Seven hospitality professionals discuss the power of those in the industry to advocate for social and governmental change.
Read time: 8 minutes
In a time of massive social change and growth, the world of hospitality, an industry primarily concerned with people’s basic needs and desires, plays a pivotal role.
“It’s about bringing attention to things … asking why things are how they are and then challenging that for the betterment of everyone,” said Julia Momosé, co-founder of Cocktails for Hope in Chicago.
Momosé was joined by six other hospitality professionals in a roundtable discussion on hospitality industry advocacy presented by Pernod Ricard as part of a series of Spirited Awards programming held within Tales of the Cocktail®’s 2021 hybrid conference.
“Advocacy starts with acknowledging the privileges you are allotted,” said Kelsey Westbrook, beverage and events director at NoraeBar in Louisville. “And then being committed to uplifting the voices of those who don’t have those privileges.” For Westbrook, that meant pivoting quickly from the newly-open bar to the locus of activism and advocacy. NoraeBar received its state liquor license on March 16, 2020 – the same day Kentucky’s governor announced that all bars and restaurants would be shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was also three days after Breonna Taylor was murdered in our city,” said Westbrook.
“We could kind of go mothball status and just shut everything off and see where the pandemic took us … or we could open our space to be a community safe haven for protesters. So that’s what we decided to do.”
Deano Moncrieffe, founder of Equal Measures UK in London, feels similarly that taking an active role in the fight for equality is everyone’s responsibility. For him, that meant founding an organization aimed at delivering greater equity in the drinks industry including an education and mentorship program. Moncrieffe hopes to set up 120 students every year with the certifications and licenses needed to push them to the highest possible ranks of the industry. “There is a glass ceiling here,” said Moncrieffe regarding industry professionals of color. “I want to address that by helping people fulfill their true potential … You can walk into a five-star hotel (in London) and you won’t see a person of color that is in a customer-facing position, and that’s wrong.”
In Mexico City, Claudia Cabrera has taken an active role in a similar shift as bar manager of Kaito del Valle, the first bar in Mexico and Latin America that was created, designed, and operated by females. “For us, it’s important to make our female customers feel safer in a bar since we have a lot of issues going on around Mexico with safety,” she said. The change that started with Cabrera has spread. “Nowadays most of the bar programs in the hottest spots in Mexico are run by girls, so we’re all making this huge group and making a difference,” she said.
For bartender and entertainer Peter “Thee Gintleman” Lebese, the changes necessary in the hospitality industry became poignantly evident when he moved from South Africa to Dubai. “Out here, everyone that’s getting hired – you’re getting hired because you’re Western,” he said. “My skin pigment does not determine how good I can do a job.” To address that inequality, Lebese says he and his colleagues strive to turn the spotlight on those who don’t normally occupy it. “I want to go there and be the guy that’s like, here, I have a match for you – let’s start lighting a fire and you put your fire out there.”
Justin Tisdall, a Vancouver restaurateur who opened Beetbox, Juke Fried Chicken and Chickadee, strives to light fires in his employees as well. “Being a person of color, I have a different perspective than most of the people in Vancouver,” he said. “I never saw myself represented in the industry very well so I tried to push for diversity in our workplace.” For his restaurants, equity means paying above minimum wage, providing benefits for team members, and making sure everyone gets an 8-hour day. “We try to make decisions we feel are better for our city than when we got here,” he said.
Tisdall’s sentiments echo Momosé’s quote regarding questioning the status quo and changing it to include everyone. This, however, is hard to do when bars and restaurants aren’t given a chance to survive. This is why Momosé founded Cocktails for Hope, an initiative to pass legislation allowing to-go cocktails in Illinois. Three months of messaging state representatives, senators, and the governor’s office finally led to the passage of the bill and made it possible for the state’s bars to make revenue during pandemic-related closures. “It kept my bar going and I’ve been told by others that it kept their bars going as well,” Momosé said.
The urgency created by the pandemic also motivated Jeanie Chunn to take action in Seattle. Chunn is the national engagement director for RAISE: High Road Restaurants, which is a national network of restaurant owners committed to racial and gender justice. She also co-founded Seattle Restaurants United, a coalition advocating for support during the pandemic. “I wrote a letter to my representatives and posted it on Facebook,” she said. “By Monday we had over a hundred restaurants and a list of demands – we sent them to the city, state, and federal level and by Wednesday we had over 200 restaurants signed up to be part of Seattle Restaurants United and over 10,000 (signatures) on our Change.org petition … I think that really shows the strength of our community and power we have when we organize our voices,” she said.
For Chunn and the rest of the panelists in the discussion, their respective efforts are only the beginning. “We address a movement and the movement happens,” said Chunn. “And this movement, what I’m excited about … we are not going to let it move on. We are not done.”
Stream the entire 2021 Spirited Awards Regional Roundtable Discussion: Industry Advocacy 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!