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Santa Teresa Rum Ambassador Alex Noriega knew he wanted to become a member of the hospitality industry by the age of sixteen. Noriega did not know the word “Brand Ambassador” then, or where exactly he would fit in the industry, but that simple dream situated him for success. When he went out to eat with his family, Noriega would look at liquor bottles at places like Coral Gables’ Houston’s and dream of one day working for a brand. It was because of his hard work, his inability to accept the word “no,” and his natural talent in the industry that ultimately led to the actualization of Noriega’s dream to work for Bacardi. 

How did you get started in the hospitality industry?

I ended up working at Houston’s when I was nineteen years old. My sister worked there and she got me a job. I couldn’t believe it. I truly believe in the power of thinking and in the power of working at something until it comes true. During the first year, I hated working at Houston’s. It was a very militant, hard-core style. But I grew to love it when I got good at my job. I met my mentor Matthew “Matt” Kuscher who is currently the owner of Local and Spillover in Coconut Grove as well as Kush in Wynwood. He left Houston’s and promoted me. Houston’s became Hillstone. Once I got behind the bar, I realized that this was something I was good at. I left Hillstone because I felt like my career was stagnant and I wanted more.

What was your journey as a bartender?

I thought I was a good bartender until I went to South Beach and got into Mixology. I had no idea what Mixology was. I started seeing all these tools, different spirits, cures, and syrups. I realized that I was a tier two, tier three bartender. It was a whole new world. There were so many flavor profiles. I started becoming a tier-one bartender. I learned a lot from the people around me. That’s when I met brand ambassadors. I would never see these guys at Houston’s or Hillstone and now I know why. It’s a corporate restaurant so you wouldn’t see brand ambassadors there. Brand Ambassadors are mostly found in craft bars.  

Where did bartending lead you next?

As a bartender, I started competing locally. I got involved in a chapter called the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) here in Miami. I would compete in small local competitions for the experience. I won these little competitions and gained some clout. I saw a whole new world where people took bartending seriously. I got really into it. I met more patrons and bartenders. I got offers from part-time ambassadors. Luckily, I had good mentors who told me to stay away from small brands because they weren’t going to pay me or they would offer me the world but only sign me on for six months. That was the reality of the beast. I worked at several bars. I read. I wrote. It wasn’t until 2014 that I started getting more confident in my skills. I started opening a bunch of spots. I was part of the main crew that opened up the bar, Beaker & Gray in Miami. In 2016, I also started working at Thompson Hotel where I met a cocktail mentor. 

In which competitions did you participate and how did your participation influence your career?

My first big competition was the 2015 Hennessey Academy Competition. I crushed it and won first place all around. After the competition, I kept getting offers but ultimately wanted to work on my craft. I kept bartending until I was able to find the right place. The Bacardi Legacy Competition came up and I made it to the regional semi-finals. That was my biggest competition ever. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the regional finals. But there the ambassador role started to change. I became an account manager to Rémy Martin which is similar to the brand ambassador role.

How did you get started as a Brand Ambassador for Santa Teresa Rum?

During my three month stint, I got a call from Bacardi.  In January 2017, Bacardi picked up a new rum which was Santa Teresa Rum. They hired me in June. I was a local brand ambassador with them. In the past three years, the brand has grown tremendously. I started locally and then became a state ambassador. I grew the brand tenfold in the first year. I created thirty cocktail menus in thirty different restaurants. I am now the senior brand ambassador. 

What is it like to work for Santa Teresa Rum? What do you enjoy the most about your job (education, partnerships, events, etc.)?

I love this brand. This brand speaks to me because I had a troubled childhood. With this brand, we smile back at adversity. We have a project called Project Alcatraz. My mentor, Ray Raymond, has been with the brand for ten years. He told me about Project Alcatraz when he interviewed me for the job. Project Alcatraz was founded in 2003 and it is a project that rehabilitates gang members. It all began when gang members broke into the hacienda to steal guns. They got caught but the CEO of the company, Alberto Vollmer, believed in second chances. He gave the gang members an ultimatum: work for me for food, water, and a place to stay or go with the police for stealing from me. The gang members took the deal because these were the slums of Venezuela. They loved working for Alberto and had a chance to change their life. Now, we help these guys by combining vocational training, formal education, and psychological assistance. We also play sports; We play rugby. It shows companionship, strength, and togetherness. To this day, we have helped in over twenty prisons in Venezuela. We have rugby youth leagues in the hacienda to keep kids going. We have sustainability projects. Our main focus is on the community. We have another project called Casa Blanca. We rebuild the houses in neighboring villages. A lot of the guys love it so much that they help for free and now it’s safer there. 

What have you learned about Rum that fascinates you? (the flavor, the product, the company, the industry…)

I love that rum is that it’s the rebel of all the spirits.  Think about it: Pirates drink rum. 

How has COVID-19 affected you personally and professionally? 

When the pandemic began, I was on paternity leave. It was a challenging adjustment but we were able to figure it out. For me, I’ve been able to focus more on myself. I read more, work out, and spend time with my wife and kids. I smile back at adversity. 

What’s a significant goal of yours?

