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Come Find Us At The (Home) Bar

With 2020 panning out significantly different than anticipated, it’s been a time of change, heartbreak, checking the news too much and - mostly - curling into a ball wondering how we’re going to get out of this.

No-one knows for sure, but it’s helpful to talk about it. We spoke with some friends from around the globe to try and shed some light on how others are coping and their thoughts on how COVID-19 will shape the future of the industry.


Kurt Schlechter, Co-owner and Director of Cause Effect Cocktail Kitchen in South Africa
@causeeffectbar




Voted as one of the worlds top 100 influential persons in the Industry by drinks international magazine 2019, Kurt has 25 years experience in the hospitality industry and is an award winning bartender and drinks consultant. A passionate educator, his speciality is developing bartender training programs for some of the worlds leading Liquor brands, he has spent the last 5 years training bartenders in a bartender upliftment program called BAR STARS for Pernod Ricard.

How are you staying sane during this time? Work-wise and personally.

Work-wise - I grow a lot of plants (fynbos) for the bar, so gardening has been a major part of my time, fermenting sugar wash and distilling spirit for our bitters projects also keeps me busy. I just started a drinks agency called “Elemental” focused on post COVID-19 drink strategies. We're currently busy with a limited edition non-alcoholic campaign called “Homegrown" with Schweppes.

Personally - loving the time with my family - it's the longest Holiday we have ever had. I have taught my daughter how to ride a bike, play hockey, paper mache and the list goes... on. My wife and I love this time we have together.

It has been an undeniably challenging time for all of us in the industry, and has forced us to think creatively in order to keep our businesses running. Would you mind sharing some insights and tips from your bar and other venues around your city?

We are keeping our business top of mind with consumers through social, looking at selling bottle cocktails & other retails items online to create some cash flow,  creating a social distancing and health plan for inside the bar when we open. "Lucky Shaker" in Durban was selling DIY whiskey tasting packages with an online video before the ban hit, they will be doing more of this after alcohol ban is lifted.

Everyday we are reading about the challenges that continue to emerge but we also have seen really incredible stories about communities coming together, people supporting each other both as neighbours and also across great distance and the environment healing from the slow down. What positive impacts do you think the current situation might have on our industry?

I think guests will be more aware of the value of great food, drinks and service. They say it took 7 years to satisfy the demand for drinks after prohibition in a America, so lets hope that's the case when we come out of lockdown in SA. The positives are few at the moment, but it has mades us realise that life is fragile and we need to be kinder and more considerate of our fellow human beings.

What can we do as a hospitality industry to further support each other not only now but going forward?

Brands should look to partner with restaurants and bars that are specialists in their fields and create packages for E-commerce. We also need to help people understand that the industry is changed and we need to adapt, it's a strong possibility that our bars will only open next year with heavy restrictions. What will the social distancing look like in bars? We need to come up with innovative ways to serve, sell and market our restaurants and bars...

Finally - we have to ask as we are all staying in at the moment - what is your favourite home meal and libation?

Pasta made with wine, garlic, coconut milk, spices and any meat or fish and of course the Braai ( barbecue ) we do that about 4 times a week.


Ryan Nightingale, co-founder of Shady Acres in Hong Kong
@theshadyacres



Hey y'all, I'm Ryan Nightingale, an average bartender and co-founder of Shady Acres, a neighbourhood joint in Hong Kong. I like cheap white wine, deceptively simple cocktails and whisk(e)y in all its permutations.

How are you staying sane during this time? Work-wise and personally.

Work-wise I'm lucky to be working with people who are quick to adapt to changes in situations. As we had bars shut down, we were able to quickly adapt to doing takeaway and all our bartenders, waiters and myself were making personal deliveries (with all the appropriate PPE) in our local 'hood.

Personally, I've been keeping myself overfed on junk food and counting my lucky stars that Hong Kong has been both safe enough and adaptive enough to avoid full lockdown measures, so I've been able to get out into some nature and can see the world.

