. With this diligent attitude Brent quickly worked his way through the ranks of the kitchen and eventually took on the titles of banquet chef, sous chef and executive chef for Buckhead Life Restaurant Group.

Brent came to Bern’s in 2006 and found the quality of food and service, attention to detail, and passion for excellence to be exactly what he left in Atlanta.  He feels that his studies in environmental science and his time spent with his family on the farm gives him a deeper respect and appreciation for the food he serves.
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Amber went to Keiser University for the Culinary Arts Program. As a part of the school program she had to complete an internship and Bern's Steak House was her first choice. She learned how the kitchen operated and gained knowledge about the fast paced environment and history of the company, graduating with an A.S. in Culinary Arts. 

Amber began to take art classes and decided that she enjoyed the small intricate details of desserts. Switching over to pastry, she then began to work in the Harry Waugh Dessert Room where she made desserts for Bern's and SideBern’s. Amber’s hard work ethic, creativity, and dedication to the team advanced her through multiple promotions, from pastry cook and assistant pastry chef to her most recent role as pastry chef. Amber’s eleven-year career with Bern’s has provided her the opportunity to collaborate on spectacular events and large menu changes.
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[category] => Spirits [video_link] => [start_time] => [finish_time] => [code] => 1 [category_website] => 92 [category_sort] => 0 [type_category] => members [category_id] => 317 [youtube_video_id] => ) [12] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 18457 [website] => 92 [entryDate] => 2021-02-23 17:33:43 [newsDate] => 2021-02-23 17:33:43 [section] => members [lastUserID] => 1263 [image] => |092086600201580829102.png [display_order] => 65 [title] => Director of Business for North America, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou [meta_title] => Cathleen Burke-Visscher [name] => Cathleen Burke-Visscher [keywords] => [description] => [text] => Cathleen Burke-Visscher||Director of Business for North America, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou|||||||||||||A New York based strategist, marketer and founder of Wine Works & Co., Cathleen specializes in fine wine and spirits consulting. She is a board member, educator, baker, industry speaker, coach and mother. Known for brand development and creation using a strategic approach to the market, Cathleen is a resource for importers, wine estates, winemakers and wine regions seeking a platform on which to build an identity.

Cathleen has experience as chief marketing officer for blue chip brands including Taittinger Champagne, Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Louis Jadot, St. Francis, Bollini, Caposaldo, Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca, Cakebread Cellars and Christian Moueix and The Seeker. She was named one of the Ad Ages Top 100 Marketers, lectures on wine and food.
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Ben Arndt joined Strategic Group in September 2020 as the Prestige Account Manager in Florida and the Southeast, representing Dom Pérignon, Krug , Ruinart, LGD and Hennessy Prestige. A seasoned professional in beverage and hospitality, Ben followed his passion for crafting memorable celebrations into the Maisons of Champagne.

Being born in Atlanta, GA, to two career educators influenced Ben’s desire to lead experiences and pursue knowledge. A graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2006, he obtained an Industrial & Systems Engineering degree, while learning of the world of wine at his evening jobs in Atlanta’s premier restaurants. His beverage education continued through years of fine dining management, and led to the completion of the Court of Master Sommeliers 1st Course and WSET Level II.

After ten years of directing restaurants in Miami and Washington D.C., Ben joined Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits in 2016 as a Key Account Manager, with a focus on Miami’s top restaurants, resorts and lounges. In 2018, his path intersected directly with Champagne when he joined a small group of Brand Development Managers to launch the super-premium tete de cuvee, Mod Sélection, in the United States and Canada. Visits to the Champagne region and Cote d’Azur strengthened his connection with the wines of France.

Since joining his new role, Ben has experienced the Moet Hennessy portfolio in-depth with trainings from Chef de Caves Vincent Chaperon of Dom Pérignon, Frédéric Panaïotis of Ruinart, and Julie Cavil of Krug. Additionally, he has shared tasting notes and anecdotes with Olivier Krug, Eric Label and Frederic Dufour.

At Strategic Group, Ben assists the most prestigious restaurants and wine merchants in the Southeast with brand education to craft memorable celebrations.


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