My goal is to become a mentor. I believe in paying it forward. I would love to see someone break out and become someone huge in the hospitality industry. I want them to be like “I would like to thank Alex for helping me get this Michelin Star” and for me to tell them “hey, you did it. I just gave you the tools.” That’s my dream: being a mentor to one or several people. I love to teach which is why the role of ambassador fits me. I am an educational role model. You’re never going to make anything on your own. I believe in never stopping learning and helping others. If you are a smart guy, help the younger ones. I don’t know who an ignorant person helps. 

Want to follow Alex’s journey? Follow him on Instagram @albyinthezone. 

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If you ask Chef, Bartender, and Entrepreneur Jon Mendez where he wants to be in five to ten years, he will have an answer ready for you: doing exactly what he is doing right now. As a businessman and conscious member of society, Mendez understands the importance of the small moments that comprise a meaningful experience and a well-lived life. Because he lives a purposeful life, he also instills a strong sense of purpose in his hospitality company Luxury Over Everything. For Mendez, a powerful message is crucial in making his mark on the world and leaving behind a legacy of which he can be proud. The key to his success? He is a man that cares about the details and in caring about the details, he ensures the high quality and satisfaction that accompanies choosing luxury over everything. Choosing luxury over everything essentially means choosing the best out of every moment in life.  

How did you get started in the Hospitality Industry? Tell us your story.

I grew up in Tampa, Florida. I’m Cuban and Puerto Rican. A big part of our culture is gathering around food and drinks and sharing stories and cracking jokes. Whether it’s a holiday or once a week thing, we love to be around each other. This is where I learned about food. I was always curious about the craft of it. I love to eat and to be a part of that gathering. I also used to cook for my mom and myself because she worked. Then, at my high school, Wharton Highschool, there was a culinary academy where I was exposed to the professional culinary world. I learned the details of service and hospitality. During my high school tenure, we went around the state and toured schools like Johnson & Wales. We did pro-start culinary competitions. I did on-site and off-site catering events. We were running a restaurant out of a highschool. I loved it and ended up going to culinary school in Upstate New York after high school. I went to the Culinary Institute of America. After two years there, I went to FIU for the Hospitality and Management program. 

What inspired you to become a wine expert?

I was intrigued by the wine industry. I was intrigued by the different regions, methods, and how wine is paired. The biggest ‘aha moment’ for me happened at the Culinary Institute of America. I paired vanilla ice cream and a dessert wine called Pedro Ximénez Sherry. It was so simple but I was shocked by the way that you can try one element by itself and then you try them together and completely elevate these factors that you didn’t see before. I wondered if that could be done with other types of food and it turns out you can! I was fascinated by that so I started studying wine, spirits, and cocktails. 

In addition to being a chef and wine expert, you are a mixologist and entrepreneur.  How are these roles related? How do they vary?

I have been in Miami for seven years working at many different restaurants. I have worked as a sommelier, a beverage director, a bartender, a server, a food runner, and a restaurant manager. I’ve done a bunch of different private events and met fantastic people in this industry. I’ve gotten great insight and it has been a great ride. It’s awesome to use the knowledge of the culinary side to help me understand how things work on the beverage side.  What is great about this industry is that it is always evolving. No one knows everything. There are innovations. I’ll forever be a student of the craft. From the entrepreneur perspective, I want to find a way to monetize what I consider my passion. It has always been a dream to do what I love for work so that it does not feel like work. I also like sharing a message that is a message of purpose. Every human has a purpose in this world. This purpose is usually sharing a message with other people or finding a way to benefit humanity and the people around them to leave a mark on this world. For me, I leave my mark through a great dish and by spreading the message of nutrition, mental wellness, friendship, and equitable society. If I can find a way to put together companies or enterprises that can sustain my lifestyle then that’s what I am going to try to do. 

Your company is called “Luxury Over Everything”. What inspired this name? 

Yes, so this is a funny story. The story goes back to one of my best friends whose name is Jordan Hamilton. He’s an entrepreneur himself. Jordan and I were on vacation when we were younger, about nine years ago, and we were at a vacation home with his parents. We’re playing beer pong on his balcony. We’re drinking cheap beer because it’s just what we had around. We invited Jordan’s dad to play with us and he refused to drink Miller High Life. He was like, ‘I am not playing with this beer. You better get me something better. Get me a Stella or something.’ We got him a Stella and then he decided to play. Later, Jordan and I were cracking up and joking about it. But then we realized that Jordan’s dad wanted to make it comfortable for him to play by elevating his beverage. So then you put that in the perspective of other things. Take the smallest detail. It can make a difference. Over the years, if you hung out with me, you would hear that phrase: luxury over everything. We would get together and we would yell it. If something was awesome we would yell, “luxury over everything” and we would just be happy. 

What is your vision for L.O.E?

I want to create a platform where I can do hospitality consulting and pop-ups. I have a lot of friends who are chefs and mixologists. We love to get together and do beautiful dinners. You just come in and have a good time and let us curate the experience. L.O.E. offers that. Of course, luxury is subjective. As a professional in the hospitality industry, we have to get to know the people around us so we can make that small tweak, find that small detail, to create a valuable experience. I want to collaborate with different businesses and organizations to help people take a few extra seconds to add detail and make their day. If a place feels like they’re lacking magic, or if they need fresh eyes, I want to work with them and give them feedback. I want to tell them what people in this area like and encourage them when they’re doing good things. Adding the human factor in different ways when considering service can make a big difference. It makes people feel like they’re being taken care of. That’s what I want to do with Luxury Over Everything hospitality. 

