Neal Bodenheimer, Board Member
Neal Bodenheimer is the owner, bartender and restaurateur behind Cure Co., which is comprised of acclaimed bars, Cure and Cane & Table, in New Orleans. A New Orleans native, Bodenheimer discovered his passion for the beverage industry early, when he started working in a bar at 18-years old. He later went on to graduate from the University of Texas at Austin and embarked on a year-long trip around the world to explore global food and beverage traditions.
Hungry to get back to the states and start working, Bodenheimer moved to New York where he invested six years working his way up the industry for respected restaurant groups including Steve Hanson’s B.R. Guest Corporation and Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, Bodenheimer felt the call back home to New Orleans. He opened Cure in 2009, which quickly gained national recognition as a pioneer of the New Orleans’ craft cocktail movement. Cure was named one of “America’s Best Bars” by Esquire, listed as one of the “Best Cocktail Bars in the U.S.” by Food & Wine, and hailed among New Orleans’ best cocktail bars by Forbes, Conde Nast Traveler, USA Today, Thrillist and Coveteur.
In 2012, Bodenheimer and his partners purchased an existing bar and restaurant in the historic Vieux Carre of New Orleans which they developed into a new bar and restaurant project, Cane & Table. With a focus on rum, proto-tiki cocktails and Caribbean culinary traditions, the establishment opened in 2013. Since then, Cane & Table has been named one of the “Five Best New Cocktail Bars in America.” by Bon Appétit, cited as one of the best bars in America by Food & Wine, Esquire Network, Eater, and THRILLIST and one of the best new bars in the South by Garden & Gun and Southern Living. Cane & Table also garnered a coveted semi-finalist nomination for the James Beard Foundation Awards’ “Outstanding Bar Program” in 2015. Bodenheimer and partner, Kirk Estopinal, continue to oversee the operations of Cure + Cane and Table.
Cure received the coveted nod for the James Beard Foundation Awards “Outstanding Bar Program,” in 2018. In the same year, Bodenheimer partnered with the Solomon family to take ownership of the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation, the beverage industry’s premier cocktail and spirits festival and non-profit.
John Gakuru, Board Member
John Gakuru, born in Kenya, raised in England, and now residing in Los Angeles, is a man who has known many continents and pursued many roles in the spirits industry. Gakuru got his first taste of the liquor business behind the bar, where he was responsible for managing Lab Bar, a renowned destination for drinks in London’s posh Soho District. While pursuing this role in the earliest days of the classic cocktail renaissance, he was sought out by the Brazilian-based brand, Sagatiba Cachaça, where he joined the team as their Global Brand Ambassador, later carving out a seven-year position that took the spirit label from small, South American production, to a recognizable name on six continents.
He then moved on to spend six years with Think Spirits in Australia as their On-Premise Manager and Trade Marketing Manager. In this role, he was instrumental in the company by becoming a Top 10 distributor in the nation where he oversaw the trade communications, brand activity, and events of some thirty-five premium spirit brands in the Think Spirits’ portfolio. Gakuru joined Sweet&Chilli Australia in late 2016, before emigrating to the USA in April 2017, where he is currently the Director of Sales & Marketing. In this current role, Gakuru brings an incredible two decades of experience both behind the bar and on the world stage, in distribution and brand growth. In his most recent role, Gakuru, working with business partner Emily Wheldon, created Coruscent Co. The vision and mission of the brand are to leave the people, places, and products in better shape than they were found. Coruscent Co. is truly the nascent result of all his years of hard work and is capable of many things, including crafting and executing world-class events, helping other brands gain the traction they need with consumers and the trade, as well as forging lasting client relationships and international relations. When he’s not at work, you’ll usually find John Gakuru planning his next scuba diving holiday or sipping a Negroni, Espresso Martini, or glass of red wine in one of LA’s great bars. While the world has provided a playground for him to learn and grow in his own industry, these days he’s ultimately excited to be behind the scenes of some of America’s most illustrious parties, brands, and brand experiences.
