Chantelle Gabino on Doing What you Love (and BEES!)

Chantelle Gabino is one of those bartenders to watch out for. And not in a bad way. In a good way. In the best way possible. Because she is always up to something. She is one of those super driven people and when she gets an idea, she goes for it full force. She works in Toronto as the General Manager of Parts & Labour. In 2016 she represented Canada at Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender and has done a whirlwind of great things since. This week we met up with Chantelle on the roof of Parts and Labour to talk all things but mostly, bees. Yes, bees.

Bartender Atlas: You have been a familiar face in the bar industry in Toronto for many years now. When did you start bartending and what style of bartending were you doing then?
Chantelle Gabino: I started in the industry 10 years ago as that “server/bartender” that did both equally. It wasn’t until I started managing a burger shop/bar that I concentrated on just bartending, mostly slinging mixed drinks and opening beer tabs. A year or two down the line, I realized I could express creativity in creating drinks and did what most bartenders do… which was be like a sponge with people more experienced than yourself and learn and master as many ‘classics’ as I could.

BA: Was there a specific event in your life that made you want to take the creative route with bartending instead of slinging pints and shots?
CG: Funny enough, I started working at Parts & Labour and my general manager at the time asked me if I wanted to enter a cocktail competition where I had to create two separate cocktails with whisky as a ‘Can-Am’ theme. It was my first ever cocktail competition and I placed and got to go to Louisville, Kentucky because of it. My love of cooking and flavour combinations really carried me through, and from that point I was hooked.

BA: You were Canada’s winner of Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender in 2016. What was that experience like and how did it feel to participate in that global competition?
CG: Well, for 2016 it was a special year as it was the first time Bombay Sapphire took the MIB finalists to the new Laverstoke distillery. Words can’t describe how beautiful the Bombay Sapphire facilities are. Instead of it being a global competition, it was actually a North American final with myself being the only solo Canadian representative. Gaining a national title before reaching the finals was an honour. It is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Not only did it challenge my very existence as a bartender, it allowed the opportunity to meet some of the most amazing people and fellow bartenders from all over North America, and provided an introspective look into what they were up to in their parts of this great continent. I’m fortunate to still call these folks ‘friends’.

BA: Since having the MIB experience, what other opportunities have come your way? Have you noticed any doors have opened because of this accomplishment?
CG: When travelling to NOLA for TOTC 2016, we were doing some media for MIB with GQ Magazine. During this time, I was fortunate to land a gig doing a video series with GQ magazine and Bombay Sapphire called ‘Alchemy’ where I travelled to LA to plan and execute an event with a local graffiti artist, Robert Vargas, and chef Michael Fiorelli. Having never met before, we pumped out a spectacular event that featured food, beverage and art with the theme of showcasing Robert’s life story as an artist. You can watch the video here.

Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that once you’re inducted into the Bombay/Bacardi family – and I don’t use the word ‘family’ lightly – they really take care of ensuring support and mentorship throughout your career. Nicholas Kosevich who is a part of the Bombay advocacy team, but also proprietor of Bittercube is not only a mentor I value, but also a friend acquired through my journey with MIB. Relationships such as this are worth more than their weight in gold. I see the opportunity to learn as something extremely invaluable.

BA: Through all of these experiences, what have you learned that you have then taken and incorporated into the way you approach bartending, managing Parts and Labour and how you interact with people both in and out of the service industry?
CG: Through all of these experiences, I’m fortunate to say it humbled the fuck out of me. It reassured that there is an endless amount of information to be obtained from our industry. Even with a decade in the industry under my belt, I can accurately say I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg, and in retrospect know nothing. This becomes more apparent the more you travel.

Another invaluable lesson obtained was simply based off of inspiration of seeing certain practices in full force around the world, special mentions to Bombay Sapphire and The Botanist Gin. The practices I’m referring to are sustainable and ecologically friendly incentives that induce positive change within our industry. It is one thing to see small businesses exercising this ethos, but when you see large corporate alcohol companies paying close attention to their ecological footprint and how to lighten it, it is extremely inspiring to the point that it changed how I manage and bartend. Growing up in the west coast of Canada, on the mountains, on the ocean and in a forest, I’ve always had a close connection to nature, and over the last two years I’ve really allowed that to come through. Here at P&L I’ve started a ‘Green Incentive’ with analyzing waste and exercising sustainability to the best of our ability… and that’s really all you need to do is try. This has enabled the staff to carry a conversation with the hundreds of guests we see a week with topics ranging from not using plastic straws to growing our own goods on the rooftop garden and it has also flourished a lot of creativity in house not only with food, but also drinks.