It has been an undeniably challenging time for all of us in the industry, and has forced us to think creatively in order to keep our businesses running. Would you mind sharing some insights and tips from your bar and other venues around your city?

I think as a bar and "comfort food" venue, we had to double down on the fact that we had always sold escapism in the form of snacks and bevies. Going up to people's homes to drop off their favourite food and bottled cocktails and putting smiles on folks’ faces while they’re socially distancing and working from home has been a big plus. Everyone knows there’s a crisis going on, we wanted to push through and talk about the positive stuff on all our channels we could.

Everyday we are reading about the challenges that continue to emerge but we also have seen really incredible stories about communities coming together, people supporting each other both as neighbours and also across great distance and the environment healing from the slow down. What positive impacts do you think the current situation might have on our industry?

People in large cities have noticed how integral their local venues are to their day to day lives. Bars and restaurants have always been gathering points for shared ideas, creativity and places to blow off steam, and as horrible as its been, the shut down of a lot of these places have forced a lot of people to realise what they’ve been missing.

I think the interconnectivity between bars sharing ideas, food, tips and tricks has never been stronger. The us versus them attitude that sometimes springs up has been put aside, and people are united in getting through this together.

What can we do as a hospitality industry to further support each other not only now but going forward?

Slowing down and taking stock of our own hospitality philosophy has been an eye opener for us. We want to grow to being a better company, better leaders for our staff and our small community.

Understanding how supply chains work and where the weak points are should help us in making long term solutions to problems that we were always “too busy” to sort out in the moment. We want to be prepared for any future hiccups, for both our staff, and the people who rely on our humble little business ticking along.
 
Finally - we have to ask as we are all staying in at the moment - what is your favourite home meal and libation?

I’m a big fan of breakfast any time of the day, so I’ve been making a lot of fried egg and bacon sandwiches with some really good bread lately, even at 2am after a long shift. I also love sitting down with a neat whiskey or some sort of easy Bourbon Rickey with some chilled yuzu soda.

Hugh Leech, Brand Ambassador at Melbourne Gin Company in Melbourne
@melbourneginco




My name is Hugh Leech, and I’m the brand ambassador at Melbourne Gin Company. Previous to that I was working with Only Bitters and I earned my gin stripes working at Gin Palace in Melbourne’s CBD for almost 4 years, which was one of the first places to stock MGC in its early days. I’m also one quarter of Marionette Liqueurs.

How are you staying sane during this time? Work-wise and personally.

Work-wise I’d say I’ve been quite lucky, as I’ve still been working consistently the whole time. Initially as the whole situation unfolded we were obviously extremely concerned, and I went from having 2 very large projects happening to those disappearing in a few days, but once we’d got a handle on the situation and it stabilised a bit we were able to work out a bit of structure and plan for what to do going forward and that’s definitely helped things. I think a variation in types of work and still being able to get out and about a bit has helped my sanity a lot.

Personally, I’ve actually just been moving house so I’m not sure I’d say it’s been that sane, but having a bit of extra time on my hands was definitely good. My housemates and I all had a good chat when the lock downs came in to make sure we were all on the same page, which helped, and even things like regular cooking nights have helped me too.
 
It has been an undeniably challenging time for all of us in the industry, and has forced us to think creatively in order to keep our businesses running. Would you mind sharing some insights and tips from your bar and other venues around your city?

I guess from the MGC point of view we’ve again been very lucky, as we’ve been established for a while and had pretty good distribution in independent bottle shops and national chains, and as those avenues have been consistent through all of this we’ve been ok. We’ve definitely been pushing our direct online sales more, which has worked well, and added a fair bit in terms of what we’re offering online. In terms of maintaining awareness, we’ve also started a series of cocktail videos focused on accessible things people can make at home, as I think people are pretty keen on spicing up their at home drinking.

I have been really blown away by some of the efforts and quick thinking behind a lot of hospitality businesses in Melbourne, it's been really inspiring.
 
