Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Business Review October 2009.
Greg McManus had never given any thought to running the Wine Train, or for that matter, any other railroad. Trains are in his blood though – his great grandfather was a conductor, and his grandfather worked for National Ice, who sold the ice for “reefers” (refrigerated railroad cars). When he was eleven, McManus helped his grandfather chill the railroad cars that were used to transport peaches, but he never figured that trains were in his future. In 2007, all that changed when McManus’ father-in-law, Vincent DeDomenico, passed away and McManus was elected president of the Napa Valley Wine Train.
McManus first worked for DeDomenico as a gardener while in college. DeDomenico later hired him to work in the maintenance shop at Rice-a-Roni. His assignment was to stand by a conveyor belt, and constantly paint the chain with oil as it looped around. After thinking about it, McManus took a soup can and put a nail in the bottom of it. He then filled the can with oil and hung it above the chain so that each link would hit the nail and bend it back, releasing a small amount of oil on the chain. The result? The chain got oiled, and McManus had time to do other things.
When the Rice-a-Roni plant in Chicago was having problems, DeDomenico sent McManus and his wife Vicki to clean up some maintenance and HR issues. What McManus found problems bigger than he’d been told – the plant was in total disarray. He set out to fix the problems, and was promoted to production manager and later, plant manager. Originally scheduled to close, the Chicago plant grew to be one of the largest pasta factories in the country, and turned a profit. At one point, that plant could get a pasta order to San Francisco more quickly than the other factory – which was in San Leandro. At the time, McManus was twenty-one.
Even though he didn’t see the Wine Train in his future, McManus has embraced the position of president and has made sweeping changes. “We want to be an active part of the community, and help forge partnerships that will be good for everyone,” he said.
Some great strides have been made in the partnership area over the last year, with several first-rate packages and synergistic opportunities developed with several businesses. “It has been a fantastic partnership for us,” says Scott Curran, General Manager at the Hilton Garden Inn. In response to the recession’s impact on local tourism, the Train and the hotel came together to forge a package that helped bring in hundreds of overnight guests. The hotel also reached out to several wineries, including them in the package as well and creating a circle of more than a half dozen business that profited from the same initiative.
“We have been able to bring more people to ourselves and the wineries. It has opened new doors for us and our guests,” Curran said.
McManus is far more interested in ‘being human’ and working one-on-one with people than he is in big business, and he shares some ideals with the late DeDomenico. “Vince was very loyal to the employees, and he loved the Napa Valley.” McManus has business goals – he wants to make all aspects of the train profitable, smooth out the seasonal visitors’ cycle and maintain the tracks as a transportation corridor. Supporting non profits and doing everything they can to operate sustainably are high on his list. The whole mind-set at the Wine Train is all about the customer and service. “It’s thrilling to see people coming off the train after having had a good time.”
If you’ve never been on the Wine Train, thinking it’s for tourists, treat yourself and your family to an adventure that you’ll talk about for years to come. Call 253-2111 or visit winetrain.com. There’s a good chance that you’ll see the ever present McManus. (And don’t forget, you can get a local’s discount.)