Some might say that Alena Makarycheva has the dream job. She gets paid to travel around the globe, dining at the finest of restaurants and helping well-known chefs make crucial decisions. As the District Sales Manager of Steelite International, Makarycheva’s job is essentially to sell plates, glassware, and utensils. What might be a glorified sales job in some hands is a work of art meeting a sense of fashion under Makarycheva’s direction.
“This is not something you grow up thinking about,” she laughs. “I always wanted to work for the government or in fashion.”
Born and raised in Russia, Makarycheva majored in Mandarin and politics while minoring in English and Japanese. She spent her earlier career traveling around China and Japan, where she met none other than Saori Kawano—the woman behind world-renowned Korin knives.
“Saori and I just clicked,” Makarycheva describes. “She offered me my first serious job. I didn’t think anything of it at first but she taught me everything I know about hospitality. It soon became something I wanted to do.”
Makarycheva’s career evolved quickly. What began as a customer service representative role evolved into managerial positions. Steelite soon scooped her up and she now manages national accounts.
She credits her quick rise in the industry to “aggressively inserting” herself into industry-related events and situations.
“I don’t find it to be challenging,” she continues. “I’m very social, it’s what I’m good at. I don’t have a problem with going to a restaurant and introducing myself to the chef. And, if it doesn’t work, I don’t get discouraged. It’s just how you meet new people.”
For Makarycheva, no two days are the same.
“I could be merchandising china one day and attending award ceremonies or Michelin dinners the next. This job takes me places. I could be at the French ambassador’s house for dinner or traveling around the world to visit factories.”
Steelite International owns or works with 86 factories around the world.
“We work with people that have a story to share,” Makarycheva says. She enthusiastically picks up some marketing materials that showcase textured porcelain pottery. “Robert Gordon has been doing pottery since the 1940s. It’s a family owned business and we use them to design our lines at factories.”
To hear Makarycheva talk about the various lines reminded me of my days working at Vogue, listening to the fashion editors croon over runway samples.
“It’s fun to sell things like this. I get excited because I get to create something with them,” Makarycheva explains. “Tabletop is a crucial part of the whole picture. It’s one of the first things your customers see when they walk in.”
Rather than sell products to her customers, Makarycheva focuses on the chef or restaurateur’s individual vision for the space.
“I want to see their mood boards. Taste their style of food. I want to know how many seats they have in the space. Then I start pulling things together, like a designer. I call myself the Tabletop Stylist. I’m never just talking plates. I stay on top of fashion trends because tabletop trends follow in terms of colors, etc.”
Unsurprisingly, a knack with numbers does serve an advantage for a role like this.
“We’re growing extremely quickly,” Makarycheva confirms. “It can be overwhelming to run all these accounts and productions but it’s all a part of such an amazing project. Chefs work on these dreams for years and I get to be a part of it. It’s beautiful and fascinating to make this impact. How can you not be passionate about it?”