Camille Austin is known affectionately as “La Loba Alpha”. Her ambassador team created this befitting and memorable nickname to distinguish her and cement her as an invaluable, appreciated member of the pack, and the first Casa Lumbre ambassador stemming from her previous work with Montelobos Mezcal. Austin, the Best International Brand Ambassador Spirited Award recipient at Tales of Cocktail 2020, brings creativity, integrity, and ingenuity to the Casa Lumbre team. Camille shows pride in her Mexican roots and infuses her culture into everything she does for the company. Identity and long lasting relationships are an integral part of Camille’s approach to being a successful brand ambassador. Her strong sense of cultural heritage and willingness to connect with others makes her the perfect example of how to navigate the hospitality industry with purpose, passion, and poise.
What is your connection to the hospitality industry? How did your journey begin?
I grew up in beautiful Cancun, Mexico. I was raised in the Mexican Caribbean, in a tourist town that is not a traditional old city in Mexico. In fact my hometown just recently turned only fifty years old. It is not a part of Mexico that has so many centuries of culture, but it is a town that was born from and thrives off of regional tourism and the hospitality industry. I moved to Miami after Hurricane Wilma hit Cancun pretty badly. It was in Miami where I learned how to be a bartender. I started working in bars and restaurants and spent six exciting years in Miami where I ‘cut my teeth’ in the Magic City’s bars and restaurants. I fell in love with cocktails and hospitality. The hospitality element is something that has always been a part of my character. I’m an innate connector and have always loved to make people feel welcome and to go the extra mile to create unique, memorable experiences. It’s been a natural evolution to get to where I am now and I still use hospitality skills every day even through my work as an ambassador.
What is the “hospitality element”?
If it’s not in your nature, the hospitality element is a skill we can be open to developing and strengthening over time. Inevitably, we deal with different people, different cultures, different perspectives and different customs on a regular basis. The more open we are to being compassionate to those customs and cultures, then the more welcoming the experience we can provide to others.
What led to your role as a Casa Lumbre Brand Ambassador?
I have been working with Casa Lumbre brands for nearly eight years. Our founders were my regulars back when I was a bartender in Miami so I am fortunate to have known them for years. It leads back to the foundation of what we do as ambassadors and bartenders, our work is relationship based. I built a friendship over time with our brand owners, Danny Schneeweiss and Moy Guindi. Later, I moved to New York to open a restaurant in the City. It was always a dream of mine to live in New York City and I finally got to experience that. As soon as we were up and running with the restaurant in New York, Danny and Moy, continued to come and visit me during their trips. It was a relationship that was built over a long time and I looked forward to every time they came to visit me. A few years later, they were preparing to launch their new brand of Mezcal called Montelobos. They asked me to be their ambassador and the rest is history. A she-wolf was born.
How do you differ from other BAs?
I think we all, in some aspect, have the hospitality element in us. What makes us each unique is how we go about using it. The most successful ambassadors lead with their hospitality first. They’re good listeners, observers and compassionate. The more authentic and genuine we can be towards our own passions, the better we can tell our story. One of my deepest passions, since I was a girl, is the arts. Though my career has been professionally coming up in the food and beverage industry, I have always been passionate about theatre, storytelling, music, and visual arts. Taking the experience of moving away, becoming an adult in the U.S., and being away from home, I was connected to Mexico again when I started working deeply with mezcal. I set out to channel those emotions through the story of Montelobos and decided to tell that story by creating a character, who was directly linked to my own self – “La Loba Mezcalera” (the Mezcal She-Wolf). I felt connected to my roots, my Mexican cultural roots. I knew early on that I had a mission to expand on this connection. I wanted to find a genuine way of telling the story of my culture and sharing that passion with others.
What are Casa Lumbre’s values? How do these values intersect with your principles and standards for yourself as well as for the industry?