BA: One of your most exciting projects is the rooftop at Parts and Labour. You have a sizeable herb garden as well as a colony of bees. What do you have growing here and how did that all get rolling?
CG: Upon travelling last year to different places like Spain, Italy, Scotland, The Netherlands and England, I was inspired to say the least. So many alcohol and wine companies alike care so much about each and every ingredient used in the production of what they make, that I too wanted to exercise this attention to detail. So, I reinvigorated the rooftop garden, and started keeping bees which is something I always wanted to do. Last year I tested a smaller operation with the garden with a little financial help from one of our alcohol partners, and due to its success (in lightening our ecological footprint) we went even bigger this year. With the help of The Botanist Gin, who sponsored our even bigger and better garden this year, as well as Jack Daniel’s Honey who sponsored our Urban Apiary, they made it all possible. The way I think of it, is we have a ton of brands out there that have a yearly budget to sink into marketing projects, usually seen in the form of debaucherous nights of partying and drinking. What I’ve been trying to exercise is allowing for these budgets to contribute to something that means so much more, and carries an impact in our everyday operations and lives, something that is positive and can inflict positive change within our community. I’m simply fortunate to have great brand ambassadors and colleagues that have supported my once grandiose dreams and ideas, allowing them to come into fruition no matter how intimidating or arduous they may appear at first. We have over 30+ – and growing – different species of plants, herbs and vegetables growing on our rooftop garden, everything from applemint to lemon verbena, even tomatoes and sorrel for the kitchen.

BA: And the BEES! Where did you get the idea of having hives and how were you able to make it a reality? Was it difficult to convince the owners of Parts and Labour to allow a rooftop apiary?
CG: Beekeeping has always been something that was extremely fascinating to me, and I should note that at first I knew next to nothing about it other than the fact that I wanted to do it. With the recent alarming decline in the Bee population around the world, especially with the spraying of the Zika virus where we lost over 2.5 million bees in North America alone last year. It really freaked me out and resonated with me because if the bees die, we die. It honestly didn’t take much for me to convince the owners that I wanted to do it for a few reasons; 1) I had done a fair amount of budgeting and research over 4-6 months that enabled me to pitch the idea to Jack Daniels, which they loved, sponsored and supported. You don’t know unless you ask. 2) We had the space to do so, and we thought it would be a great addition to the garden and 3) I’m fortunate to have bosses that trust me to execute passion projects and incentives that mean more than just creating revenue. My one boss Jesse is as much as a free-spirited hippie as myself.

BA: What is the work that is involved in maintaining them and what is your plan for the honey when it’s ready to be cultivated?
CG: There is a lot of awesome information to be obtained when learning about bees. They’re super intelligent creatures and deserve a lot of respect. So for that, the first thing to do is educate yourself on how to be a responsible and successful beekeeper. Myself and a four others from The Social Group all took beekeeping courses with an amazing conservation and educational group by the name of Alveolé whom are originally based out of Montreal, but also have a location here in Toronto. Our main goal is to ensure the Queen Bee is successful and doing her job, that the colonies are healthy and also to prevent swarming, which sounds intense but it is a natural occurrence for any hive that is growing and thriving. The Queen gives birth to a virgin Queen and decides to leave with half of colony, leaving the virgin Queen behind with the rest of the colony so she can start anew. This is all indicative of the strength and numbers of the hive and should not be alarming to anyone that gets a chance to experience it. The bees fill themselves up with the reserves to start a new hive, and are super docile when and if they swarm as they’re more so concerned with finding and building a new home as opposed to stinging any bystanders. Once the honey is ready to harvest, it will be used not only in our beverage program but also for the food as well. Eventually we want to be able to split off our colonies to help kick-start other restaurants wanting to get involved in beekeeping, in addition host a space to practice and test the waters if they’re contemplating on doing the same.

BA: Killa beez! We know each hive is named after a different Wu-Tang Clan member. How did you pick who got the honours?
CG:: Well, we’ve come to recognize different behaviours and characteristics in each of the hives. For example when we first received the three nucleus colonies, one of the hives was super agro and unruly at first so it seemed fitting to dub him “O.D.BEE” (RIP). ‘Ghostface Killa-Bee’ was easily agreed upon because everyone involved agreed he was in the top three of favourites. And “Gzzza” was simple because frankly, I think bees are pretty Genius. Gzzza was also the hive that swarmed on us within the first three weeks of arriving, his brain got too big to contain. There is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek commentary in naming them after Wu-Tang clan members, especially since the majority of bees that run $#!% are females but we hope to have a hive for every member in the upcoming years.

BA: What’s your best advice to give someone looking to expand the creative and unusual side of bar and restaurant operations?
CG: My advice is simple, do what you love, and do what you whole-heartedly believe in, because anything that comes from deep rooted passion and hard work means a lot more to not only yourself, but to those around you that get to experience it as well.

BA: And finally favourite Wu-Tang?
CG: UGH, this changes all the time and I’m hurting myself in providing an answer as it is dependent on one’s mood and day just like your ‘favourite drink’. But for the sake of answering…
Member – Ghostface Killa
Album – Enter the 36 Chambers
Solo album – Liquid Swords

Thank you Chantelle for taking the time to chat with us!

Jessica Blaine Smith
Co-creator at Bartender Atlas
Jess co-created Bartender Atlas with her bartender husband Josh Lindley. She has worked as a full-time freelance photographer for the past two decades. Her photography focuses on lifestyle portraits, food & drink photography and corporate portraits and events She recently photographed Evelyn Chick's For the Love of Cocktails book. While not a bartender herself, she definitely loves a strong stirred cocktail, preferably one that is brown and/or smokey. Jess is a proud ambassador of her home city of Toronto.
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