Everyday we are reading about the challenges that continue to emerge but we also have seen really incredible stories about communities coming together, people supporting each other both as neighbours and also across great distance and the environment healing from the slow down. What positive impacts do you think the current situation might have on our industry?

There’s really huge and amazing efforts being made by people in the industry to look after those affected, especially those people on various visas or people sponsored, who aren't eligible for government support. The greatest positive impact I see for our industry is this incredible amount of empathy and support throughout the whole industry, and also the crazy level of effort people within the industry are going to help each other, which hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down!

What can we do as a hospitality industry to further support each other not only now but going forward?

I think that's a pretty difficult one to answer, there’s a lot of really amazing effort to support hospitality being organised by members of the industry like COVID-19 EAD here in Melbourne, and Tip Jar raising money for initiatives across the board to help hospitality. I don’t think anyone knows for sure what exactly is going to happen moving forward, but I’d say continuing the incredible empathy and effort throughout the industry will help.

Finally - we have to ask as we are all staying in at the moment - what is your favourite home meal and libation?

Meal: I’m really going for anything slow cooked with a bit of spice now the weathers cooling down, curry, chilli con carne, or soups with a bit of kick.
Libation: Probably gin and tonic with a splash of vermouth or sherry.


Alex Thaboua, Bar Manager at Mister Paradise in NYC
@misterparadisenyc



Hi All! I'm Alex Thaboua, Bar Manager at Mister Paradise NYC.  I have been bartending and running cocktail programs in New York for the past 8 years now, a few notable places would be The Spotted Pig, The NoMad Hotel and The Standard.

How are you staying sane during this time? Work-wise and personally.

I have been keeping sane by taking care of every big project I have had planned for my house for the last 2 years. Gardening, building furniture, painting, etc… As for work, I have been laid-off but am still in touch with the crew at Mister Paradise, brainstorming our come back, planning cocktail deliveries and things like that.  I have been participating in video conference happy hours, meetings, webinars for spirits education and things like that as well. These all help keep industry connections strong and helps to keep up with all the bartenders and family I would normally see in person either at my bar or at theirs.

It has been an undeniably challenging time for all of us in the industry, and has forced us to think creatively in order to keep our businesses running. Would you mind sharing some insights and tips from your bar and other venues around your city?

At Mister Paradise, we are launching cocktail delivery with a set menu of some of our house cocktails. We have rebranded into Paradise Wines and Liquors and will be selling new merchandise to go along with our cocktails.  I have seen others do simple cocktail delivery as well, but it seems to be slowing down a bit.  A lot of bars that started off delivering when this first started have since stopped.  As of right now, we have pretty much given up on the idea of making money during this time. We are not taking any of the proceeds generated through our sales, instead giving 100% of those profits to our staff working that day (currently one day a week).  Anything we can do to help our staff out, that’s really our main focus here.

Everyday we are reading about the challenges that continue to emerge but we also have seen really incredible stories about communities coming together, people supporting each other both as neighbours and also across great distance and the environment healing from the slow down. What positive impact do you think the current situation might have on our industry?

I see a lot of great charitable work coming out of a lot of restaurants. Lots of people coming together to donate to front line workers in hospitals and firehouses and such. I think this situation, especially in New York City, is really shedding light on how important bars and restaurants are to our economy and, more importantly, to our communities. Every person I have spoken with, whether F&B industry or not, has mentioned how much they crave the community that bars and restaurants create. That camaraderie built at bars will be much stronger after all of this passes.

What can we do as a hospitality industry to further support each other not only now but going forward?

Before the official mandate from government to shut down non-essential businesses, I saw a lot of places shutting to keep their staff healthy. I think that is a HUGE shift in mentality for bar owners to put their staff before their numbers. I think a big shift to come out of this will be a better understanding of sick time off and just overall care for employees.

Finally - we have to ask as we are all staying in at the moment - what is your favourite home meal and libation?

