An Interview with Tara Fougner, 2023 Tales Catalyst U.S. Honoree

Posted on: Mar. 01, 2024 | , , , | By: TOTC Staff

In 2023, Tara Fougner was honored as a Tales Catalyst and was a featured speaker at the Tales Catalyst Luncheon. The Tales Catalyst Luncheon, formerly called the Dame Hall of Fame, is a celebration of people who have made unique and lasting contributions to the global hospitality industry. Since 2012, the Tales Catalysts have welcomed members to this group of individuals who highlight marginalized groups within the industry and shine a spotlight on leaders actively making changes in their communities.

Tara Fougner is the co-founder and CEO of Thirsty, with over 20 years of experience in various capacities in the bar and beverage industry. She is a social media journalist, storyteller, advocate, speaker, and content creator, currently based in Miami, Florida (splitting time with her native NYC). She is a proud Puerto Rican working to use all of her Thirsty platforms to empower, encourage, and amplify historically excluded voices in the industry. Fougner has certifications in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Ethical Community Leadership and has been studying self-empowerment in social media and Latine Diaspora community in the U.S. She has been named one of the Top 100 in the Bar World by Drinks International for three years running and was honored on the inaugural Future 40 List (formerly 40 Under 40). In addition, her talents have been recognized and tapped into by various brands throughout the industry as well as Tales of the Cocktail Foundation, James Beard Foundation, and World’s 50 Best.

Tell us about your current job.

I am Co-Founder and CEO of Thirsty Media, covering the global hospitality industry from the lens of the Bar; my platforms reach over 500k beverage enthusiasts worldwide. In my role, I am a storyteller, media personality, community builder, brand amplifier, and trade influencer focused on advocacy, empowerment, and connection throughout the industry. Bringing both humanity and humor into my work, I mostly focus my spotlight on underrepresented and historically marginalized groups navigating real life connected conversations ranging from challenging and controversial to feel good, silly, and fun. To oversimplify, I’m kind of like the People magazine of Bar world. 

As an independent, self-made entrepreneur, I created my own career with the vision to focus on the stories of people as opposed to products at the forefront. Building various digital media platforms and communities with the thirsty ecosystem, my mission is to serve, connect, share, and amplify stories of people throughout the global industry. My work truly is my greatest passion because, to me, the true core, lifeblood, and heart of this industry is the people, and all of our stories matter. 

What events and decisions led you down the road you’re on now?

As a native New Yorker, I began over 20 years ago working in NYC nightlife at a time when the modern craft cocktail movement was just emerging. From there, I worked in nearly every facet – agency, brand, PR, consulting, beverage direction, and event production; gaining invaluable knowledge and creating relationships across all industry sectors. While the culinary side of F&B was garnering massive media attention and chefs were becoming household names, the beverage side has largely neglected outside of trade. I saw an opportunity to create a media platform covering the bar that didn’t yet exist outside of the super serious, esoteric, and slightly pretentious. My vision for thirsty was to create a voice that is authentic, celebratory, connected, and possessing both heart and humor. I also add in real-life behind-the-scenes coverage. It’s taken over 8 years for my voice to be taken seriously in the industry, and it feels like I have so much more to accomplish. 

What career milestones and achievements are you the most proud of?

Making it on my own as a free and independent media entrepreneur in this industry is one of my most proud achievements. It allows me the freedom to loudly use my voice, platforms, and proximity to power for the collective good of the community. Being part of “the first” and a disruptive force in several major historical impact changes – the first of Future 40 List, first DEI Seminar in Puerto Rico, and of course, the first Tales Catalyst. These changes will have a lasting legacy for generations to come, and speaking up against the former systems to impact change are my proudest moments. When I am told the reason is because “that’s just the way it’s always been done,” then I get excited to explore change.

Being part of the change from Wine Enthuiast’s “40 Under 40” list to the new “Future 40” in which together we smashed ageist limitations to honor the most exciting personalities in beverage. Creating the very first ever DEI Seminar for the Bar industry in Puerto Rico during PR Cocktail Week and encouraging leadership of the festival to add Community as one of its core pillars. And, of course, being honored as part of the change from “Dame Hall of Fame” to be named the first Tales Catalyst and open doors with TOTCF on how we celebrate lifetime hall of fame achievements of the industry’s changemakers. I mean, Tracie Franklin and Tiffanie Barrie presenting me with honor makes me cry happy tears.

What inspires you?

People inspire me. People are my why. Listening to their stories, learning culture, exploring identity, and navigating the meaning of humanity through the lens of this industry are my daily inspirations. Knowing that we can all do something in service of others and build true community together is the greatest inspiration; community is how we can help keep each other alive and the greatest form of service. I want the best for us, and I want us to also want the best for ourselves. I realize that this world does not value all lives equally, and I believe people together, united can change that for all of us. 

What does being a Tales Catalyst mean to you?

As the first Tales Catalyst, I’m still navigating what this means to me; it is still so new, and I know I can do so much more as a Tales Catalyst. That being said, being the Tales Catalyst means that I have succeeded in making and representing Change in the industry. It is exciting to be the first because while many people are not yet familiar with the new Tales Catalyst honors, it means that together, we get to define what we want this honor to mean. Anytime we make a significant positive change, we owe it to the industry and to ourselves to see how far we can take it beyond just a name change. I hope that in time, together, we ensure the legacy of Tales Catalyst is to award and celebrate those who best exemplify the most exciting, impactful, and bravest in making meaningful progressive changes throughout the bar world. 

As someone who has always been a vocal advocate and disruptor, I am constantly questioning the world around me. We should question everything; it is how we learn, and I do my best to move with compassionate curiosity to understand the WHY behind the current systems and institutions to explore the HOW we can collectively work together to make them better. 

What advice do you have for a person starting in the spirits industry?

My advice is to let your work speak loudly, advocate for yourself, and never assume that people know your contributions, achievements, or the “special” you bring to the table. Don’t wait around for people to notice you, hear you or see you. Far too many of us have been encouraged to be “humble” and that only serves those who are already at the top; that word has been weaponized to keep us quiet and small. You are the CEO of your own personal brand and work; if you aren’t getting your story out there, you risk someone else telling your story wrong or worse … not telling it at all.  Also, when putting yourself and your work out there, ditch the idea that things have to be perfect before it can be shared. Perfection is relative and largely a myth, so if you wait until the time or work is perfect, you could be waiting around a long time. We are all human beings just trying to figure it out; sharing your story and being vocal allows people to understand who you are, what you want, and how you can work together in community. Get loud with your proud! 

Applications to be a Tales Catalyst are being accepted from March 4 through March 18. To apply, click here.

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