“Chairman” Thomas Price


Thomas Price is the Master Sommelier at 1856, the upscale teaching restaurant anchoring the first floor of the new Tony & Libba Rane Culinary Science Center at Auburn University.

Born in Pasadena, California and raised in Alaska, Price entered the restaurant industry at the age of 14 as a dishwasher at a diner in Juneau. By 18, he had climbed the ranks to the job of lead day cook at Harry’s, an upscale burger house in Anchorage. Price held many positions in dining rooms and kitchens over the years, but eventually landed behind the bar, where his passion for wine was instantaneous.

In 1988, Price moved to Seattle, working at some of Seattle’s most notable restaurants during the time, including Dahlia Lounge, El Camino, Etta’s Seafood, and The Santa Fe Café. He opened his own restaurant, Luau Polynesian Lounge, in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood in 1997. Ready for a new challenge, he sold the restaurant in 2004.

Price turned his focus to studying for wine certification tests and took a job as a server at Seattle’s Metropolitan Grill later that year. He rose through both the restaurant and sommelier certification ranks and was named Head Sommelier at Metropolitan Grill in 2008. Price obtained his Master Sommelier certification in 2012, becoming the first African American to ever hold the prestigious title. He joined Jackson Family Fine Wines as National Director of Wine Education in 2014, a position he held for eight years before joining Ithaka Hospitality Partners and Auburn University to open 1856 restaurant in early 2022.

Price is no stranger to Auburn University, having worked with the school’s Hospitality Management program as a visiting sommelier over the past eight years. At 1856, he plans to combine an academic and vocational approach, sharing his passion for wine and hospitality with students and guests, one bottle at a time.

Price serves as the Chairman of SommFoundation, has served two terms on the Board of Directors for the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas (CMS-A), and currently serves on the CMS‑A Diversity Committee. When he’s not in the restaurant, Price can be found cooking and playing golf.

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