What services does L.O.E offer?

-Hospitality Consulting for hospitality industries and other people-oriented businesses such as retail shops, doctor offices, tax offices, etc. 

-Cocktail Program Curation

-Pop-up Dining/ Dinner Series

-Advocacy/ Awareness Branch

What does L.O.E. mean to you? What personal and professional values have you instilled in the company?

Luxury over everything is the culmination of all my different professional ventures. It is a means for expanding the purpose that I want to share with the world. This is my way of adding value to society. Some personal touches that I have added to the company are making sure that what I do drives a message. I am not just trying to make money or throw parties. I want to make sure that everything that I do has a message behind it. 

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How have COVID-19 affected you personally and professionally? 

I was working as a bartender at the Fontainebleau in a fine-dining steak house called StripSteak. We had just had the Superbowl which was nuts. Then, COVID happened around Music Week. Everything had an abrupt halt. We lost all our events. I got laid off and I haven’t been back since. It was good to have the time off to disconnect and rest. I also had to wonder, ‘What if the industry doesn’t come back?’ I was going to have to figure something out whether it was going to another industry or starting something on my own. I spent my time talking to people and doing research. I wanted to expand my knowledge and figure out other avenues that I could take to support myself and grow. My girlfriend, Solange, was also laid off. She worked with Southern Wine and Spirits. I will probably go back to the restaurant and bar scene and have L.O.E on the side. Solange will go all-in with her sustainable garden company @herbgardenco which I will help her with as well. 

If you had your own drink, bar, or business, what would it be like and why?

My dream is to one day open a hotel. I want to do the same thing that I am doing now for the rest of my life. I want to own a place where people can gather around great music, great conversations, great food, great drinks, and great people. 

What are you currently working on? What’s next for Luxury Over Everything? Any pop-ups coming soon?

I am working on getting private gigs. I am finding different people who are local who I can work with. I am also working on creating content. I want to create cool videos. The content will be relevant and maybe include some new stuff that people haven’t heard of. As far as pop-ups, I have something going in the works, but it is not concrete yet. I have two things going on and if they go well, I will announce them closer to the end of the year. 

How may we follow your journey? Do you have any social media accounts or websites that you would like to share?





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Norbert Cruz - Blazin Visualz Photography

Norbert Cruz is a bartender and photographer who has always been fond of art. He did not always know what medium of art he would pursue, but he was confident that art would be a significant part of his life. When he became a photographer, Cruz discovered a liveable outlet for his passion. Finding himself inspired by the portfolios of other photographers, Cruz bought a camera and began using his talents to capture not only the people in front of him but also the feelings that motivate them.   

How did you start your photography journey as Blazin Visualz?

I started my photography career by helping my homegirl. She was a yoga instructor and I started practicing my photography at her studio. I took photos for her and then I met Anthony Nader who is a photographer and the owner of 52Chefs. I ended up working with him in a bar and he took me under his wing. He guided me and I got into the cocktail photography business. I’m into all sides of photography, but mainly the food and cocktail, portraits, etc.

Who/what inspired you?

Looking at other people’s photography inspired me but it’s not just one specific type of photography. I wish I knew their name but even during the Black Lives Matter protests, there was a very powerful image that spoke to me. It’s seeing things like that. A still image can project a lot of feelings. I used to just look at a picture and think it’s just a picture, but now I look at it and I’m looking at the details. I’m looking at the different things that create the composition of it. I look at it very differently. When I find something that sparks my attention, it never gets dull to me. It always stays fresh. 

How would you compare photography and bartending?

Bartending has helped me a lot with photography. I’m able to break the ice with people a lot easier. I like to meet different people and learn about them. Either they teach me something new or I teach them something new. On the bartending side, bartending has helped me a lot with making people feel comfortable when I take pictures. If someone has never done a photo, I like to teach them new things. I also like candid moments so I am not someone who stages shoots. I am not staging you to be perfect––I like natural movements. 

How do you capture a candid photo? What’s your process like?

Another thing that’s helped me when I do bartender shoots is that I’ve bartended myself. I look at the bartender that I am shooting and I can anticipate their next move so I can pretty much capture the perfect moment as opposed to someone that probably doesn’t bartend. Someone else might take continuous shots trying to catch the perfect moment but I can pretty much snap it right at the perfect moment. 

What’s your dream event to shoot? What is your ultimate goal as a photographer? 

I have creative ideas come to me but I would not say that I have a dream event to shoot right now. I do want to take a road trip and shoot a lot of landscape and nature photography. 

My goal is to give people the chance to shine. People who don’t normally get the chance to shine.  Or even local spots, like when I do food and cocktails. I like to shoot local spots that haven’t gotten that much attention or new spots that need help from the community. I want to give them the chance to shine and to make it easier to have a photographer help out businesses. I’m getting into the scene now and I’ve heard that a lot of photographers are pretentious and hard to work with. I am very humble and down to earth. I want to be someone that is easy to work with. I want to make time for people and give them a quality product. 

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Images by Blazin Visualz

How has COVID-19 affected you personally and professionally?

