I wrote this unsolicited letter to the editor of a well-known startup/entrepreneurship magazine about a week ago, as a story I find to be both timely and interesting, and one that I hoped to see discussed in the pages of the publication. I decided if it didn't go anywhere with the magazine, I would still put it out there into the Universe, so here it is, my short and sweet prediction on the immediate future of the world of food & beverage.*
"At the end of December, a writer at Thrillist published this article (part 3 of a 3 part series) about the restaurant industry bubble being poised to burst. While it's possible that that will happen, I wanted to present another aspect of the story. My belief is that that we are on the cusp of innovation like we’ve never seen before in this space, and people in this industry (including immigrants, and the under educated) have more resources and opportunity than ever before.
I’ve been in food and beverage for 20 years, and the momentous moments experienced in my version of this world were Danny Meyer’s Enlightened Hospitality spreading globally, Kitchen Confidential and other food media (Iron Chef, etc) creating the celebrity chef figure, Dale Degroff reviving the notion of classic cocktails at the Rainbow Room in the late 80’s, Sasha Petraske starting the endlessly sticky speakeasy phenomenon in 2000, and so on. After working my way up through many menial and occasionally degrading hospitality jobs, I found myself in the mixology world, became a cocktail instructor teaching at 5 schools, a brand ambassador, then a sprits consultant, and now a beverage entrepreneur.
In officially launching my business, Swig + Swallow in 2016, (we produce fresh cocktail mixers for iconic cocktails, half filling the bottles so you can add spirits directly to the mixer bottle) I’ve had to navigate the world of commercial kitchens, co-packers, the FDA, Department of Ag and Markets, web development, design, SEO, Incubators, Accelerators, and more. We work and produce out of a food incubator in Brooklyn that offers space, mentorship, media support, optional inclusion in an online marketplace, etc. I can tell you that of everything I’ve learned in the past year, there have never been better resources to help small food and beverage businesses launch, sustain, and learn from one another.
This is particularly relevant to the cocktail/beverage world as we have a crop of thousands and thousands of new mixologists and beverage consultants looking for their next move. There’s stronger community than ever before (the cocktail conference Tales of the Cocktail had over 20,000 attendees last year), educational resources are more widely available than before, and the interconnectedness of social media ensures that dialogue about pertinent and valuable issues like gender equality, sexual assault, and sustainability spreads like wildfire.
The author of the widely shared Thrillist article painted a picture of the restaurant/hospitality industry on the verge of collapse, but as it happens in slow moving industries, change comes infrequently and in tidal waves. While the celebrity chef/farm to table phenomenon might be poised for downsizing, I believe we’re at an inflection point in F&B- people are looking at their futures and know they have to innovate to stay alive. However, for what I believe to be the first time ever, the resources and technology exist to enable small food and beverage entrepreneurs to dream bigger than becoming a manager or of opening a restaurant. Instead, some of these people are dreaming of becoming the next Starbucks or Blue Apron, and actually have a decent chance of getting there."
*The editor in question kindly responded saying they rarely do industry-specific features, but he would forward it on to another publication for which it might be better suited.