Oh man…I have been making too many big project meals to count, but I’d say my favorite so far has been a pie. As for favorite drink, I've been keeping it simple with Budweiser, High Life and Campari sodas.


Felicity Gransden, Co-owner of new rum brand, Ron Colón Salvadoreño
@roncolonsalvadoreno




My name is Felicity Gransden, I'm based in the UK and I'm one of the co-owners of the new rum brand Ron Colón Salvadoreño. I've been working with spirits for the past 5 years, starting out as a bartender in London and then going on to work with Belsazar Vermouth, Our/Vodka and now Ron Colón. My role with Ron Colón started with designing our coffee infused rum, but I'm now responsible for training up our growing team, and planning our launch into different markets. 

How are you staying sane during this time? Work-wise and personally.

Work has become quieter for me, a large part of my job is travelling and working with export markets. So without this, I have to be creative with my time. Even though work is quieter, it helps me mentally to do a bit each morning, to keep up some sort of routine of checking emails and finishing tasks that have been on my to do list for a long time. It's also been helpful to slow down, take my time and plan a bit more on the projects that I'm currently working on.

Personally, I love a routine! So even though things are a bit strange right now, I try my best to stick to a routine. Morning is my favourite time of day, I get up a 6am, practice some yoga and go for a walk in the sunshine. It helps me to bring some normality into my life when everything else feels odd. I'm lucky I live really close to a beautiful park, and all the trees are out in blossom for spring time. One of the things I am grateful for during this time, is that it has made me slow down and enjoy the nature around me. When the UK went into complete lockdown two weeks ago, I wrote a list of things that I would like to achieve during this time, (one of the things is to learn Japanese, so it's quite ambitious!) but, I hope I can look back, and think that I really used this time, as I'm sure nothing quite like this will happen again. 

It has been an undeniably challenging time for all of us in the industry, and has forced us to think creatively in order to keep our businesses running. Would you mind sharing some insights and tips from your bar and other venues around your city?

One of the best initiatives I have seen is @thevirtualhappyhour. Set up by a friend of mine, it aims to get people together (virtually) to catch up each week. Afterwards the group each donate the price of a cocktail to their favourite bar who may be struggling as a result of COVID-19. You can start it with a group of your friends and donate to your local bar each week. It's helped me to keep in touch with my friends as a group, which has been lovely, but also to do something positive (albeit small) during a time when I felt quite powerless to help. 

Everyday we are reading about the challenges that continue to emerge but we also have seen really incredible stories about communities coming together, people supporting each other both as neighbours and also across great distance and the environment healing from the slow down. What positive impact do you think the current situation might have on our industry?

It has built a real sense of community where I live. It is something that is always there, however, COVID-19 seems to have brought out the best in people. I am thinking of my favourite coffee shop; a small roasters down the road from my house. Before we went into lockdown, they posted a message on Instagram asking people to please support small local businesses during this time of uncertainty, and buy their coffee from independents, if they can. The next day they completely sold out, and everyday that following week. I think one of the positive impacts that COVID-19 will have on our industry, and on many people, is really appreciating what you have on your door step, in your local neighbourhood, and somehow feeling more connected to those local businesses. 

What can we do as a hospitality industry to further support each other not only now but going forward?

I've been so happy to see the sharing of knowledge that has increased ten fold since COVID-19 began. I think it's wonderful to see brands putting out so much educational information for bartenders, being creative about topics, collaborations and drinks. With Ron Colón, we have been asked to take part in so many initiatives in the past two weeks. It's been great to be able to share what we are working on, but also to feel part of a community that is going through the same experience. I feel more connected than ever, I've personally taken part in so many talks and workshops in the past two weeks, and discovered new brands and experiences. I hope that this sharing of knowledge will continue long after the world goes back to normal.

Finally - we have to ask as we are all staying in at the moment - what is your favourite home meal and libation?

