Nine cocktail professionals from across the world discuss how they reinvented their businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. From starting online stores with cocktail-scented candles to outfitting a bus with a well and driving it to the consumer, cocktail entrepreneurs found new, creative ways to connect to their customers, and were surprised by the results. Not only did they stay in business, but they forged bonds with clientele and staff that extended far beyond what they thought possible, even before the pandemic.
Read time: 5 minutes
When the effects of the pandemic started to settle in, Adrián Glickman of Florería Atlántico in Buenos Aires probably flashed through the same reel of questions everyone in the cocktail bar game faced – how long will this last, how long will we last, when will guidelines be finalized, and dozens of others. But one question rose above the rest.
“As soon as it started, we had fifty-two families depending on how the business was going to survive, and how we could reimagine the business,” he said. “So, it started out of pure desperation.”
Glickman joined eight other cocktail business professionals in a round table discussion presented by CAMPARI as part of a series of Spirited Awards programming held within 2021 Tales of the Cocktail hybrid conference in which they detailed how they reinvented their businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. From starting online stores with cocktail-scented candles to outfitting a bus with a well and driving it to the consumer, cocktail entrepreneurs got creative in ways that reconnected them to their clientele and expanded their reach beyond what they thought possible.
In Glickman’s case, a key part of pivoting to canned and other RTD offerings was educating the consumer. In Argentina, he said, cocktails at home weren’t really a pre-pandemic thing, so conveying information about shelf life, stability, and how to create an experience with something in a can was key. “It was a great challenge but also an amazing moment to hear from people that would never have been able to come to Florería,” he said regarding their ability to send artfully crafted cocktails around the country. Education was a key component for Oron Lerner of Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar in Tel Aviv, as well. “The local drinking culture was more about making it fresh right in front of the guest,” he added. But when faced with the prospect of months (or more) of an empty bar, Lerner put his staff on bicycles with boxes of bottled cocktails and delivered them to local regulars. In less than a month, the concept took off and they were swamped. “That personal touch was everything we needed to keep in touch with our guests,” he said. “It’s incredible how much that blossomed.”
Education about new offerings wasn’t limited to the consumer, however. Rincy Varghese is the co-founder of Mr. Jerry’s Cocktails, India’s first small batch, ready to serve, bottled craft cocktails. She said educating the government meant starting from scratch. “Our first step was to educate them – what it is and how it’s canned, how it’s made, and how it’s going to help people. So that was the biggest hurdle that we’re facing,” she said. But as a trailblazer in the nation’s cocktail scene, she’s walking so others can run, and looking to expand into more Indian states – each of which has its own set of liquor laws.
Innovation like this took business owners outside the traditional realm of cocktail-making as well. For Jacqueline Pirolo of Macchialina in Miami, the pandemic provided an opportunity to take the bar’s incredible wine offerings to a new audience. Bottle delivery turned into three-bottle mystery packs. “That took off so well that we transitioned into a proper wine club that now has about eighty-five members a month,” she said. Similarly, Evelyn Chick of EC Projects in Toronto created a subscription-based service for every kind of drinker. While alcohol can be added to her creations for a cocktail, they stand on their own as well. “My whole ideology around drink-making is creating inclusive serves,” she said. These kits as well as her virtual cocktail classes put her in the path of such clients as Amazon, TikTok, and the Juneau Awards. “So, somewhere out there, Justin Bieber has one of my cocktail kits,” she said.
Passion and inclusivity were also themes for Timo Janse of The Flying Dutchman in Amsterdam. “Community is central to everything we do,” he said. So, in addition to RTD offerings from the bar, Janse and his partner created a webshop that sells barware, house-made cocktail-scented candles, cocktail candies, pickles, and more. “What was really great for us was continuing the conversation with our guests,” he said. Continuing that conversation and getting creative was key for Michael Capoferri of Thunderbolt in Los Angeles as well. “The running joke was, what’s our brilliant idea this week? – we have to have a brilliant idea every week in order to keep this going,” he said. Some of those brilliant ideas helped the entire industry in his area, like collaborations with different brands to feed 2000 meals to out-of-work hospitality workers.
This emphasis on social good during dark days had special significance for Caer Maiko and Sharon Yeung, the co-creators of Daijoubu cocktail pop-up in Austin. Yeung, who has experienced anti-Asian racism since the pandemic began, said their pop-up events, bottled cocktails, and cocktail box collabs served a deeper purpose to raise money for Asian-American causes. “Through the last two and a half years of Daijoubu being around, we’ve raised about $16,000 for different charities,” echoed Maiko.
During a time when innovations meant so much more than bottom lines on spreadsheets but signified the bonds between bar staff, owners, guests and the communities that surround them, Yeung summed up the discussion’s overall sentiment. “Not only were we itching to get out there and make cocktails,” she said. “But we feel like we had to use our voices for the greater good.”
Stream the entire 2021 Spirited Awards Regional Roundtable Discussion: Innovative Pivots presented by CAMPARI 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!