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Female Bartenders Weigh In: Empowering Women in The Bar Industry

The second annual Eat. Drink. Empower charity dinner showcases the talents of women in the Austin restaurant industry, whose contributions are often overlooked. Yesterday, several chef participants weighed in on how the industry can not just welcome but empower women to succeed.

A new addition to the 12-course event is beverage pairings created by some of Austin's finest female bartenders. Eater spoke with four talented and passionate bartenders about how to encourage women to make a career of cocktails. Read on for thoughts from the talent behind the bar at Drink.Well, Contigo, Peche, and Swift's Attic. Tickets are still available for tonight's event.

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eatdrinkempower_Jessica Sanders.jpgJessica Sanders, owner of drink.well
How did you get started?
[She and her husband Michael] didn't have the ground-up experience, we came into the business by owning our own place. Working in hospitality allows you to connect with such a diverse group of people and that was something that we were lacking in our previous lines of work.

Do you have any mentors? How did those relations start and how do they help?
Whether or not they realize I'm watching them, I've amassed a lot of what I call secret mentors. There's something about their work that really resonates with you and you focus in on that, whether that's someone like Alba Huerta, who I learned so much about in terms of work ethic, to Leslie Ross, I keep an eye on her work from a creativity perspective, and then to someone like David [Allen, president of the Austin chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild] who is so well-versed in that feeling of hospitality, warmth, and that piece of what the Austin guest is looking for.

How can women encourage other women to get involved in the cocktail world?
Because Austin is such a college town, there are tons of women working in the bar industry. You go down Sixth Street, and almost every single place has really attractive, very talented women that are doing the beer and shots service. The transition becomes, how do you take those women and show them that it is more than just a job to get through college or something that you do in between school and your "real job"? That working in hospitality can become your career? One of the ways to do that is to show women that it's not just a vertical track. Showing the breadth and the depth of where the job can take you is a way to excite women. I also think that creating a community of like-minded people that can offer support to each other is really, really critical. Women face a lot of work-life balance issues.

What about the industry?
It's just really exciting to see how an event like this is now inclusive of so many different women that come from so many different styles of service and so many different styles of cuisine. On the bar side, we all work such different venues with such different clientele. It really spans pretty much every geographic area of Austin, every style of cocktail service. I hope that there are future opportunities like this that come up, and people start to recognize the contributions that women in the hospitality industry can make towards it.

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eatdrinkempower_jenniferkeyser.jpgJennifer Keyser, bartender at Contigo
Do you have any mentors? How did those relations start and how do they help?
I initially was hired at the Highball on their opening staff so that was really when I started learning about the craft of a cocktail. Ryan Schibi, the bar manager, and Hunter Smith, the head bartender, both of them really helped me learn the basics. Bill Norris, the beverage director, stepped it up for me quite a bit there. When I moved over to Midnight Cowboy, Brian Dressel, the general manager, showed me everything I know to this day. Steven Robbins, who's now my boss at Contigo, has taken over that role and he is also a really great source of knowledge and wealth of information for me.

How can women encourage other women to get involved in the cocktail world?
I just want to be the best that I can possibly be as a bartender, and the better I am, the more I can teach other people and encourage them to do what they want to do. Obviously, you have to put the work in, it can't happen overnight. But there's a great community in this world of craft cocktails bartending. Reaching out and saying, "Hey, I'm interested in learning," or "What books do I need to read?" Sharing that knowledge willingly and not in a way that's like, "Well, I've worked to get this knowledge, and I don't want to give it away for free." It's available. Anything is possible for sure.

What can the cocktail industry do about this?
It is definitely still a boy's club in general. When people are looking for brand reps or for people to work charity events, generally they take to the guys that are in the front. A lot of bar managers are male so they tend to get asked first to do a lot things, but there are tons of female bartenders that work in all these great bars. Events like Eat.Drink.Empower are really great because they are actually speaking to females. We're here and we're doing the same jobs and we're just not getting seen as much.

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[Photo: Patrick Michels/EATX]
eatdrinkempower_lisa.pngLisa Siarkowski, bartender at Swift's Attic
How did you get started?
Before I started at Swift's Attic, I was looking for an out, thinking of exiting the service industry, but my experience working under C.K. Chin and especially Jeff Hammit, our bar manager, completely changed my mind about it. Now I know this is my career. You can take it further. It's not just an inbetweener type job

Do you have any mentors? How did those relations start and how do they help?
Jeff Hammitt is hands down my biggest mentor. I learned a lot more about spirits in general since I started working there. Jeff also gives me room to experiment and try new things on my own behind the bar which is really awesome. I can come up with my own cocktails and present them to him and then take them to the owners to have them on the menu. I've never worked at a place that gives you room to grow and do that and let you be creative

How can we encourage more women to get involved in the cocktail world?
Getting people excited about what we're doing as women will be inspirational to other women who do the same thing. If we just put ourselves out there more and people see that and that will be encouraging.

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eatdrinkempower_Mariko Buser.jpgMariko Buser, bartender at Peche
How did you get started?
My husband and I want to have a business of our own one day and the only idea we can both agree on is owning a bar. The only opening available was a barback position [at Peche] which I eagerly accepted. Barbacking was a fantastic way to get my feet wet in the industry. I tasted everything, tried everything, even things I wouldn't normally have enjoyed. I did that to understand what other people appreciated about them, and I found that I learned an appreciation for them in this way too. I focused on being the best possible barback I could be. I never lost sight of my goal. I made sure that by the time I got my shot, there wasn't a shred of doubt in anyone's mind that I could do it and that I deserved it.

Do you have any mentors? How did those relationships start and how do they help?
I think there's always one or two people any place I've worked that I end up learning the most from. They're usually an oddball with a bit of an obsessive compulsive complex, highly intellectual, and extremely creative. For me, that person at Peche would absolutely be Trey Jenkins. Our relationship at work was built on a foundation of mutual respect for our talents and our work ethics. Having a foundation, understanding the science behind why we do things in certain ways, makes you better.

How can women encourage other women to get involved in the cocktail world?
Just get up and do it. Get the first job you can find at a bar you're interested in, start from the bottom up. Take on the jobs no one else will do. In your free time, read, read, read, drink, taste, check out your bar, check out other bars. Taste your peers' drinks, taste your own, decide which is better, and then figure out why. Be willing to admit your shortcomings and be willing to work hard at correcting them. Work your ass off. Have a great time doing it. Earn the respect of your peers by doing so. When you check out at the end of the shift, really check out. Put it all down at night and start fresh the next day. Don't be afraid to make a mistake, don't be afraid to fall on your face. Remember that you're going to get right back up and you'll be all the better for the experience. Remember you're a badass.
— Nadia Chaudhury
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Contigo

2027 Anchor Lane, , TX 78723 (512) 614-2260 Visit Website

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