Meet the Women Fighting for Inclusion in the Cocktail Industry
When Chicago South Side bartenders Ariel Neal and Alexis Brown got discouraged by the lack of diversity they saw in their profession they turned their frustration into action and created Causing a Stir, a non-profit that works to bridge the gap between the hospitality industry and its members of underrepresented communities and minorities. Created in 2016, Causing a Stir provides access to educational opportunities, fosters a sense of community among its members and their advocates, and provides access to professional development and career advancement opportunities.
In less capable hands, those goals might be daunting, but Neal and Brown are more than up for the challenge. In the 2½ years since they created CAS, they’ve received a grant from Tales of the Cocktail, earned a place on Imbibe magazine’s list of 75 people, places and flavors that will shape the way we drink in 2018, and have attracted more than 3,000 members.
Or, in other words, just the Chicago women we wanted to partner with for our celebration of Women’s History Month at Virgin Hotels Chicago. Here, Neal and Brown offer some insight into their groundbreaking organization, their love for Virgin and what’s next.
How did you come up with the idea for Causing a Stir?
The idea was simple: We just wanted to create a space where we could have conversations about the lack of diversity in the bar community. We soon realized that the hospitality industry in general is not an inclusive space and that not just women of color we’re having issues.
Is there such a thing as a typical member?
We can never call our members ‘typical.’ We are in the hospitality industry. I think we strive daily to do the best we can with what we have to work with and there is nothing typical about that.
What are some of things Causing a Stir does?
We are a not-for-profit organization which provides professional development, diversity and inclusion advocacy, mentorship, and scholarships for continuing education to current and aspiring bar professionals from underrepresented communities.
What’s been the most challenging?
The most challenging is having only the two of us to do all the work and not having funding or getting paid for our time.
The most rewarding?
Having the industry come out to support us so we can provide mentorship, education, career development and support to our community and hopefully other industries.
The most surprising?
Our work is never done! There is so much to do. Taking a moment to realize we can’t do it all but also that that won’t stop us from trying.
Why did you want to partner with Virgin Hotels?
Virgin as a brand is amazing. Who wouldn’t want to stay here? We are all part of the hospitality industry, so it just makes sense that we partnered with a brand that has a similar mission to promote inclusion. Having interactions that work to connect people with cocktails to push our initiatives is always a goal.
Walk me through how the mixologists for the event were chosen?
We chose women from the group who are looking to invest in themselves. Some of the women may not have had access to resources to further their career paths. We want to highlight and mentor them. Some of the ladies will also come from the “Equal Parts” Program sponsored by Hennessy and executed by Alexis.
What’s next for Causing a Stir?
Taking the time to properly educate ourselves on how to run a non-profit. The board will expand, and we will be at Brooklyn Bar Convent and Tales of The Cocktail for sure.
What are some of your long-term goals?
Create strategic evergreen partnerships with organizations that have aligning missions and to ensure we have a non-profit that last more than our lifetimes.
About Women’s History Month at Virgin Hotels Chicago:
To celebrate Women’s History Month, Virgin Hotels Chicago gets into the spirit (literally!) of the March holiday honoring women’s contributions to history and society with four female-focused cocktail-fueled parties. For the Tuesday evening events, Virgin has partnered with Causing a Stir, a Chicago-based non-profit created by two local female bartenders with a vision to increase diversity, leadership and mentorship in the hospitality industry, and Babes Only, an organization of female Chicago creatives. Moet Hennessy will be providing spirit support for the month-long event.
Starting on Tues., March 5 and continuing on March 12, 19 and 26, the festivities begin in the Commons Club at 6 p.m. with one of the four CAS-chosen guest bartenders shaking up her drink inspired by an influential woman in history and featuring Moet Hennessy spirits. The drink will be offered on Commons Club’s cocktail menu for the week with a portion of proceeds going towards Causing a Stir. Stop by from 4-6 p.m. for a special Behind the Bottle presentation featuring free tastings of that week’s spirits and some behind-the-scenes education from spirit ambassadors and Virgin Hotels’ new lead bartender, Becky Dorsen. In addition, from 6:30-8 p.m., Babes Only will host a casual panel discussion in 203, the first-floor coffee-and-wine bar, on topics centered around women business owners, women in the arts and working mothers. A Babes Only female DJ will be on hand to spin tunes in Commons Club.