Celebrating Juneteenth: When You Know Better, Do Better

Posted on: Jun. 19, 2023 | , , | By: Erika Flowers

I’ve seen the hospitality industry through many lenses over the years. I worked my way up from being a host and a server while pursuing a career in music, to a bartender and entrepreneur in the spirits industry. While the pandemic put a pause on my endeavors and income, it turned out to be a window of opportunity for the career pivot I didn’t see coming. 

In 2020, I took matters into my own hands and started a business centered around my Belizean heritage. Taste of the Tropics was an opportunity for me to create and share products inspired by my roots that would support me while I “figured it all out.” I used Instagram as a promotional tool and eventually started popping up in makers markets around New Orleans. What a time that was for everyone. Those markets were the closest thing we had to social interaction since the world we knew. While I started with health supplements, tropical teas, and condiments, I eventually added bottled cocktails into the mix. I guess I would say I became a home bartender during the pandemic. My drinks were built on my personal taste and I was never going off of a traditional recipe. I mean I barely knew any, but the people loved it. Seeing the success of it all inspired me to take my business to the next level and that would require me to learn a whole lot more. I was introduced to Turning Tables by a friend who had gone through their second cohort. She thought it would be a good move for me and clearly it was because here I am!

One would say I had an accelerated path as I now bartend in an award-winning restaurant group and have sustained a number of brand partnerships, and for that I have Turning Tables to thank, an organization geared towards Black and Brown individuals that serves to build equity, diversity, leadership, and career pathways in the hospitality industry. Through a 12 week workforce development program I learned everything from the craft of bartending to production and more. Turning Tables empowered me and taught me not only the classics and the methods, but shined a light on a history to be proud of as a Black bartender. A history that is oftentimes overshadowed or forgotten, but this is nothing new. Luckily, since my entry into this industry as a bartender I have never felt as such. With a community of people who look like me as a support system, I feel inspired to move confidently within this industry expressing myself behind and beyond the bar.

So when asked how the drinks industry can serve to strengthen and vitalize my community, I say through the accessibility of resources and education. The reality is there are not many programs like Turning Tables in markets that need it most… yet. Bartending school is not as revered by industry professionals as I once thought it to be either. The game of “who’s who” and “knowing somebody that knows somebody” is a thing across many industries and really is a disservice to those who are trying to move forward in their careers. One can say that the internet is a great resource and YouTube University will save you thousands, but neither of these qualify you when asked to define yourself and what you bring to the table on one sheet of paper. Dare I say had it not been for Turning Tables, a lot of these doors of opportunity that have opened for me would have been a lot harder to enter. I mean… lest not be naive to think that gatekeeping is not a thing. It is.

In attending seminars and conferences across the U.S. I have found myself being the only or one of a handful of people of color present. While I don’t want to assume it to be intentional, it leads me to wonder why. Surveying my peers informed me that they are unaware of such events and competitions, finances are an issue, or being rejected year after year becomes exhausting. Thanks to the great work of community leaders like Josh Davis, Touré Folkes, and Kapri Robinson we see this issue being addressed and progress being made through their respective organizations. Brown and Balanced, Turning Tables, and Chocolate City’s Best are keeping the Black and Brown members of the hospitality industry motivated to reach higher heights. However, the support from the hospitality industry as a whole feels lacking and inconsistent. 

The Black Lives Matter movement was a prime example of the inconsistencies within this industry.  The performative solidarity during the pandemic was contagious as companies with a track record of discrimination shared black boxes on social media and hashtags that would never be used again. Showcasing your one Black bartender during Black History Month is not it either. Though attempts are made to diversify spaces, it’s these inconsistencies that will land one, two steps. In order to serve people who are underrepresented, it is imperative to have a deeper understanding on how you can do so. A commitment to company wide DEI training is a great start in supporting the communities you serve and the people you employ. Providing these employees financial assistance to further their education and acquire certifications that foster upward mobility should be a goal. Additionally, supporting organizations who are already doing the work in this industry serves to vitalize their mission. 

I name names with intention and propose solutions that are within reach. I honor my roots and shine a light on those doing the work whether it be individuals or brands at every chance I get. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do so as a “newcomer” to the spirits industry. My path is a testament to what providing education, resources, and advocating for those underrepresented can do. My hope is that we continue to invest in the future of this industry and shape it to be one that better reflects the communities we serve. When you know better, do better.


Erika Flowers resides in New Orleans by way of the Bronx, New York. She lends her creative growth through various industries to her 10+ years spent in the city and mentors she’s gained over the years. In 2021, Erika became a graduate member of “Turning Tables” Bar Program Cohort III allowing her to transition from server to bartender seamlessly and apply her knowledge towards her small business, Taste of the Tropics, which aims to increase cultural awareness through intentionally handcrafted and curated products, immersive pop up experiences, and storytelling that highlights Caribbean culture. Fittingly, you can find her behind the bar at the rum oriented “Cane & Table” in New Orleans which celebrates Caribbean inspired cocktails and cuisine. Combining her love of spirits and visual storytelling, she joins a group of esteemed spirit professionals across the U.S. as a member of Hotaling & Co’s inaugural Cocktail Council.

Instagram: @erikaflowers

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