As far as being a bartender, I lost my job during the lockdown. I had to depend on unemployment which was very unreliable. That was the worst part for me. I’m someone who always likes to try to take the positive out of the negative so it didn’t really affect me so much negatively. As soon as I found out where we were locking down, I mentally prepared myself and told myself to be ready to stay busy and have a schedule for myself.  I’m a workaholic. I usually like to have like five days bartending because if I have too much free time, I tend to either procrastinate on things or go out and just start spending money. The lockdown actually mentally helped me keep myself scheduled with the productive things. Honestly, right before the whole lockdown and everything, I was in the process of getting my editing together. I wouldn’t say that I was as good as I am now. Those few months gave me time to practice my editing and get it right. I did a lot of editing and Anthony Nader gave me his praise so that told me that I was going in the right direction. His praise meant a lot to me. I used this time productively. I’m taking off with my photography more so my experience has been positive. 

What other services do you offer? 

I am very open with my photography. I do portraits. I do yoga photography. I do event photography. I am not just based on one main thing. I enjoy doing food and cocktails and portraits. I like being creative and playing with light, colors, etc. 

**Cruz also currently shoots for 2oz Magazine and is rapidly building an extensive portfolio.

To contact Norbert or follow his journey:

Instagram: @blazinvisualz

Website: www. blazinvisualz.com

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Anthony Lopez - Bar Consultant

Image by Karbannation

Local Bartender Anthony Lopez is no stranger to innovation, hard work or curiousity. These three characteristics are the pillars of his success in the service industry. After working unfulfilling jobs, Lopez decided to enter the world of food and beverage services. His first job was at The Raleigh Hotel in Miami Beach where he was noticed by Carlos Moreno Rossi. Rossi, who is currently an event Coordinator and Beverage Director at The Delano Hotel/SLS South Beach, approached Lopez because of his unparalleled work ethic. Rossi was so impressed with Lopez that he welcomed him as a part of his bartending team. Lopez began working with seasoned bartenders who trained him and got him interested in the craft. 

What do you enjoy about bartending?

Bartending is an ever evolving industry. I love seeing new takes on the craft. Some bartenders are doing the same thing that I’m doing but, in other parts of the world, they have access to different ingredients, different spices and different spirits and so there is always something new coming up. People are always coming out with new techniques and so you can never say that you know how to do everything. Bartending constantly challenges you so it is something that is always changing and I really like that. 

As a bartender, what have you learned from people in this industry?

In the industry, people can tell whether or not you’re motivated. People can tell whether or not you like what you’re doing or if you’re just doing it as a job. People noticed that I started paying attention to what they were doing. I would ask certain questions. I constantly tried to figure out more about my craft and I wanted to continue to expand my knowledge. Those around me saw my passion and realized, “This kid actually cares about what’s going on and we’re gonna show him everything.” The bar would close around three or four in the morning, but I would often stay after we closed to learn. Back when I worked at The Raleigh, I hung out with another bartender named Peter Bocskor who had been bartending for over 14 years. He took me under his wing and showed me how to make different drinks. He would show me how to make cocktails, like Manhattans Vieux Carre and Rob Roy’s. I told him that these are the best drinks and I asked why no one ever asks for them. He let me know that not a lot of people know of them. 

What are your favorite drinks?

I like Manhattan and Brooklyn cocktails. They’re both take on classics and they’re honestly some of my favorite drinks. The Brooklyn cocktail is not something everybody appreciates because it’s a little on the stronger side. It’s very spirit-forward and very straightforward.

Do you have any remarkable opportunities/ stories that have happened because of your job? If so, what are some of these experiences?

There are many stories that I take with me and that I’ll probably never forget. Some of my favorite events have been when I was bartending at The Raleigh. I’ve done a lot of events like food and wine festivals. I’ve met high-profile Michelin Star chefs and I’ve worked alongside the clientele that they’re catering to so I’ve met a lot of famous people. I’ve taken care of Tommy Hilfiger and Sam Nazarian (Creator of SBE and Owner of SLS Delano Hotels ) when they would hold meetings at The Raleigh. I met Snoop Dogg. I’ve worked a lot of concerts with DJs like Anjunabeats, Marshmallows and Thomas Gold. Those crowds were something! I am really happy that I got a chance to experience those events, especially with everything that’s going on now. 

What are your current projects?

I recently started a consulting gig with a good friend of mine named Rudy Abreu. Rudy and I are partners in our consulting agency. We are beverage consultants for bar programs and for at home bars. It’s a side gig to bring the bar to people. We bring the craft to their house instead of teaching people how to make a Long Island or a mojito, we make the fun stuff and teach people how to make craft cocktails at home. We make the experience approachable. I’m also heading the bar program at the Albion Hotel in Miami Beach. 

How has COVID-19 affected you personally and professionally?

We are all trying to survive in this market. We have all gone back to the drawing board. We cut costs down and worked to figure out how to change menus but also how to stay alive. We still need to keep people coming in the door, so that’s when we fall back on the classics. I obviously feel bad for everybody that’s having a hard time. It’s also been a  huge struggle because like there’s kind of this bias versus stand-alone bars and restaurants. Restaurants are okay but bars have been struggling to open. People don’t want to encourage gathering right now. Avoiding crowds has been the biggest challenge for me. All I know is how to fill up a room. I am trained to fill a room and I’ve perfected this craft to be able to get a lot of people to want to come in and enjoy it. But, you just have to take what you are given and roll with it. I don’t think that this pandemic will completely disrupt the cycle of the bar industry or stop it in its tracks. We got through prohibition. There are also families suffering and I wish people would be a little more safe. It’s important to take care of ourselves so we can get back to what we were doing and live a normal life.