Do you know what?! I've been cooking myself extremely gourmet meals since the start of the lockdown. Getting down my dusty cookbooks that I don't use half as much as I should. My absolute favourite thing I have cooked recently is congee. I make it using my friend Cyan's recipe, add loads of yummy things on top like fresh ginger, garlic spinach, spicy black beans and mushrooms. So good! I've got back into aperitifs since the weather has been lovely, at the moment I'm drinking Belsazar Dry vermouth and tonic.


Harriet Leigh, Head of Hospitality for Archie Rose
@archierosesyd



I'm Harriet Leigh, the head of hospitality for Archie Rose. My job is to oversee venues and events, and to advise on how the public should consume our products. I also produce a lot of our content. I'm chief gin taster, according to my colleague Nick, which is just about the greatest job title in the world. 

How are you staying sane during this time? Work-wise and personally.

I think like many of us I'm taking each day at a time. I'm trying to find small joys in the world each day, yesterday I had a delightful conversation with the neighbour's dog over the fence. I am indulging a fairly serious affair with my local barista as my daily coffee is my permitted last luxury. Work-wise it's been a very tough few weeks, worrying about my staff, redeploying the bar team into the bottling line and trying to generate enough business for the rest of my team. All that while watching my friend's livelihoods implode in a matter of weeks.  It's been exhausting and devastating. 

It has been an undeniably challenging time for all of us in the industry, and has forced us to think creatively in order to keep our businesses running. Would you mind sharing some insights and tips from your bar/distillery and other venues around your city?

We are still in the embryonic stages of this catastrophe. We still don't know how many more people will face unemployment and so it's too early to understand the long term financial impact of this. People's spending habits today may very well not be their spending habits tomorrow. While lots of people feel they have earnt a takeaway Negroni seeing as their social life has been put on hold that may well change when they, their partners or family members lose their jobs. My advice is to take one day at a time. To err on the side of caution. I wouldn't advise any additional spending on promotion or marketing. But the most important thing is to think "what do my customers want, and what do they need". Your sales data has never been more important - and understanding how and why that data is currently changing is essential too. People need to diversify, while maintaining a tight grip on their spending. If you're selling takeaway meals why not sell bread and eggs too, and if you are doing so would your supplier accept a sale or return arrangement? 

Everyday we are reading about the challenges that continue to emerge but we also have seen really incredible stories about communities coming together, people supporting each other both as neighbours and also across great distance and the environment healing from the slow down. What positive impact do you think the current situation might have on our industry?

I think that when the wider community is unleashed on the hospitality world once more there will be new-found respect for the enormous value we add to society. Both hospitality and the arts are often taken for granted. People are currently realising what they are missing. And as we all turn to streaming services to keep us sane we are proving that when all is lost, the one thing we need and value above all else is the arts. I cannot wait to go back to a live music venue and to dance the night away with complete abandon. I'm still dancing - but at the moment I'm doing it alone in my flat.

What can we do as a hospitality industry to further support each other not only now but going forward?

We need to maintain contact with our immediate community. Can your now laid-off casuals feed themselves this week? Can your international student former staff afford their rent? In the coming weeks it is going to become more and more common for people to literally run out of savings. And then all of us, the government and the people who are still employed need to help them, we need to check in on them, and if required we need to feed them. We need to make sure no one is left behind. 

Finally - we have to ask as we are all staying in at the moment - what is your favourite home meal and libation?

I love cooking and now I am focusing on cooking without waste. I'm usually a terrible example of buying too much food and not using it before it goes off. I'm meal planning and ensuring everything is used. I love the ritual of a proper meal - and on the weekends I'm cooking things that take time and require love. When all is lost, if you still have a roast chicken then you are a rich person, if you have someone to share it with (either in real life or virtually) then you are a king. For drinks my usual go-to is a bottle of pre-batched Negroni in the fridge, although devastatingly my freezer no longer only contains ice, glassware and a mixing glass. All that now lives in a cupboard. Quite unbelievably, I now have food in my freezer. Who would have thunk it?