One to Watch: Kelsey Ramage

20 Jun. 2019
The Woman with a Five-Year Plan

In a trend-driven, media-obsessed industry, the rule is that every project is ‘exciting’ or ‘will change the way you drink forever’. We’ve been around the block, we’ve heard it all before and, when the inner cynic takes control, it’s easy to think ‘yes, whatever’. Buzz notwithstanding, though, some projects may very well change the way we drink and are thus inherently exciting. When we heard that Kelsey Ramage had been named the ‘One to Watch’ at the Havana Club Bar Entrepreneur Awards, we were a/ not surprised and b/ pretty excited by what’s to come from her and partner Iain Griffiths. Because those guys are not in it for the buzz or to feel good about themselves. Their projects are thoughtful, developed with real world conditions in mind. For more info on their background, check our article here. Read on for the new developments in Kelsey’s as always very eloquent own words.

After touring the world continuously as Trash Tiki, raising awareness about sustainability and waste and bringing their methods and recipes to bars, they realised that scaling up was necessary.

« We were really seeing an impact and it was really exciting to us, but it felt like just the tip of the iceberg. Our recipes were maybe being only used for one menu before they turned back to their old ways. It wasn't having the lasting impact that we really wanted to see. We were really feeling like together as a community that we were not making enough of a change. So about a year ago, we felt the need to scale up and to expand our network. In April of this year, we announced a global partnership with Pernod Ricard with the mutual goal of training 10,000 bartenders globally over the next five years on not just our recipes but also to give them little tips and tricks that they could take back to their bars and use to decrease their energy consumption or their water consumption. We also have a goal: by 2025 Pernod Ricard will be eliminating all plastic from their promotional marketing and we're developing with them a series of new things that bartenders can actually use and don't get thrown out. They will help them reduce their energy consumption, create new ways of composting, set up recycling programs. »

Some people see talk about sustainability and the environment as preachy — you’re spreading the gospel, after all. The Trash Collective has always been very careful to come across differently, and to present things they’ve done themselves. And the best way to keep doing that is to open a bar.

« We never want to tell people that this is how you should run your bar without having done it ourselves. So in two months time we will be opening our first venue, which is very exciting. It's going to be called Supernova Ballroom and it will be in downtown Toronto. Behind the scenes, we're only going to be using produce from the Canadian landscape. I'm sure you can imagine, Canada's covered in a blanket of snow for 8 months of the year. So this is going to bring in a huge set of challenges for us. »

But maybe one bar is not enough…

« One of the other big challenges that we're seeing is that we would come into some dive bars that weren’t cocktail focused and they felt that they weren't part of the sustainable community, that it had to be a fancy cocktail bar serving, you know, 20 cocktails per night. We're not out to prove anybody wrong, but we are going to open a high volume venue in fall of this year. It will be a country music venue. My dad had a country bar. This is kind of like a revival for me because this is where I had my first bartending job. In terms of concept, anyone who's heard me speak before knows that we use our ingredients second and third times before they get thrown away, so first use ingredients come through the first bar, a back commissary then processes those ingredients for use in the front bar. We really want it to become a resource for other bars in our community to help them process their ingredients for secondary and third uses. » 

Because of climatic conditions in Canada, they will have to develop ways to preserve fresh fruits for their bars. This will involve working with local farmers to develop products they will use in the bars and sell around Canada. This will also provide additional income to farmers. Because, as Kelsey underlines, sustainability is not just about the environment.

“Ingredient-led bartending is my background but there's something else that I think is really important and that's human sustainability. Stock Standard is a classic cocktail bar that we're planning on opening next year. Cocktail bars are usually opened in a low rent area. They're part of the gentrification of that area and of the displacement of the people that live there. We want to employ the people that live within a radius of that bar and make sure that we're giving back to the community by providing a training program that, within 18 months of working there, will provide the tools to have meaningful employment, not just within my bars but within the cocktail community, in Toronto and across Canada. If we don't take the time and curate with consciousness the people that are working in our bars and make sure that those are safe spaces for people of colour, people from the LGBTQ community and women and provide the training that it requires to bring these people along, we're going to be left with the status quo. So I think we all need to be collectively moving forward. »

Kelsey has a lot on her plate. But she’s very much aware that changes will need to come incrementally — especially if you also look for business sustainability. The three bars she’s just discussed will lead to a ‘final’ (?) one, yet to be named.

« It will be an accumulation of all of these things that I've just spoken about in one bar. It's really going to look at locality of ingredients, energy and water consumption, composting methods, recycling all in one bar. I think a lot of people are expecting us to open this bar first. But it requires a lot of research, a lot of times and then a lot of mistakes and mistakes cost money. So by opening this series of bars, we want to make small incremental changes so that when we open Wild Side, we're completely transparent. We want to build with this bar the blueprint as to what the future of bars should look like in terms of staffing, energy and water consumption. »

One to watch, for sure.