Where can we see more of you? What’s your next move?

After working eight years in the hospitality industry, I’ve been inspired to create my own business. My business is called Cosa Nostra Cocktail Club. Cosa Nostra, or “Our Thing,” will also be the name of my bar. Although it reminds some people of the mafia, I chose the name because I’m Cuban-Italian and I’m from New York City (which is considered a birthplace of true craft).  I’ve created this LLC with Rudy Abreu who also bartends at SLS. Cosa Nostra will be a cocktail club to set us apart from the dive bars and from the regular bars. Once you’re considered a cocktail club it’s because you offer a little more variety not just mainstream classics as far as the cocktail programs. We use our knowledge of pre and post prohibition styles of bartending to create this brand because we realized that we care more about the craft cocktail side of the industry. We keep up to date with all the spirits that are coming out and we notice how our guests really experience drinks. We are also happy to show them how these drinks became staples in the craft. “Our thing” goes to show that we’re going to be different from everybody else. Cosa Nostra will not be an experience you can get by going into any other bar

To contact Anthony or follow his journey:

Instagram: @tony_cosanostracc

Email: A042393@hotmail.com

Phone number: (786) 218- 6309



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Barbara Peña - Bartender @ The Local

Local Miami Bartender Barbara “Barby” Pena has been positively impacting and servicing patrons for over a decade. Before the 2019 Coronavirus Epidemic, you could have stepped into The Local Craft Food & Drink and Pena would have crafted you a drink that is individualized, creative and inspired. However, Pena, like others in the service industry, can now only hope that she will be able to continue fulfilling her passion for bartending. 

What inspired you to become a bartender?

A long time ago, there was a spot called Clandestino Pub on South Beach. Working at Clandestino was my main introduction to the craft cocktail world and ever since then I have fallen in love. Bartending is like cooking but with liquor and I love to cook. 

What are your favorite aspects of the job?

From the type of people that you meet to the conversations that you have to the cocktails you make…Every day is a new adventure. There are so many different worlds that come with bartending. You can work in different atmospheres. You can work at a place where you have conversations and make bonds with people. Some of my regulars have become my friends. Some of them have gone to my kids’ baby showers. There’s something special about the industry that I work in. There’s something magical.

What have you learned about the people you serve? How has this knowledge influenced your craft?

 I learn something new every day. It truly is incredible to experience things through my guests and my regulars. Also, I make different types of cocktails for people and decipher what kind of drink they would like. You can walk up to me and I will make you something that you like. I have played that game with a lot of people who never had a real cocktail and are intimidated about ordering a drink. One time I had someone tell me that they want something “witchy and romantic.” I made her a smokey drink that had a flower tea that changed color once you added lemon to it. She was blown away. It is crazy how you can change someone’s day so easily, someone who could be going through a lot. I’ve talked people out of doing dumb things and I have heard people out. Sometimes I feel like a psychiatrist but my prescriptions are drinks. 

What are your favorite drinks?

My favorite drink is a New York Sour. They are delicious. It’s both boozy and refreshing. It’s a funky cocktail and it’s very pretty too. It has egg whites in it and it has a very beautiful process. I really enjoy making it for people who never had it. Every time they say, “Oh my God! It’s amazing!” 

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Images by Blazin Visualz

Do you have any remarkable opportunities/ stories that have happened because of your job? If so, what are some of these experiences?

I met the love of my life through working in this industry. You never know what the future holds and it was very sweet how I met him. He walked into The Local and was like, “ You are the bartender that used to work at Roll Call a long time ago!” Roll Call was a 24 hour bar that was open in Miami. It was wild. As a bartender, I have had very beautiful and touching encounters, very emotional moments. This industry has taught me how we are all so different but it is beautiful to be able to have a moment with all these different humans. 

How has COVID-19 affected you personally and professionally?

I have always had two jobs. I work at The Local and the crew is like a family. Everyone has been there for five or six years. We all have seen a lot of each other but this has changed since the pandemic. My second job was at 1-800 Lucky and they are running a tight, skeleton crew there. I haven’t gone back to work. The pandemic has definitely brought a lot of questions: How permanent is this? Is this going to affect the service industry unlike jobs where you can work from home?

What, if anything, do you hope a Post COVID-19 Word resembles for you as a person and as a member of the hospitality industry?

In a post-COVID-19 world, we are going to be more aware of washing our hands and personal space. I honestly don’t know what to expect. I just hope all of us as humans try to become better humans. I think this whole experience is very awakening. I hope we can take all the positives and create a better, healthier world. The uncertainty of the service industry is scary for all of us bartenders. I don’t know if things will go back to normal and whether we can rely on the industry as the main source of income as we have done for years. I do have a fall back plan of going back to school if all else fails. I was thinking about becoming a dental hygienist. I know it is so different but I would be going for job security. Let’s hope that things take a turn for the best and that our industry survives. 

