When the ball drops at midnight, marking the calendar’s turn from old year to new, we usually look forward with great positivity and hope for what lies ahead.
Maybe the opportunity for a bright future wasn’t so evident this time around as January 2021 rolled in with a continued sense of uncertainty for thousands of bar employees and bar owners. But, that uncertainty, while unsettling, preceded opportunities; and, as Josh Morton, founder of Barrow’s Intense, comments, “In 2020 everything took longer and was way way harder than it needed to be, but it will all work out in the end.”
Morton’s belief is shared by many in the industry like bartender Leigh Ann Heidelberg who comments, “Dreaming impossibly big about the future kept me going, and I think hospitality will see truly enormous returns after all the sacrifices this year has forced on us. You can’t pre-package the experiences we provide and the community we create, and people miss us!!”
A positive outlook was imperative as the industry explored various ways to find a silver lining, and because of it, evidence of the deep well of creativity emerged within the industry as over the tumultuous last nine months people found new ways to adapt and thrive. Even twice-furloughed bartender, Christo Gonzo of the Jonathan Club in Santa Monica, notes a brighter future and says, “We are on the precipice of the Roaring 20’s, a time of healing, and growing both economically and culturally as Americans.”
Americans’ ability to embrace reinvention was paramount to success for many, as was an ability to remain open minded and reimagine what had previously been held to be intractable truths. Shawn Soole, consultant with Soole Hospitality Concepts notes, “I understood even more so this year than ever before that you personally need to diversify what you do within the sphere of your career. This isn’t something new, but I think it is within our industry. We have all believed for too long that our disposable tip money will be there; we need to think more strategically about how to turn a hobby or a passion into a side hustle to create more stable income going forward.”
Keith Carter took his passion for connecting with guests and took advantage of having unexpected time on his hand to create The Unemployed Bartender Podcast with Keith Carter. The podcast helped Carter make it through 2020 and aided fellow bartenders as well. He explains, “What I missed was having conversations. So, to recreate the parts I missed most I created this podcast. I have a main guest – non-industry – who has done something interesting. I’ve had musicians, artists, and more, and then I have a bartender and they create a cocktail I make with them and they share the recipe if listeners want to tip.”
Omy Bugazia, formerly a bartender at Momofuku Ko and Nightmoves, went from making cocktails to making bread. Exploring this new medium has created a whole new career path as Bugazia explains, “I took up the hobby of baking sourdough and was baking so much bread that I ended started a cottage bakery out of my parents’ home.
Bugazia’s Le Gouter Bread is just one product line that’s come out of this pandemic. Another, also resonating with positive results, is Cane Collective, a new line of syrups created by great appreciation is a new line of syrups created by Aaron Joseph in Baltimore.
Like others he stretched himself as he says, “I talked to a number of my peers and decided to go outside of my comfort zone and try things I always wanted to do but never had the time to do them. I took online classes, road trips and started another business. All of which I can say have helped me go through the pandemic with purpose.”
Chockie Tom has always operated with a purpose, as evidenced by her creation of a space for respectful appreciation of Tiki culture through her Doom Tiki series. Getting caught up with a couple of bouts of COVID didn’t deter this dynamo from getting married, moving abroad and continuing her mission of focusing the industry on cultural exchange versus appropriation. She sees the last few months as freeing and comments, “The world has changed in such a way that it is like a global classroom. We’re closer in many ways as much as we are forced to be further apart.
Jan Warren of La Maison and Velier – LMDW & Velier sees the impact on day-to-day business. He concludes, “I know the pandemic will redefine the role of the restaurateur in America as someone who is more flexible and imaginative. It’s the toughest job in America to succeed at. It’s always been hard, and it is going to get harder. The hospitality business has been left out in the cold by the government, and the insurance agencies too. Still, out of this that you’re going to see some growth. When there is a lot of misery, pain and poverty people get really creative and make some of the best stuff the world has ever seen.”