Women are raising the bar in LA’s cocktail, beer, wine scene
Many women in the alcohol industry in Los Angeles are at the top of their game, despite being underrepresented within the spirits, craft beer and wine businesses.
Now more than ever, the mixologists, bar owners, brewers and vintners serving up your favorite drinks in LA are likely to be women.
In general, women are underrepresented in the industry’s top jobs. They make up 4% of C-suite positions in the $350 billion wine and spirits industry, they are sole owners of just 2.9% of craft breweries, and only 14% of winemakers at California’s thousands of wineries are female.
But those numbers are changing, especially here in LA. As the ranks of women grow, they are leveraging their support networks to demand fair pay, challenging cultural norms, and looking for ways to create opportunities for others.
“There's a lot of creative energy here and a lot of creative women,” says mixologist Danielle Motor. “They're at the height of their game here.”
Meet the women influencing LA’s alcoholic beverage scene:
Sabrina Minks (left) and Danielle Motor are mixologists known for developing wildly creative cocktail menus at places like Chateau Marmont. Photo courtesy of Sunset Boulevardier.
Sabrina Minks started working in the hospitality industry at age 16 and got into cocktail waitressing on the Sunset Strip. The culture of abuse by customers sent her looking for bartending shifts.
“I was tired of getting manhandled by dudes and feeling like I didn't have any autonomy over my space,” says Minks. “I wanted to have a physical boundary from dudes as a young woman.”
Minks and her business partner, Danielle Motor, now run the events and cocktail consulting business Sunset Boulevardier. Together they’ve developed menus and done staff training at places like the Proper Hotel in Downtown LA, and the Hollywood bar the Hungry Cat. They are leveraging their support network, built up over their decades of combined experience, to demand being paid as much as men for the same work.
When Sabrina Minks was new to cocktail consulting, she charged what she thought her time was worth. Then she found out from a friend she had been undercutting herself by almost 400%, losing out on tens of thousands of dollars. She says these days she is open about money and encourages others to talk about their earnings “so that we're able to make what we should be making.”
During the #MeToo movement in 2017, Lauren Trickett teamed up with other women in LA to expose abuses by several big players in the alcohol industry. These days Trickett uses her role as a brand ambassador to mentor others by offering a listening ear and help with resumes. In the process, she is creating the safe and inclusive environment she wishes existed when she started out.
“The more and more women uplift each other and communicate with each other about the struggle that we are having, and even the good things that you're having, the more that's going to help the growth,” says Trickett.
When she opened Novacane Bar in Huntington Park, Angie Belin Martinez knew she wanted to create a culture of safety and respect for employees — about half of whom are women. When she sees her bartenders struggling to deal with challenging customers, she says she gives the women a pep talk showering them with positive affirmations, like “you are amazing, you're strong, you're beautiful,” says Martinez.
She extends the same attitude to all her customers, especially women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. “They know we have eyes on them,” says Martinez. “We just don't put up with [harassment].”
Martinez knows what to look for because her dad owned several paisa bars in South LA, where she grew up. She describes their vibe as “machismo,” where female cocktail waitresses, bartenders and dancers were not taken seriously. Even today, she says, customers sometimes react with shock that she is the owner of her bar. A recent customer asked her four times, “‘So you really are the owner? Like you really are the owner?’ I'm like, ‘Yes. Yes,’” recalls Martinez.
Fortunately, Martinez says she grew up with strong role models that make it possible to politely shrug off these comments. “My grandma always taught me to be chingonas,” says Martinez. “So many women in this industry, that's what we are: chingonas.”
Morgan McLachlan is a master distiller based in Echo Park. She hasn’t let motherhood drive her from the industry. Photo by Tiffany Chan.
Fifteen years ago, Morgan McLachlan traded a career as a camera woman in Hollywood for the equally male-dominated world of craft distilling. Now she is the master distiller behind Amass, a brand of spirits, and De Soi, Katy Perry’s non-alcoholic aperitif. McLachlan says entering the industry as a woman was a real “journey into the unknown.”
McLachlan recently became a mother. During her pregnancy, she made a point of continuing to visit customers at their bars to show them she was still capable of the work at all stages of life. She remembers getting sideways glances even though she wasn’t drinking alcohol. McLachlan says today on the rare occasion she sees a pregnant bartender working behind the stick, she is thrilled. She knows the hours are not conducive to parenthood and many employers don’t offer health care — things she’s tried to change with her own business. “I don’t think society necessarily supports women in these positions who are choosing to be a mother, and I think that’s really silly and oppressive,” says McLachlan.
Now that many other women have joined her in the craft of distilling, she says, “When I have the opportunity to collaborate with women, it's something that I really cherish.”
“I think any female that's going into the craft beer industry has grit,” says Lynne Weaver, the CEO and founder of Three Weavers Brewing Company in Inglewood. “Because [when] you look at it from the outside, it looks very white and male dominated — and bearded — a lot of times, and I’m very much not that.”
On the other hand, she says, because the culture of craft beer is social and communal, it can be a welcoming place for entrepreneurs of all backgrounds.
Still, Weaver looks for new ways to get women in the room when business deals are being made. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, women earn 48% MBA degrees, but are only 21% of board members. One long-standing problem: Business decisions are often made on the golf course or in the poker room, where women are absent. That’s why Weaver recently participated in a course teaching businesswomen how to play poker, and she plans to bring the workshop to LA’s craft beer scene.
Weaver says she sometimes feels like a unicorn in the industry, but she’s also “super proud seeing the women who are here, who are just killing it.”
Vinter Coly Den Haan is also thinking about ways to get women in the room where financing decisions are made. She owns two wine shops, both called Vinovore, in Silver Lake and Eagle Rock. She specializes in wine from around the world made by women winemakers and women-led wineries.
“It’s Women’s History Month here year-round,” jokes Den Haan.
Her goal is to one day finance projects by other women in the industry. “That’s the way things are going to change,” says Den Haan. “More women need to make money, so they can help other women make money.”
When she was workshopping the idea of opening her shop back in 2016, she reached out to contacts she trusted. She says everyone was on board, but about half told her no one had ever asked them about what women were making wines. “I think it helped people really [pay] attention to who was behind these bottles,” says Den Haan.
Sisters Leslie Jones and LeAnn Jones opened their bar 1010 Wine after they remodeled a former auto body shop into a space that “speaks to the totality of our personalities together,” says Leslie. Customers can expect a DJ on Friday night and a live saxophone player on Sundays.
Growing up in Inglewood, the Jones sisters say their parents instilled in them the importance of supporting local small business, Black-owned business and women-owned businesses. At 1010 Wine, the leadership team is all Black women and they hire female chefs. The wines they offer reflect these values as well. “It’s kind of funny to us that people think it’s really cool that we carry so many women-owned brands and Black-owned brands, but it really is just kind of second nature for us,” says Leslie, who is also a wedding planner.
People in the community will stop them and tell them “we’re just grateful for what you’re doing in our community,” says Leslie.
LeAnn, an attorney, says she hopes that by owning this business they are reshaping what people think is normal, so that one day when they introduce themselves to customers it won’t be so shocking that they are the owners.
“It should be [that] you don’t know who you're going to meet,” says LeAnn. “[They] could be non-binary, or a man, or it could be a woman, because everyone is capable of this.”
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