If you had your own drink, bar or business, what would it be like and why?

I would have a little coffee shop. Maybe I would make it a speakeasy during the night with wine and poetry. I would want a Mom and Pop shop that my family could visit. 

To contact Barby or follow her journey:

Instagram: @lepetitdinosaur

Email: barbarapenam@gmail.com

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Ashly Levi - Miss Agave

Image credit: Blazin Visualz

Ironically, Bartender and Agave Enthusiast, Ashly Levi, was not always Team Tequila. In fact, she hated it, but she currently lives with a determination to change the minds of those who disdain the Mexican liquor. Now, Levi, who goes by “Miss Agave” because of her passion for agave spirits, has a blog that positively shifts the narrative about Tequila. With her blog Miss Agave, Ashly created a platform where she shares her knowledge and craft with others. She aims to break the negative stereotypes and reputation that is commonly associated with Tequila by eliminating the misinformation about the Mexican liquor.  

In 2015, Ashly moved to Melbourne, Australia, and got a job at a Mexican Restaurant with a stunning back bar that only featured bottles of Tequila. The entire selection was printed and stuck to the back of American License Plates, catching the eye and inspiring curiosity. Working at the Mexican restaurant was her first time working in the hospitality industry. Miss Agave was grateful that she was hired in an industry that celebrated community as well as making meaningful connections. She believed that working at a restaurant in the heart of the city would be the best place to meet people and she was right. Her bosses made a valiant effort to train their staff to work hard and learn fast. Initially, Miss Agave was intimidated by the new and fast-moving environment but she found safety in the lessons she learned while on the job, and along with her co-workers, was given a red binder with information about Tequila. Suddenly, she was thrust into this new world, learning the different regions where it could be found, the various categories of the spirit, and the laws that were attached to it. 

These informational packets were useful, but it was the training that changed Miss Agave’s relationship with, and understanding of, Tequila. Brand Ambassadors and owners of Tequila and Mezcal brands from Mexico would travel all the way to her restaurant in Melbourne. They brought their spirits and taught each bartender about them. They would show the bartenders slideshows and photos of the jimadores harvesting the agave in the fields to the beautiful land that is Jalisco, Mexico. Because she was born in Mexico, these training sessions and conversations gave Miss Agave a sense of pride for her homeland and a new appreciation of the liquor that originated there. Through these training sessions, she learned how to sip Tequila and what flavors to savor when drinking. She slowly developed a taste for it and it ultimately became her drink of choice. Because of this experience, Miss Agave believes that by learning more about agave-based spirits, their histories, their origin stories, and cultural impact, make them worth their respect. 

Thus, she created a blog that inspires others to give Tequila another shot.

What is the Miss Agave blog About?

My blog focuses on highlighting agave and Mexican spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, Raicilla, Bacanora, and even Sotol. Whether I am creating a cocktail or talking about a certain brand, my overall goal is to celebrate and bring attention to these spirits and educate others who may not be familiar with them. 

What do you enjoy the most as an Agave Educator?

Before I launched my blog, I noticed that almost every conversation I would have led to Tequila. Having this platform where I can reach so many people encourages me to learn more myself while I also promote the uniqueness and beauty Agave spirits have to offer. I know that I may not be able to change everyone’s mind or tastes, but I am happy as long as I am helping tell the right story and giving Tequila the credit it deserves.

Currently, you are a bartender. What do you enjoy the most working behind the bar?

 It really is an experience, and can be a rewarding one. You never know who is going to walk through that door and sit in front of you. I love the conversations and I love sharing my passion with anyone who is willing to listen. When someone sits at your bar, you are like an artist, or performer in a way while working your craft. Also, there’s always room for growth and learning.

Today we celebrate #NationalTequiladay, what are your thoughts about Tequila education in the US?

Yay, Happy National Tequila Day! 

I believe Tequila education is moving in the right direction. Working behind the bar, and even as a patron myself, I’ve noticed a wider variety of quality Tequila available. I think the combination of  Mexican inspired bars and restaurants opening up, like the “Taco Tuesday” trend, along with the numerous brands that have emerged in the last 5 years, have created more interest and inclusion for the spirit of Tequila. I do believe education is the best approach to help remove any negativity or misinformation behind the spirit. I know I am 100% biased but anytime someone tells me they don’t like Tequila, it is my mission to change their mind. I’d like to say I have a good track record ;).

What Cocktail will you be drinking today to celebrate National Tequila Day?

One of my favorite cocktails of all time is an Espresso Martini so my cocktail will be inspired by that except this cocktail will have Chai Tea instead of Espresso. This cocktail is made up of: Coconut oil washed Blanco Tequila, coconut milk, unsweetened Chai tea, Creme de Cacao, and cinnamon-infused Aquafaba. I’ve been working on Agave cocktails from home with ingredients that I have on hand! My home bar is not big enough!

What bottle of liquor do you have at home that is reserved for special occasions?

I have a bottle of Fortaleza Still Strength that I have yet to take out of the box. I don’t know what special occasion I’m waiting for, and I should just drink it. I’ll open it eventually. If there was a bottle that I would love to have at my bar that I would save for special occasions, it would be Fuenteseca 18th year.

What do you like to do for leisure? Tell us about your hobbies.

