A Letter to the Craft Cocktail Industry. Thank you, but we need more.
Op-Ed by Kigan Joseph
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Some of y’all know me through music (shoutout @vtrails), some of y’all know me from hospitality and my work on the bar circuit. The overlaps in these industries have been obvious to me for forever and have fueled my own revolution. Happy to have more of y’all pull up to the table. .. .. #imbibe #imbibegram #dothework #blackbartenders #tiki #blacklivesmatter #blackfoodbloggers #blackwinemakers #doblackgirlsdrink #blackwomeninwine #craftcocktails #craftcocktailsnyc #craftcocktailbars @imbibe @thirsty @blackfoodfolks #blackfoodfolks
I love this effort. Thank you for your financial contributions, but as a black man in the industry, can I share with you some ideas? TEACH US. THAT’S HOW YOU HELP. ACTIVELY INCREASE THE NUMBER OF BLACK EMPLOYEES AND CREATE A COMPANY CULTURE THAT MAKES BLACK PEOPLE WANT TO STAY IN THE INDUSTRY. MENTOR INDIVIDUALS SO THEY GET THE KIND OF RECOGNITION THAT OFTEN ALLUDES BLACK PEOPLE IN OUR INDUSTRY.
I’ve been in rooms with the legends. I got my start barbacking at Painkiller for the best of the best; V., Giuseppe Gonzalez, Yael Vengroff, Andy Seymour and Joanna Luna Martinez. They, and many, others helped to make me one of the swiftest out here. It was by chance that I fell into the opportunity, and I excelled. It put me on a career path. I wish the same for more BIPOC.
I remember hearing about the Mixfits and their fight against MS. The name Sean Kenyon sounded like The Punisher or Luke Cage to me. I remember finally meeting Leo Degroff and parlaying with the beloved, late John Lermayer, about reggae music and Sizzla Kolanji for HOURS. I gave him the Misfits sweater off my back for his little boy. They were like the Avengers to me. At that time all I wanted to be was like them. I remember being GEEKED on my cab rides home from the LES, just buzzing off the energy of the bar. Andy and Steve Olsen poured me my first sip of Tobala Mezcal on my 21st birthday. I am the only Black Bartender that had the privilege of learning the cocktail gospel of Sasha Petraske before he transitioned. Honored is an understatement.
But, I also remember that not many of my heroes were Black. I remember not seeing many Black Bartenders, Bar Owners, Importers or Cocktail Servers, no Black Mentors; straight up tokenized by the Cocktail institutions. My girlfriend’s experience in the Wine industry is not far off as a well educated, Black Sommelier and Wine Consultant. Many of us would like to let you know that we feel UNCOMFORTABLE in the rooms that you (the industry) have created. There are judging eyeballs in tasting rooms, lack of melanin behind your bars. You’ve created a culture that is not welcoming to Black people. This is where the work lies. This is more than a point and click donation. This is commitment.
I’m forever grateful to Guiseppe for scouting me at Starbucks. I would make him his Venti Soy no water no foam Chai on the weekends. I know that he saw a young Remi Shobitanan. Remi paved the way for me to be in this industry, he still checks on me frequently. Too often, kids like me, talented Black people, are tokenized or not given opportunities for upward mobility in the industry. Give us the same opportunities! Hire us, teach us how to run our own businesses, make us feel welcome and encourage us rather than making us one of a good thing. There is so much untapped potential out here. Open up the industry so we can compete for your shinny awards as equals.
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