If you are hearing about a great restaurant in the local or national media, chances are Jamie Estes is behind it. Her company, Estes Public Relations, has been going strong for ten years. This Alabama native, our FACE of Louisville for this week, shares her love of eating good food and drinking good wine with us.
What do you do for a living?
My company specializes in public relations and social media. To be more specific, I am a culinary and beverage publicist and a small business owner.
When did you discover your talent for public relations?
In college, I majored in public relations because it sounded like a cool major that did not require a lot of math. It wasn’t until I got a job as a student intern in sports information at the University of Alabama that I discovered my love for the field. Over the two years I worked there, I wrote press releases, assisted national media and wrote features for the football and basketball programs. I continued my work in sports PR at the University of Kentucky as the graduate assistant for the Sports Information Department. It was a dream come true to work for the legendary collegiate dynasties of Alabama football and Kentucky basketball.
How did you decide to specialize in food public relations?
When I handled the PR for the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau in the late 1980s, I realized that restaurants were a great thing to promote to attract tourists. When I moved to Louisville, I met two businessmen, Phillip Cooke and Daniel Maye, who had an international culinary association management company based in Louisville. They were very influential in the American food movement. They wanted to expand their public relations services to the associations they managed by creating a public relations company. I knew someone who had worked with them and he recommended me. It was a dream come true to get paid to work with chefs and cookbook authors every day.
What makes a restaurant great? What makes a chef great?
I think a great restaurant has to excel at food and service. They also have to have an inviting atmosphere. The chef needs to stay true to a passion or mission. If they want to focus on seafood, then source the best seafood they can find. Great chefs have relationships with their vendors, whether it is the lettuce farmer down the road or the fishmonger in Honolulu. They need to not overthink the plate, so you won’t have a dish that has too many things going on at one time.
Do all restaurants need public relations?
I do feel all restaurants need public relations. In most markets, the competition keeps growing. Also, in a slow economy, people’s dining dollars are sometimes limited. Restaurants have to find their unique selling points, to figure out what will make customers pass 15 other places on Bardstown Road or Frankfort Avenue to get to their restaurant. A strong public relations program is a great way to engage media to help deliver your message. We incorporate public relations, social media, grassroots marketing and events to help tell our clients’ stories.
What is your favorite place to eat? (And you can’t choose a client!)
I work with so many of my favorites, but if I have to pick a non-client, I’d say Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham. As an Alabama native, I have dined at Highlands numerous times and have never been disappointed.
What would you secretly love to do?
I would love to be a restaurant writer or travel writer. When I was younger, I thought it would be cool to be a drummer in an all-girl band.
Who is your mentor?
I got my start in the culinary industry from Phillip Cooke and Daniel Maye. They introduced me to the national culinary world. Through them, I worked with such luminaries such as Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Marcel Desaulniers and Emeril Lagasse. They created a national food event, the Symposium on American Cuisine, that really brought national food writers and chefs together in the 1980s. I think they were pioneers in helping kick off the American food movement. They had a great passion for their business and helped me discover that I could take my love of food and make a career of it.
What is something about you that would surprise people?
Everyone thinks I eat out every night. I do love to dine out, as we have one of THE best restaurant communities in the country. However, I am a homebody. So I also love to stay home and watch BBC America with my furry kids on the sofa.
Where do you like to shop?
What is your weakness?
I have several. I love to collect dishes; I think I have every piece of Graffiti that Louisville Stoneware makes. I love anything from The Bakery at Sullivan University, especially the red velvet cake, carrot cake, pumpkin roll and petit fours. The green chili wontons from The Bristol Bar & Grille are another weakness.
What is a treat or a luxury you do for yourself?
What is your favorite thing to do in Louisville?
Dine out, of course. I love to hit two or three places in one night. We sit at the bar and have a Woodford Manhattan or glass of wine and try several small plates. NuLu, St. Matthews, downtown, Frankfort Avenue and Bardstown Road make it easy because there are so many places close together.
What are you reading?
I am in two book clubs, so I always have at least two books going. Reading helps pass the time in airports.
I just started Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter for one of my book clubs. Also, I love Southern writers, and Pat Conroy is one of my favorites. I am reading his latest book, The Death of Santini. I also just got my new Garden & Gun. I have to brag a little; we have two clients in this issue. It is my favorite magazine to read, and I especially love the dog story each month.
I am into reading cookbooks. I collect them, and at last count I had more than 300. I got some old ones out this weekend looking for recipes. I made the chicken noodle soup recipe in The Silver Palate Cookbook by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso. It is an oldie but a goodie.
What are three things you cannot live without, besides God, family and friends?
As a publicist, my iPad and smartphone are crucial to my life. Especially with my travel, I love having my contacts, calendar, email, books, music, magazines and web access all in one tiny place.
But otherwise, essentials to my life are:
- Grandmother’s cast-iron skillet. You can cook anything in it!
- A good bottle of French or Austrian White wine. Grüner Veltliner, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fuisse are favorite varietals. I am a bit of a wine geek. I even named my dog Grüner!
- As a Southern girl, you have to have a good set of pearls. They go with everything from jeans to your little black dress.
What are some of your favorite things?
- A good Woodford Manhattan!
- My Piggy Pajamas. They are soft, fun and warm without being hot. They are made with organic cotton so the more you wash, the softer they become. www.piggypajamas.com
- Guacamole from Seviche! I can’t get enough of it.
- Benton’s Bacon.
Thank you, Jamie Estes and the crew at Estes Public Relations, for meeting with us and for always introducing us to wonderful dining here in Louisville. To visit her website, click here: www.estespr.com
A big thanks to Adele Reding Photography, the photographer behind all of our FACES of Louisville and the “best of the best.” To view her portfolio, click here. adeleredingphotography.com