We had the good fortune of connecting with Destiny Burns and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Destiny, how do you think about risk?
I am the Queen of Reinvention… and I think that being able to reinvent yourself and your circumstances as many times as you need to is one of life’s great gifts. It does involve risk taking, however… but the potential rewards are endless.
I was born and raised in an inner-ring suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, comprised mainly of working class Eastern European immigrant stock. I was the oldest of 4 kids, my parents struggled to make ends meet, and I carried a heap of family responsibility on my back. I got my first W2 job at 15, and I also babysat like crazy to earn some spending money. The first big risk and reinvention I undertook was to apply to be an AFS foreign exchange student at age 16. I found myself in Italy, which opened my eyes to the wide world and all its possibilities. There was no turning back to a quiet Ohio life after that.
My next big risk and reinvention was during my senior year of high school. After my experiences in Italy, I wanted to see and learn more but my means were definitely limited. I took a risk and enlisted in the US Navy as a Russian linguist – giving myself the opportunity to travel and get an education. The military life fit me like a glove and I ended by marrying a Marine, raising a family, earning a Bachelors and Masters Degree as well as an Officer Commission. I took risks on incredibly interesting and fulfilling work in the US Intelligence Community for the next 20 years. All those risks definitely paid off!!
As I wrapped up my military career, I took the risk to move into another male-dominated field and became an executive in the defense industry, focusing mainly on business development. I built a career working on multi-million dollar deals for multi-billion dollar companies. The monetary rewards were substantial, as was the pressure! I continued this work for 13 years and then decided it was time for another risk and another reinvention.
In 2012, after 26 years of marriage, I got an amicable divorce. I needed to find myself again, and for me the best way to do this was through community service. So, at age 47, I took the big risk to become a volunteer firefighter/EMT, where I spent the next 2 years training and riding on fire trucks, serving my community part=time at night and on weekends. As I was turning 50, though, I had to admit that my body could not do this work for much longer, so I turn to identifying my next risk and reinvention. My kid was through college and fully launched, so I decided I could leave my high paying, high pressure job and return to my hometown of Cleveland and start a new life as an entrepreneur. I always wanted my own food or wine business someday, and “someday” had finally arrived! I created a craft brewery-style urban winery called CLE Urban Winery almost five years ago, not knowing then that I would have to captain this ship through a global pandemic! I have had to take many calculated risks over the last year as I pivoted my business and kept it afloat. I am now reaping the rewards of those risks as we all begin to emerge into a “new normal.”
Risks are nothing to be afraid of… do your homework, follow your heart and trust your gut and you will reap the rewards! Always remember that although reinventing yourself regularly may seem risky and scary, being able to do that is truly one of life’s greatest gifts.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I am a “late in life” entrepreneur. I have already had a 20 year career in the US Navy and then after retirement from active duty I was a business development executive in the defense industry for 13 years in the Washington DC area. When I turned 50, divorced after a long marriage with a kid fully launched into adulthood, I decided to leave the corporate world and return to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio to open my own small business. I have always loved food and wine so I focused on that and ended up opening a craft brewery-style urban winery, producing and serving small batch, handcrafted wines in a converted 1920s-era auto repair garage in Cleveland Heights. We call it “Good Wine Made Fun that Celebrates Cleveland and Creates Community.”
We are not your typical farm winery in a pastoral country setting – we are a neighborhood joint. I run my business like it is basically a community center that makes wine. We set the bar very high on product quality and personalized service, and we always strive to make people feel comfortable and at home like they are hanging out in their own living rooms.
I am the sole owner of this business and starting a business like this from the ground up has been very challenging. I didn’t know anything about making wine when I took this endeavor on – I had to learn everything as I went and hire smart people, like my amazing winemaker, to help me achieve my vision. The COVID-19 pandemic hit my business hard – we were shut down for months by the state government and then had operating restrictions for a long time after that… however, it gave us the opportunity leverage our experience to restructure, to cut expenses, to access assistance and capital and to restart smarter and stronger than ever. As I approach my fifth anniversary in business with CLE Urban Winery, I look back on all I have learned, the mistakes I have made, the successes I have had and the milestones I’ve achieved and I am very bullish on the future! Cheers!!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Cleveland, Ohio is an amazing city that sometimes gets a bad rap. Perhaps best known for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it has a lot more to offer! On the gorgeous shores of Lake Erie, we have beautiful beaches, water sports and boating. The Cuyahoga River is clean and thriving and our MetroParks system is an “Emerald Necklace” around the city and is absolutely spectacular. Our arts and cultural venues are on par with the best in the world, including the renown Cleveland Museum of Art, Severance Hall and the Cleveland Orchestra and Playhouse Square, the largest theater district outside of New York City. The Cleveland Clinic is one of the best hospital systems in the world, offering world-class health care and doing ground-breaking research every day. We absolutely love our sports teams – it’s in our DNA. Our local music scene is amazing – after all, we are the birthplace and home of rock and roll! There are so many outstanding restaurants, breweries, wineries and distilleries all around the city – with cuisines from all around the globe and amazing handcrafted beverages to sample and enjoy. The people of Cleveland are our best kept secret though – we are warm and welcoming and have more grit. moxie and determination than you can imagine. Give Cleveland a chance – you’ll be glad you did!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would like to dedicate my shoutout to the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) and its Accelerator Program (EOA), of which I have been a member for the last four years. EO (and EOA) is a global organization, and the Cleveland Chapter in particular has provided me with the community support and education that I have needed to navigate my journey as an entrepreneur. All entrepreneurs who want to find the fellowship, resources, experience sharing and accountability to build and grow a successful business should check them out!
Linkedin: Destiny Burns
Yelp: CLE Urban Winery