Tess Posthumus, Board Member
Tess Posthumus is a bartender, bar owner, and freelance hospitality professional. She travels around the globe and owns two bars in Amsterdam: Flying Dutchmen Cocktails & Dutch Courage, where she and her team mixes the most delicious cocktails, while focusing on building a true cocktail culture in the Netherlands.
Tess Posthumus studied Media & Culture at the University of Amsterdam and completed her Sociology Masters in 2014. During her studies, Tess worked in the hospitality industry where she fell in love with the wonderful world of mixology. For eight years she worked at one of the best bars in the world: Door 74 in Amsterdam. Her talent hasn’t gone unnoticed, as Tess won several national and international competitions. She turned the side job into a professional career and travels around the world as a freelance hospitality professional.
In 2017 Tess opened her own cocktail bar together with Timo Janse, called Flying Dutchmen Cocktails. Here she and her team aim to build a true cocktail culture in The Netherlands by focusing on (neo-)classic cocktails while running an extensive education program for guests and the Dutch hospitality industry. In August 2020 her second bar opened its doors, Dutch Courage on the Zeedijk in Amsterdam. This new bar focuses on Dutch spirits and its heritage, with genever in particular.
When she’s not running her bars, Tess is an in-demand hospitality consultant, (co-)owner of Perfect Serve Barshow Amsterdam and Amsterdam Cocktail Week. She wrote the two books ‘Cocktails with Tess’ & ‘Masterclass: Cocktails’, owns her own set of ‘The Collection’ bar tools and her third book about genever will soon be published.
You can follow Tess’ adventures on her social accounts where she writes about her experiences, posts cocktail tutorials, and updates you on her genever research.
Perry Sholes, Board Member
Perry is President of Progressive HR Strategies Inc., New Orleans-based HR Consulting firm with success in creating economic value through Human Resource leadership. He has helped to drive profitability at complex global organizations that include private equity portfolio companies, large public companies, and privately-owned businesses. Perry has a unique background in Human Resource Management and Operations, starting as an Hourly Employee and General Manager at Mc Donald’s Corporation in New Orleans, District Manager at Taco Bell Corporation, and Regional Foodservice Manager at Target Stores Corporation, all roles with P&L, operations, training, and people development responsibilities.
His Human Resources skills were developed in the consumer products (CPG) industry at Nabisco Foods Company Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc.; he was responsible for various corporate functions in both domestic and Latin America. Perry has held roles leading the HR function and guiding company culture: Raising Cane’s team as VP Crew Resources, VP HR at Thomas and King Inc., a privately-owned operator of Applebee’s brands, and SVP HR at Last Call Operating Company. These roles have enhanced his ability to lead through course changes, operate within slim margins, grow the organization’s talent development infrastructure, and build highly capable and service-oriented HR teams.
Perry has held board positions with multiple associations including Women Foodservice Forum, Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance, and Girl Scouts Louisiana-East. He has been a leader within Society Human Resource Management (SHRM) Kentucky and Louisiana, most recently as President New Orleans SHRM Chapter in 2020 and Diversity Director Louisiana State SHRM Council 2022. He has led within business and industry organizations as the Founding Member and President of the Kraft Foods Alumni Network and CPG Professional Networks since 2006.
After returning home to New Orleans Perry has committed to being a community leader and paying forward his blessings. He is an alum of New Orleans Regional Leadership Institute (NORLI) Class 2019 and Urban League’s ULead Program. Currently, he serves as Chairman of the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber 2022-23, and Director on Success @Thurgood Marshall School Board. In Spring of 2019, he founded Corporate Internship Leadership Institute (CILI), a Louisiana-based 501c3 focused on developing BIPOC college students for career success in metro New Orleans and Louisiana.
