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  Jai Jai Greenfield
Jai Jai Greenfield '98

Alumni Profile: Jai Jai Greenfield '98

A renaissance in Harlem
Offering vintages in the heart of New York, alum demystifies wine for her customers

By Kari Richardson

In February 2002, Jai Jai Greenfield '98 and husband Tim Greenfield '98 took a drive through the New York neighborhood of Harlem searching for the perfect brownstone.

To an observer, Jai Jai (pronounced Jay Jay) and Tim seemed little different from any other young couple searching for a home: eager to capitalize on low interest rates and to stake their claim in an area undergoing a renaissance. But as Greenfield trawled block after block looking for that first home, she found thoughts of brownstones pushed aside by a persistent idea.

Why, she reasoned, could someone walk for dozens of blocks in this newly re-energized part of the city without encountering any of the upscale wine stores so common in upper Manhattan?

"As soon as I had the idea, I knew it was one of the most important things in my life and that I should begin pursuing it immediately," the energetic Kellogg alum recalls. She began researching the market and merchandise, creating a business plan and searching for partners.

A veteran of Smith Barney's investment banking division and Morgan Stanley's sales and trading department, Greenfield isn't afraid of hard work, long hours or blazing a trail as one of the few African-American females to pursue a certain line of work.

Last October her vision became reality with the opening of Harlem Vintage at the corner of 121st Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in New York. Co-owned and operated with longtime friend Eric Woods, the store is a cab ride from where her father grew up and showcases "great wines from all over the country and the world," according to Greenfield.

Harlem Vintage spotlights wines produced by African-American- and women-owned wineries, groups that have yet to gain equal recognition in the wine industry. Among the labels Harlem Vintage peddles are Time Warner CEO and Chairman Dick Parson's Il Palazzone and a pinotage produced by a cooperative of South Africans, as well as lesser-known brands from all over the world.

For Nashville-reared Greenfield, frequent visits to her grandparents and cousins in Harlem were a childhood highlight. During those trips she heard stories of the neighborhood's heyday during the 1920s and 1930s, a time when Harlem was the social center for Manhattan nightlife and a thriving arts and music center.

Harlem Vintage reflects that heritage — it features vintage photographs of Greenfield's grandparents — while evoking wine production. Natural countertops have been crafted of leaves and cork, mahogany wood and curved ceilings are reminiscent of the barrels where wine is stored.

Greenfield admits that wine culture can be intimidating and strives to make it more accessible with weekly public wine tastings and the store's approachable staff. During her early days at Morgan Stanley, she often confronted long wine lists over client dinners at trendy restaurants, when she vowed to learn as much as she could about the different selections.

 "There's a formality, cadence and ceremony that goes along with wine. There's a certain way to choose a bottle, open it and enjoy and partake in it," she observes.

Gordon and Llura Gund Family Professor of Entrepreneurship Steven Rogers, one of Greenfield's mentors at the Kellogg School, says he was proud, but not surprised, to hear of her venture.

"We're seeing more African-Americans, particularly those who are upper- and middle-class, moving back to cities and reclaiming them," Rogers says. "I applaud her for recognizing the opportunities in serving this community."

Former classmates have been supportive too: Besides frequent visits, some have attended store events and one turned to Harlem Vintage to purchase holiday gifts for employees.

However, Greenfield and her husband have yet to buy that brownstone. When it comes to life goals, entrepreneurship and even wine, she takes the long view. All things take time.

"Wine is not for the impatient," she says. "A bottle you buy today may have been produced five years ago. The grapes were grown two seasons ago. It's a fascinating process — but not a quick one."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University