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A Tireless Advocate For Accessibility and Inclusion, Yannick Benjamin Is Sommelier/Beverage Director of the Year | Wine Enthusiast’s 2021 Wine Star Awards

Yannick Benjamin / Photo by Mikhail Lipyanskiy

“It’s not just about wine,” says Yannick Benjamin, beverage director and managing partner of Contento, a restaurant launched last June in Manhattan’s East Harlem neighborhood. 

For Benjamin, obligations as a beverage director extend far beyond an encyclopedic memory of wine appellations or an Instagram account populated with #unicornwines.

“We have to do better,” he says, to develop “social and environmental consciousness” within the wine and hospitality industries.

Benjamin, formerly the head sommelier at New York City’s University Club, is a veteran of some of America’s top restaurants. He also happens to be paralyzed below the waist following a car accident in 2003 and works the restaurant floor in a wheelchair. 

Notions of accessibility, inclusivity and sustainability permeate Benjamin’s discourse on everything from wine to his role as restaurateur and community advocate.

Contento was designed by Benjamin and his fellow managing partners as a community space that is both physically and philosophically free of barriers to people of all backgrounds, particularly people living with disabilities.

Table and bar heights, as well as spacing between aisles at Contento, are designed for ease and accessibility of guests and employees in wheelchairs. To welcome patrons with blindness or visual impairment, menus are available in braille or audio by scanning a QR code.