Words by: JJ Goodman and Sammy Hemmings
In its inaugural year, the Havana Club Bar Entrepreneur of the Year Awards received nominations from bar entrepreneurs in over 20 countries. The judging panel, entrepreneurs themselves, selected 11 finalists. In anticipation of the winner being announced on 23 May, during a very special trip to Cuba with Havana Club, we profile the story behind each of these entrepreneurs.
“My love of bartending and all things cocktails is as obsessive as any,” says JJ Goodman, the creative force behind London Cocktail Club bar group and Craft Cocktail Co, a manufacturer of bottled cocktails.
Since opening its doors in 2008, London Cocktail Club has grown to 11 sites across the UK. From channelling his creativity to developing the industry, Goodman found his calling. “Anyone can open a bar, and plenty do, but I believe that the best bar entrepreneurs have a social commitment to their industry beyond innovation,” he says.
And it’s the London Cocktail Club ethos, centred on togetherness and enthusiasm, which shines through. “We’ve created a culture,” Goodman says. “Shouting ‘123...LCC’ as we go about our business, we communicate between ourselves with the same energy we use to engage with our guests. They go hand in hand.”
When Goodman, along with his partner James Hopkins, opened his seventh bar, the pressures crept in. “I finally cracked,” he recalls. “I couldn’t be everywhere at once, and I felt I was angry all the time. Constantly correcting people, and not encouraging.”
Support from a larger team meant more time for other ventures. “Hiring our MD Michelle Hall was the right thing to do,” Goodman says. “I could concentrate on my other projects, such as Craft Cocktail Co, take on some of the offers for consultancy such as Marriot and Eurostar, and creatively could finally find the time to write my book.”
In 2018, Goodman published Kitchen Cocktails: Recipes of the London Cocktail Club. “It’s a recent project, but it’s beautiful,” he says. “I worked on every square millimetre from recipe, photography to word. Not bad for a dyslexic kid from Worcester. My English teacher would be shocked, but also, hopefully, a bit proud.”
Today, Goodman focuses on his entrepreneurial pursuits while also helping others in the industry. “My work with The Prince’s Trust promotes their ‘get hired scheme’,” he explains. “I’m a mentor for their enterprise scheme, meeting monthly with young business people to help them thrive.”
While London Cocktail Club is growing bigger each year, Goodman is looking for other opportunities further afield. “We are always looking to diversify,” he says. “Beyond just the bar sector, and that will guarantee our financial success for years to come … we have consultancy, training, and pre-made cocktails. At home, we have the book, Kitchen Cocktails, and are looking to grow our YouTube channel.”
As a successful entrepreneur, Goodman considers his support network invaluable. “My proudest day in business wasn’t opening my first bar. It was the day I paid back all my friends and family who loaned me their last pennies to open it,” he says. “I’m eternally grateful for those helping hands at the start of my business journey when I needed them the most.”
For Goodman, entrepreneurship is an opportunity to help others in their own careers. “Looking after your team is essential and trying your best to understand their goals and working with them to achieve them is as much an entrepreneurial asset as paying the bills,” he says.
Goodman believes his staff’s progression to be essential. “I wonder if there’s a bar group on the planet who’s more committed to staff training than us,” he says. “Our in-house programme has the goal of ‘barback to bar owner’. A step by step training guide that means we can now take on staff with the most basic understanding of our industry and make them ready for life as a bar entrepreneur.”
In 2017, London Cocktail Club was awarded Best Employer Award and Best Career Progression Award by Springboard Charity, an organisation dedicated to helping young, vulnerable and unemployed people in the UK.
Goodman considers his team’s success extremely rewarding. “Ex-LCC bartenders now own their own cocktail bars. Their accomplishments make me feel as though I must have done right by them. They make me proud,” he notes. “Helping others is a core value that will never leave me.”
Despite having his hands full with his own ventures, Goodman considers it necessary to support the bar community. “Helping your neighbours and their teams also, is a level of entrepreneurialism we must all be aiming for,” he notes.
While Goodman continues to focus on improving the industry, he believes there is much more to be done for consumers as well. “We need to educate our customers better,” he says. “Either by training them to create their own masterpieces at home, from books such as Kitchen Cocktails and YouTube series, or by the way in which we engage with them in our bars.”
Goodman envisages an industry based on inclusiveness. “We champion bars that can only be afforded by the few. There is austerity in our industry and it’s time to stop,” Goodman says. “One day all of our customers will expect a fun, unpretentious experience from any bar they visit, with friendly, fast competent service, that won’t cost the Earth, and no one would dream of criticising their order.”
The ultimate goal is to help the industry be the best it can be. And Goodman’s dream is to see high-quality, from service to product. “My vision for the industry is to have it full of fantastic bartenders, mixing fantastic drinks in fantastic atmospheres. As simple as it sounds, we need to grow the basic pillars,” he says.
We have no doubt he’ll be armed with his empowering philosophy and enthusiasm for the industry as he heads to Cuba this month in the Havana Club Bar Entrepreneur of the Year Awards finals. We wish him the best of luck!