Cocktail professionals from around the world discuss the importance of how the importance of local communities came to the fore in the last two years: How neighbors supported them, how they supported neighbors, and why it’s vital for that trend to outlast the shadow of a pandemic.
Read time: 6 minutes
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed insidiously ironic that at a time when communities most wanted to join together, safety demanded they do the opposite. This was challenging for every part of society, but particularly for the hospitality industry, whose lifeblood is community. This was felt the world over. In Singapore, for example, lockdowns knocked the legs from under many bars and restaurants. But for Celia Schoonraad, co-owner of Barbary Coast, this wasn’t a signal to quit.
“It’s so important to support each other, especially when we’re low and when we stumble,” she said, joined by eight other cocktail business professionals in a roundtable discussion presented by Pernod Ricard as part of a series of Spirited Awards programming held within Tales of the Cocktail®’s 2021 hybrid conference. “That was a call to arms.”
Barbary Coast answered that call by creating a pay it forward system for a plate of food. For some, Schoonraad said, that was the only hot meal they had all day. The bar made zero dollars on the initiative, but, more importantly, “Those hot meals got them through,” she said.
The healing nature of food was something Michelle Bernstein from Cafe La Trova discussed as well. The restaurant transitioned from a sit-down dining experience to a to-go format aimed at helping those in need in Miami. With public funding accounting for $2.15 per meal, it was a steep learning curve, including delivery logistics, broken boxes, and keeping staff employed (which they did). “Every day we were learning, but with learning comes empowerment,” said Bernstein.
“We learned how to feed people a hot meal, which is everything,” she said. “You’ve given them so much love and passion in that bowl.”
This lesson was also born out for Ago Perrone and Giorgio Bargiani from Connaught in London, which made 700 meals a day for National Health Service frontline workers, as well as people experiencing homelessness. “In the beginning, it wasn’t easy,” said Perrone. “But we’ve always tried to find a way to challenge our creative process.”
Contacts also meant everything to Homemakers Bar in Cincinnati, said Julia Petiprin. Open for only seven months before lockdown, becoming the connector for downtown initiatives became a life-giving identity. From making comfort food and offering cocktail tutorials to being sure every night to leave the vintage holiday lights in their window shining out in the vacant downtown streets, Homemakers Bar strived to be a beacon of hope during a difficult time. They partnered with branding companies, nonprofits – anyone in the city looking to help others. “The whole community came together,” said Petiprin. It was important for us to be the connector.”
For Jean Trinh of Alquímico in Cartagena, connecting a community meant something a bit different. “Community for me is not about the fifty people of the staff,” he said. “It’s about (their) fifty families.” The Colombian government offered little help during the COVID crisis, he said, so he invited his entire staff more than 80 kilometers away to a farm the restaurant purchased pre-pandemic. The original idea was to support the bar’s culinary needs. Now, Trinh said “The idea was to survive, live together and learn to start the project from zero … The project was the way I could take care of them.” Though they returned to Cartagena in October 2020, the lessons learned and bonds forged at the farm mean that future pilgrimages are definitely part of Alquímico’s plans for the future.
Grassroots collaboration in the world of hospitality played a major role in the founding of Dead End Paradise in Beirut as well. “After the Beirut explosion, we lost our business, we lost our bar … only our friends and our bar community from around the world supported us,” said owner Jad Ballout. Without government intervention, survival for businesses became a matter of collaboration and remains so even today as electricity shortages obligate businesses to buy their own generators and find fuel – which most can’t do. Now, Ballout says, Dead End Paradise is paying forward the help they received, opening their doors to anyone who needs to charge a device or just get out of the darkness.
In Vancouver, Canada, darkness of a different sort threatened businesses faced with 30-percent fees charged by food delivery services (before government fee capping took effect). In a unique display of innovation and community building, Brandon Grossutti of PiDGiN in Vancouver created FromTo.ca, a delivery system that allowed local bars and restaurants to get food to their patrons without paying exorbitant fees. Starting with just a phone line and a couple of drivers, the service now includes about a hundred restaurants and 650 drivers.
Beyond all, Grossutti summed up the idea of the role local bars and restaurants play during difficult times in their respective locations. “This is, I hope, the lesson of COVID,” he said. “That we all look at how we lift each other up and work together as a community.”
Stream the entire 2021 Spirited Awards Regional Roundtable Discussion: Community presented by Pernod Ricard on the Tales of the Cocktail YouTube channel HERE.
2022 Spirited Awards nominations are open from February 15 – March 8, 11:59 PM EST. It only takes one nomination to be considered!