When we decided to organize Toronto Cocktail Conference, there was one person at the top of our wish list for speakers. I first met Ashtin Berry in 2014 within hours of arriving in Kentucky for Camp Runamok and right from the get go, I knew that this woman was special. Ashtin is an accomplished bartender and beverage consultant (she just worked to open Tokyo Record Bar in New York) that has used her position in this industry to create dialogue concerning intersectional feminism and visibility for People of Colour and those in the LGBTQ community through Dark and Stirred. She will be hosting a seminar and also a workshop for all you managers/owners of bars/restaurants at Toronto Cocktail Conference (Aug 13-15, tickets right here). Here is a short conversation we had with her so you can get to know her a little better.
Bartender Atlas: When did you start working in bars and what style of bartending were you doing?
Ashtin Berry: I started working in bars in Chicago and they were mostly sports bars at first.
BA: We initially met at Camp Runamok in 2014 when you were working in Chicago. What has your journey looked like since then?
AB: I moved to Seattle the following year and lived there for a short time before moving to New Orleans. I opened up the Ace Hotel in Nola and kinda of climbed the ranks until I figured out corporate life wasn’t for me. I recently just finished up a 1 year stint in NYC opening two different concepts. One is a champagne bar the other a low abv cocktails and Sake bar.
BA: You have done a lot of travelling to lead seminars and workshops. What are the focus points of some of the seminars you have been leading?
AB: I talk about a range of topics. This last year I spent most of my time teaching about intersectional feminism as well as community accountability. However, I’ve also done workshops about implicit bias and bystander awareness.
BA: You’ve gained a lot of following behind being an activist and now a writer. At what point in your life did you first get involved in organised activism?
AB: I’m not really sure activism has always been a part of my life. My mom was a sexual educator and very involved in whatever community we lived whether it be through volunteering or other engagement. So for most of my life I lived in a household where activism was looked at as community participation.
BA: Was there a specific incident in your life that made you decide to combine your activist work with your service industry career?
AB: Being black and a woman in the industry. I’ve always had to advocate for myself, literally always. Because if I wasn’t the only person of color I was generally always the only women of color working and serving in predominately white spaces. Which I guess to some probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. However, implicit biases are real and having to navigate how people will treat you is real. I think really what happened is I got fed up and annoyed with the status quo and I got tired of everyone saying that’s just how it is.
BA: How has the response been in general to your trainings and seminars? Do you find much resistance or are people generally willing to listen to you and adjust their practices and attitudes?
AB: Lately, the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. While I aim to be Inspiring my ultimate goal is to activate people.
There is always some resistance, it’s just natural. Many people when they come to my seminars have preconceived notions of what it will be like, but my workshops aren’t generally like anything people in our industry have gone to. I’m also asking people to think in a very different way which is difficult.
BA: You have lived in several cities throughout your life and career. You are currently moving back to New Orleans, but have been travelling a lot recently, leading seminars. Are there any cities that you would consider going back to for a longer term commitment, or any place you haven’t been yet that you hear calling?
AB: NOLA is where I wanna be. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider working on other projects in different cities, but at this point I’m interested in being in NOLA.
BA: What do you do for fun when you aren’t writing/working to educate the industry?
AB: Read and travel. Probably my two fave things just in general.
Thanks Ashtin for taking the time to chat with us!
Don’t forget: Ashtin will be doing a seminar at Toronto Cocktail Conference in August as well as a hands-on workshop that will transform the way you work and behave. We hope to see you there.