 I like to keep myself busy with work. I’m the first one to pick up or cover a shift. When I do find myself with free time I love to rollerblade, go to the beach but I’ll also just enjoy my down time during the day and then maybe visit my friends at their bars at night! Is traveling a hobby? Traveling is definitely my favorite thing to do. I pretty much always have a trip booked in my itinerary. Something I look forward to, work and save towards. Traveling is always so rewarding.

What’s next for you?

I want to get back behind the bar!  I love the rush of making drinks while chatting with guests and my coworkers. I would also love to work with more Tequila and Mezcal brands, even Raicilla and other Mexican spirits and focus on the education of these spirits with local bartenders but also with guests! From experience, it can be hard at times to give an interested customer a full Tequila lesson and tasting while working a busy bar. I have some ideas in mind to bring the educational experience to people outside of the industry as well! I also hope to make it back out to Mexico! Oaxaca is top on my list!

What’s the best way to follow your journey? Tell us how to contact you.

The best way to contact me is through my Instagram account @Missagave! Once I find a new bar to work at, definitely come visit me there. You can also contact me via email: info@missagave.me

Image credits: Blazin Visualz


Chai Tea-quila Martini

2 oz coconut oil washed Volcan Blanco

1 oz of unsweetened Chai Tea

0.5 oz Creme de cacao

0.5 oz unsweetened coconut milk

Cinnamon infused Aquafaba


Pour all ingredients into your cocktail shaker and dry shake (no ice) for about 30-45 seconds. This will allow the Aquafaba to froth up. Add in some ice cubes and shake again for about 10-15 second. Double strain into a coupe glass!

Garnish with toasted coconut flakes

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Marco Balza - Bar Market

 Born and raised in Venezuela, Marco Balza goes all the way back to 2006 when he was still living in Caracas and he had his first Bartender experience. “My friends and I had a party called ‘El Guarapazo’, we used to rent the party halls from the buildings and charged a cover for All you can drink ‘Guarapitas’, with DJs and security included, we even had a logo” remembers Marco about his beginnings.

Moving to Miami was not in his plans, but on a change of heart, he drops his Automotive Mechanic studies to start working in the Hospitality Industry. He started at the Hilton Hotel in a service bar inside the kitchen, then as a barback in a night club, and 13 years later, he recently opened his own consulting company. Bar Market. with an organic sense of sustainability, the consulting company is dedicated to delivering freshness and rich flavors in its products as well as the compromise to build top of the league Bar staff.

When do your love for Mixology started?

My parents had a little dispense in the kitchen with all the liquors. I remember there was a small book called “El ABC de los cócteles” I really like that book, it was the first time mixology caught my attention. When I started bartending in Miami, I wanted to create new cocktails, but since I was working in a nightclub, I started flipping bottles and don’t get me wrong, I loved it, I just wanted to learn more about the art of mixing drinks. I joined USBG around 2011 and from the first seminars I knew I’ve found my passion.

You just started your own business, tell us about Bar Market

Bar Market is a consulting company that looks forward to changing the Bar scene, making every bartender shine on stage every shift. I’m looking forward to improving Miami Bartender’s service by providing great staff training. I started this company after realizing I was working like a Robot all the time, even taking double shifts. It wasn’t making me happy.  I decided to get out of my comfort zone and give it a shot. 

My latest venture is the creation of a super organic handcrafted line of mixers for cocktails with super fresh, natural ingredients and no preservatives. I use the herbs from my own garden and they’ll be sell by pre-order only, in 25oz batches. At the moment I’m offering Mojito, Pina Coladas, Daiquiri, Old Fashion and Fit Spritz (low sugar) 

Bar Market will bring more exciting news to everyone in the industry or for those bar and kitchen aficionados, unfortunately, it is secret at the moment. I mean it. Stay tuned.

What do you love the most as a consultant? Is it the creation or education?

The satisfaction when I see the progress in each bartender, server, manager, or each person I’m training. I will say creation and training go hand by hand, you can create a masterpiece but, if the bartenders as ambassadors of your cocktails can’t replicate it, your job is pointless, with the right training, those bartenders will be artist, Ninjas, and stars behind the bar.

Do you have any favorite spirits when creating specialty cocktails?

I like all spirits on a menu, but for making cocktails my top 3:

  • N1. Gin
  • N2. Rum 
  • N3. Mezcal 

Is there any style that can represent you o a signature essence?

Life needs a balance, art needs a balance. you have to take care every single detail to make a great cocktail, but in my personal opinion flavor is most important, presentation it is very important too because is the hook that catches just by looking at it, but if the cocktail doesn’t taste good, is just a sad waste of juice. 

 What should be in a perfect cocktail menu?

  • Variety. Even if it is a Tequila or Rum bar, variety is the key.
  • Every cocktail menu should be seasonal.
  • Classics are the blueprints for new cocktails, if you don’t have a Classic list on the menu, every bartender should know how to make then perfectly, at least the most popular. It is unacceptable for a bartender to shake a Negroni (it burned my eyes. True story).
  • Every bar should have a famous signature cocktail, the one that every customer wants to try.

If Miami were a cocktail, what would be the ingredients? and how would you call it?

“Miamian Tales” 

Definitely Rum, Miami is a mix of a lot of rum countries. Lime, Mango because we are from the Caribe, Jalapeños because the people in Miami are Hot & Spicy and champagne as Miami Beach sparks through the night.