Through Casa Lumbre, I have had this opportunity to grow not only as a professional but as a person as well. Everyone around me on our team understands that we are in a people based business and it’s important to listen to one another’s views. Teamwork is essential as without it, we cannot achieve sustainable growth. When I started working with Montelobos, Casa Lumbre was just being born. It has been an amazing experience to be a part of the dream since its inception. We believe in individual growth and development, but especially in growing together as a team. The foundation of what Casa Lumbre stands for is that we are a Mexican company that seeks to bring the sensorial, biological, and cultural heritage of Mexico to the world through our spirits. Whether that means creating Mezcal brands that are about the union of century-old heritage and innovation, whether it’s about making a Whiskey from heirloom corn from the birthplace of corn that is Mexico, we are true to our roots. We are inspired by our roots, but we are also inspired by the future. That is what makes us tick.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
As an ambassador, I do a little bit of everything. What I love the most about my job is the opportunity that I have to collaborate with incredibly talented and creative people. It’s also very rewarding to see my own crazy ideas come to life. I am often thinking of new ways of doing things and our company has always given us the confidence to try things out. If it doesn’t work, we figure out ways to make it better.
What have you learned about liquor that fascinates you?
There are so many things that I’ve learned about spirits while being on this side of the business. Many different elements go into bringing brands to life. Spirits are agricultural products and that is how we view them at Casa Lumbre. We begin by thinking about the raw material that we are using and how we are sourcing it. Second, we remind ourselves that spirits are a cultural product. We think about how these spirits and beverages are brought to life and where they came from, about their economic importance to a community and culture. Within the category of Mezcal, for example, there are so many rural towns all over Mexico and one of their main sources of income is Mezcal. Spirits create an emotional connection and bring together those who sip them. Aside from the physical effects that they give us, the essence of our job is about coming together, sharing and spending time with those closest to us. Finally, spirits are a marketing product. There are so many layers that go into creating them. The role of the ambassador is to now give them life. A successful ambassador is multifaceted and understands a little bit of all of those perspectives. We are the spirit of the spirit, even when it is necessary to be that voice from the field and to give feedback where needed.
What are some challenges of being a BA? How has COVID-19 impacted the industry?
We are all living in unprecedented times. Just as the bar and restaurant industry, and so many other industries were not ready for this pandemic, neither were we. There is a responsibility to use our resources, platform and voice to support the entire industry. It has been challenging to try to figure out how best to do that without knowing what is next. It is a very similar challenge that we are all experiencing. I go back to that instinct that we have to be together. We must not be divided, but instead stay together. We must listen, talk and help each other learn, help each other understand, and find solutions together.
You just received the Best International Brand Ambassador Spirited Award at Tales of Cocktail. What was it like to receive such recognition? Who has inspired you along the way?
I am very grateful for being recognized with this award but it is not achieved without strong support and mentors who have each inspired me in different ways to continue to grow. I’ve always been inspired by Charlotte Voisey’s diplomacy and elegance. She has such a clear understanding of how to express herself elegantly. She listens to absorb all aspects and is disciplined and consistent. Consistency is something we don’t talk enough about when discussing ambassadors. This is a tough 24/7 job and we are embodiments of our brands and portfolios. We need to be able to tell that story 24/7 and handle ourselves with grace. Adaptability is another important ambassador quality, adaptability to our many different audiences while remaining authentically us. My friend Jaime Salas taught me about owning who we are, owning our culture, and our identity. He is so proud to be Mexican-American and communicates that in everything he does. He also taught me about taking my creative ideas and bringing those ideas to life with meaningful and memorable actions. Iván Saldaña, our master distiller, has helped me grow as a person and as a leader. Ivan helps me realize everyday one of the best qualities to have is to recognize the strengths in others and put them together to make a more powerful entity.
What other achievements have you had or hope to have in the future?
I would love to have a culture mini-series! That’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’d love to have some sort of TV show and hopefully through my work with Casa Lumbre, I’ll get to do something like that one day. I would love to dive deep into the food and beverage micro-culture of Mexico and also explore Latin America.
How may we follow your journey?
You can keep up with Camille Austin’s journey by following her on Instagram @lalobalpha