Caitlin Corcoran has been a fixture at Ça Va since 2014, when she became the Westport champagne bar’s general manager and managing partner. But guests will soon have to start saying their goodbyes: Corcoran is stepping down.
Corcoran will be taking a sabbatical beginning August 18. From August 19 to August 26, Corcoran will be representing Ça Va at the Q3 Experience with Audi and the James Beard Foundation in Minneapolis. Immediately following this event, Corcoran will be relocating to Eastern Washington state to work the harvest season at Gramercy Cellars in Walla Walla.
After harvest, Corcoran will return to Kansas City to help Ça Va during the busy holiday season. Her final day at Ça Va will be on December 31.
Corcoran took over as the general manager at Ça Va in October 2014, shortly after the restaurant opened. In the half-decade Corcoran has been with the company, she’s built Ça Va’s reputation as one of the premiere wine bars in the country. (Under her leadership, Ça Va has been featured in Food & Wine, Vogue, Elle, Wine Enthusiast and more.)
But for anyone following Corcoran’s path over the last two years, it’s no surprise that there are other opportunities on the horizon. In 2018, she was awarded the James Beard Foundation Women Entrepreneurial Leadership Fellowship, and in 2019, she was selected for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Fellowship. In that time, she also became a certified sommelier. Corcoran is widely regarded as a rising star on a national scale.
“I’ve been here [at Ça Va] for five years, and I feel like I’ve set systems in place that will keep it sustainable and successful without my involvement,” Corcoran says. “It’s the right time for me.”
Working crush season at a winery can be exhausting, with 60-hour work weeks requiring plenty of manual labor. Still, for Corcoran, it’s an opportunity to learn about the ins and outs of maceration, pressing, vine training and other things she calls “wine nerd stuff.”
But a harvest job is also a temporary position. When asked about her plans after the season is over, Corcoran says she is still looking at possibilities.
“If I like harvest, I can see myself doing some harvest hopping – after Walla Walla [Washington], I could explore opportunities to harvest in the Southern Hemisphere, which would be very cool,” Corcoran says. “I’ve always been intrigued by winemaking, and someday, I think it would be really cool to make the wines I want to drink. Working harvest is a necessary education for that. And, of course, one of my commitments here [at Ça Va] has always been purchasing from people who are farming the land in a regenerative and sustainable way, and I’m very interested in seeing how those practices work first-hand and being a part of them.”
Other opportunities, she continues, could mean getting out of the restaurant industry.
“On the other end of the spectrum, I’d love to be on the side of policymaking, where I can push the industry toward standards around creating equitable food system,” she says. “I’m having a lot of really exciting conversations right now. I can’t talk about the specifics because I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’m feeling invigorated and hopeful about this huge change and what’s to come.”
Corcoran’s legacy at Ça Va includes a 150-page training manual for staff and a host of knowledgeable regulars that she’s “super proud of.”
“Educating my staff and the general public about sparkling wine and champagne and making it accessible for the masses is huge,” she says. “I believe very strongly that Champagne should not be an exclusive, special-occasion-only beverage. We’ve incorporated a lot of programs – like our Wednesday Flight Night – to make sure people can afford to try special things.”
Perhaps even more important is a policy of what Corcoran terms “radical inclusivity.”
“The other thing I’m really proud of is the hospitality mindset that I’ve instilled here,” she continues. “That includes implementing non-gendered hospitality conduct and training my staff on triggers or warning signs of possible sexual assault – which is so important in the era of dating apps. But the most important thing is educating my staff on their own implicit bias so that we can give equal service to everyone, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation. The MOCSA [Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault] signs you see around our restaurant are a real thing that we’ve allied ourselves with, but that’s just skimming the surface of our commitment to radical inclusivity and trauma-sensitive hospitality.”
Corcoran declined to comment on exactly where her career might take her in 2020, but says that Kansas City will always be home.
“Don’t get me wrong – I’m terrified, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone here,” she says. “Kansas City is where my family and best friends are, and Ça Va has been my home for the last half a decade. But it’s time for something different.”
Ça Va, 4149 Pennsylvania Ave., Kansas City, Mo., 816-255-3934, cavakc.com. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 4 pm to 1 am, and Sunday, 11 am to 3 pm.