Alumni Spotlight: The 'Big Cheese' at Tria - Sande Friedman MSLIS, '13

Sande Friedman

Sande Friedman '13, cheese director and the director of education for Tria Inc., refers to her job as 'the happiest accident ever.'

But accidents happen by chance. And after meeting Friedman, it's clear that she left nothing to chance as she climbed from the bottom of the Tria employee food chain to where she is now.

"I worked on the floor for about eight months altogether," said Friedman. "Four months into that, I was part-time in the office and part-time still in the restaurants which, along with being a graduate student at Drexel, was intense. Eight months into my tenure with the company, I started working full-time in the central office, writing menu copy, running the public Fermentation School and assisting the staff training classes."

According to Friedman, the cheese director at Tria left and she figured she would give taking over that department a try.

"And now I'm 26-years old and have what is sort of like a weird dream job that I couldn't have planned, but it is absolutely awesome," she said.

Friedman got her undergraduate degree in journalism from Temple University, but eventually realized that being a journalist just wasn't for her. After taking a few months to figure things out, while waitressing at Tria Café, Friedman decided to go to Drexel to get her master's degree in library and information sciences (LIS) with a concentration in competitive intelligence and knowledge management (CIKM) - a move that made her mother, Joanne Mishel Friedman '72, who is also a Drexel LIS graduate, particularly proud.

Students in the CIKM concentration learn skills such as designing knowledge-sharing opportunities within organizations and relating business resources to real-world situations.

"A lot of what I learned at Drexel is how to take factual information and put it into my own words, but all the while ensure that it's still accurate and proper information," said Friedman.

At this point, one may wonder, how does someone with degrees in journalism and library and information sciences become a cheese expert? Friedman answered that question in three words: cheese boot camp.

"The week after I graduated from Drexel, I went to Murray's Cheese boot camp in New York," she said. "It was wonderful. I already had a good foundation of cheese knowledge from the product classes at Tria, but this was literally a chance to spend three days doing nothing but learning about cheese, tasting cheese and talking about cheese."

Friedman came back from New York educated, energized and enthusiastic about all things cheese.

"I'm pretty sure I eat more cheese than any human being should," she said. "My favorite cheese at the moment is a thermalized brie (Brie Fermier Jouvence) that has these cool earthy qualities about it; some days it tastes like oysters, other days broccoli soup. We also have this Irish blue cheese (Cashel Blue) right now that tastes like chocolate covered pretzels. It's all so good."

In a given week, Friedman is bouncing around Philadelphia, divvying her time between Tria's two Café locations, their newer Tria Taproom location, and the Fermentation School. Her office is located in the Fermentation School, which is where she researches and compiles 10-to-12-page training manuals and conducts five 90-minute classes for the Tria staff per week. There, they learn about the week's featured wines, cheeses and beers, along with refreshers on the basic points of service and ongoing topics in each category: geography, production styles, product histories, etc.

"The great thing about Tria is that it is an education-based company," said Friedman. "Nothing goes on the menu that the staff hasn't tasted and learned extensively about. You can't beat the experience of having a server who really cares about finding you the perfect thing to eat and drink, and can describe it to you accurately in their own words rather than a stock description. We serve small-scale products with great stories made by real people, and you can taste it in every bite. Or sip."

In addition to the training manuals and classes, Friedman writes menu descriptions and company promotional mailings, oversees all aspects of social media, manages food inventory and invoices, and works alongside the two owners, who are the beer and wine directors, to develop the rotating menus for each location.

When asked what her favorite part of the job is, Friedman quickly answered, "the writing and the eating."

"You actually can't have one without the other," she said. "I mean, how can I write about things without tasting them first?"

Stay tuned for information about an alumni cheese-pairing event in Philadelphia, hosted by Friedman and the Alumni Association.

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