Perry received an Executive MBA from the University of South Florida and a B.S. in Marketing from Tampa College. He is a certified HR professional (SPHR and SCP), Myers-Briggs Practitioner, and Talent Optimization Consultant. He is blessed to have a career that started in New Orleans, with opportunities to live in six other states and eleven different cities.
Gary Solomon Jr., Board Member
A native of New Orleans, Gary Solomon, Jr. has led the development and production of several of the country’s most popular events and attractions. He serves as the Consulting Producer for Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in New Orleans, and was responsible for striking the deal to feature the nationally televised broadcast’s first-ever Central Time Zone countdown. Gary also co-developed the historic Civic Theatre in New Orleans, transforming the city’s oldest theater into a modern, flexible, high-tech event venue.
As President and Co-Founder of Solomon Group, he has served as Executive Producer for major events that include the College Football Playoff, ESSENCE Festival, and Katrina 10. Under his leadership, the entertainment design, production, and management firm have been listed on the Inc. 5000 as one of America’s fastest-growing private companies for the past four years. Solomon Group creates eye-catching audience experiences for sports leagues and global brands including the NFL (Super Bowl, Draft), NBA (All-Star Weekend), NCAA (Men’s Final Four), NHL (upcoming All-Star Weekend), SXSW and more.
He has also overseen the creation of jaw-dropping exhibits and interactive environments for George Washington’s Mount Vernon, The National WWII Museum, and the upcoming Sazerac House currently underway. Gary was named to Inc. Magazine’s prestigious “30 Under 30: World’s Coolest Young Entrepreneurs” list, and has been featured in The Atlantic, SUCCESS Magazine, Forbes, and USA Today. Gary currently serves on the board of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and is the past-Chair of The NOCCA Institute. Since 2011, Gary and Solomon Group have been a part of Tales of the Cocktail and provided production services for the Spirited Awards as well as major brand activations for the world’s premier cocktail festival.
Claire Warner, Board Member
Claire Warner has worked in the drinks industry for over 20 years, wearing many hats throughout that time – as an award-winning ambassador, consultant, writer, spirits judge, brand, and spirit innovator. Today she is best known as the creator and co-founder of Aecorn, the world’s first range of British non-alcoholic aperitifs and sister brand to Seedlip, the non-alcoholic category pioneer.
Beginning her corporate career in 2003 with LVMH/Belvedere Vodka and after a successful tenure as their global brand ambassador, she was appointed Head of Spirit Creation and Mixology in 2009. In this role, she led the innovation team and oversaw the creation and development of 13 award-winning Belvedere expressions. Having crafted Belvedere Unfiltered in 2011, she went on to develop the award-winning and pioneering terroir-inspired Belvedere ‘Single Estate’ Rye series, which led Belvedere to be awarded ‘Vodka Producer of the Year’ in 2015, 2016, and 2017 by the International Spirit Challenge.
In 2015, Warner was awarded both Best International Brand Ambassador at Tales of the Cocktail and Wine Spectator Ambassador of the year.
Warner is a tireless advocate for better health and wellness within the hospitality industry, leading the movement towards more conscious consumption within the drinks industry, developing the ‘Drink, Eat, Live’ platform in 2011. Aimed at promoting concepts and strategies for longevity in a demanding industry where alcohol takes centre stage, Warner has long championed bartender wellness and pioneered a movement towards a more natural approach to food and drinks, as well as advocated for a ‘positive drinking’ movement, championing lower ABV options for consumers, and advocating for less sugar and greater options for those who choose to drink less alcohol.
Warner joined Ben Branson in 2018, co-founding a new-to-world range of non-alcoholic Aperitivo as a sister brand to Seedlip, which continues to lead and shape the non-alcoholic category today.
A respected speaker, educator, mentor, industry advocate, and podcaster, whose reach extends well beyond the bar, Warner has been an event partner and keynote speaker with Tales of the Cocktail since 2005 and was inducted into the ‘Dames Hall of Fame’ in 2010.