 Tell us your most memorable experience working as a Bartender?

Working at the Miami Rum Renaissance, and the Hukilau in Ft Lauderdale, All day talking about Rum, making cocktails and having fun.

 What’s next in your journey?

Keep doing my thing growing with Bar Market, working hard opening a Bartending Academy.  Trying to leave a mark in this life.

What’s the best way to contact you?

you can email at barmarketllc@gmail.com and follow me on Instagram at @Barmaket_ @Macoeche

You can email Marco or DM him to order the pre-batched Mixers starting at $25 per Botlle (25oz) or 2 for $40. When you buy 5 bottles you’ll get a green gift. If you return 5 bottles to support recycling, you’ll get a free bottle in your next purchase. Let’s support #smallbusiness #shoplocal

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Images by 52 chefs


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Eric Tillis - The Traveling Bartender

Eric Tillis, a Mixologist from Houston, Texas, decided to Venture off on his own, creating the brand The Traveling Bartender. A Mixology and Flair mobile Bartending service.

“Partnering with local DJs and party promoters, I began bartending small college parties and events. This led to meeting people from all over! They would fall in love with my drinks and insist I bartend for them, even though they were 500 miles away!”

Meet Eric Tillis and his story in this 10 questions interview.

Describe yourself in 5 words

Intelligent, adaptable, humble , creative, intuitive

What made you venture off your own and create your brand The Traveling Bartender?

After doing my first private event I loved the experience so I stayed at it studying hours on different concepts and styles, traveling around the United States experiencing different styles of craft cocktails.

How would you better describe your service?

A global brand started in east Texas now based out of Houston we provide a very unique experience to every guest. You want to see an ice block cut down into cube then stamped with a compass- our symbol that defines the brand “limitless direction”. Inspired from “The Blue Blazer” we roll flame cocktails from tin to tin , make drink spark like fireworks, and great show indeed. My favorite is flairing watching bottle twirling through the air, landing gently on my palm spinning perfect as I pour into tins. 

What do you enjoy the most as a bartender? creating the drinks, flair, or customer service?

I’d say customer service is first, a guest experience is very important to us. Following Japanese hospitality or omotenashi. The entertainment portion such as flair has taken years of practice.

What has been the best experience on the road so far?

Meeting great people from around the world, with a love for the craft of bartending.

Where do you find inspiration to create the cocktails? are they customize to each event? or do you have a cocktail list?

Rosemary, baby breath, lychee from Asia , bamboo leaves , elderflower, lavender, rhubarb , star anise, dragon fruit, ginger root and even truffles for us is either a perfect garnish or a the start of a delicious cocktail 

As an entrepreneur, you are not only a bartender but also a business owner, how do you manage to do it all?

God and a great team behind me

What has been the most challenging thing about starting a new business?

“First impression matter” when potentials clients first call us we make sure to listen to their every request. Then my team sit down and draws out the details of the event from ice selection, glassware, taste profile. We have set a high standard as far as the service of our guests! We make sure that every drink is uniform and consistency is key! 

What is the next step for you? 

 I’m currently working on a line of Hawthorne strainers that might be available by the end of August.

If you were a cocktail, which one would you be?

My favorite a cigar smoke infused old fashion with hand crafted bitters.

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drink 1 scaled

You can contact Ellis through his social media accounts or a call.


Phone number: 346-217-0102

IG: @officialmixologyandflairig

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheTravelingBartenderMixologyAndFlair


$1 per person/per hour

Contact him for out of the state fee.

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Eric Tillis - The Traveling Bartender

   10 Q&A’s to the creator of The Traveling Bartender: Mixology and Flair Mobile Bartender Service

1 Tell us 5 words that describe you.

Intelligent, adaptable, humble, creative, intuitive

2. What made you venture off your own and create your brand “The Traveling Bartender”?

After doing my first private event I fell in love with the experience so I started educating myself hours on different concepts, traveling around the United States experiencing different styles of craft cocktails.

3. How would you better describe your service?

A Houston Texas-based bartender service with an emphasis on great service and hospitality. We specialize in giving a great show by providing hand shared ice, a showcase of fire and flair, our focus craft cocktails.

4. What do you enjoy the most as a bartender? creating the drinks, flair, or customer service?

I have to say customer service is first, the guest experience is very important to us. Following Japanese hospitality or omotenashi. The entertainment portion such as flair has taken years of practice.

5. What has been the best experience on the road so far?

Being on the road I have the pleasure of meeting great people from around the world, with a love for the craft of bartending.

6.  Where do you find inspiration to create the cocktails? are they customize to each event? or do you have a cocktail list?

As I travel I’ve learned many herbs, spices and exotic fruits can lead to an interesting story. With each event being different with custom menus or our seasonal menu that we prepare.

7. As an entrepreneur, you are not only a bartender but also a business owner, how do you manage to do it all?

God and a great team behind me.

8. What has been the most challenging thing about starting a new business?

Learning as I go without a manual, receiving and confirming leads.

9. What is the next step for you?

A line of Hawthorne strainers

10. If you were a cocktail, which one would you be?

My favorite, a cigar smoke-infused old fashion with handcrafted bitters.


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