Bar Entrepreneur Awards - The Winners

4 Jun. 2019
A week to remember for the winners of the first Bar Entrepreneur Awards

Last week, the eleven finalists of the first Havana Club Bar Entrepreneur Awards gathered in Havana for the big reveal. On the 23rd of May, the winners in the four categories were announced in front of prominent bar industry guests from all over the world at Divina Pastora, a restaurant with a stunning view on the Havana bay and the Malecon. But first, they were treated to a full Cuban culture immersion and a few entrepreneurship workshops.

Apart from the mandatory Havana tour in vintage cars and an exploration of the old city, the group also got to visit the San José de las Lajas distillery, where the aged Havana Club rums are made, and attended a blending session with Salomé Aleman, Cuba’s first female Maestra Ronera. They were also introduced to the wonders of the magic ‘fine cigars and great rum’ match — with Havana Club Máximo making an eagerly awaited appearance. 

On the entrepreneurship side, the proceedings were kickstarted by the fine folks at Clandestina, the Cuban design and clothing store, who told the guests about raising a sustainable business in a context as complex as Cuba’s. They were brought to a close by a talk on food and beverage trends and future prospects led by Courier Media’s founder and editor in chief Jeff Taylor. In between, the Havana Club Bar Entrepreneur Awards finalists took turn to present their own multifaceted projects to each other.

During this series of talk, we got to hear some very varied stories. There was the jazz singer who dreamed of running a bar as good as the music she loved to listen to live. There was the bartender whose proudest achievement was having his restaurant noticed by the Michelin guide. There was a bar operator who built his empire on adopting (then) cutting edge social networks in Russia. There was the builder’s son who can’t stop dreaming up ways to improve the inner workings of a bar. There was the cheeky man who leveraged an unexpected interest-free loan into one of his hometown’s most influential bars. Each and every story was unique. All demonstrated passion, vision, and a keen sense of opportunity. We’re sure those lucky enough to witness the presentations brought some excellent ideas home.

Although all finalists are undeniably at the top of the industry and will remain so for a long while, awards mean you need winners. The Havana Club Entrepreneur Awards were structured around one overall category and three special awards. The results were announced by two of the judges — and groundbreaking entrepreneurs in their own right — Rasmus Lomborg and Ara Carvallo. And they were:

Against All Odds — for « the entrepreneur who has overcome significant challenges and grown their business to be stronger as a result »  — went to Rosie Stimpson. With no hospitality background, she has managed to launch not only one but three world class bars: Nightjar, Oriole and Swift. All have gone on to win multiple awards and have featured in the World’s 50 Best Bars list. 

One to Watch — for « an emerging entrepreneur who is clearly on their way to greater success » — went to Kelsey Ramage. Through the pioneering Trash Collective, she shared her knowledge for free and yet managed to create a viable business model that changes the way the industry thinks about sustainability. With many more projects on the way, we haven’t heard the last of Kelsey.

Innovator — for « the individual who has delivered the most exciting and successful innovations in their business » — went to Stephan Hinz. Many bartenders open bars, write books and launch catering companies. Few create on top of that a bestselling glassware line from scratch, invent a more efficient clear ice machine, try to revolutionise the straw industry or give a thought to work clothes. Stephan does. 

The Bar Entrepreneur of the Year Award went to Carina Soto Velasquez. With her partners at Quixotic Projects, Carina owns and operates five top bars and restaurants in Paris. From their beloved Candelaria to the most recent — and biggest project to date — Les Grands Verres, her establishments have changed the cocktail landscape in Paris and shaped what is arguably one of the world’s most essential drinking scene. She has also recently launched Marilou in New Orleans, their first venture outside of France. Outstanding achievements, made even more remarkable by Carina and her partners non-EU passports — an important stumbling for budding entrepreneurs in the European Union.

Watch this space over the coming weeks for full profiles of all the winners!

François Monti