Words by: Stephan Hinz 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.
The creative force behind Cologne’s drinking den Little Link is creating ripples of innovation in the German bar industry. From his award-winning glass collection to bartending books, Stephan Hinz has also founded two companies, Cocktailkunst and Hinzself.
Hinz has developed an ice block machine and launched a range of fruit purees, while he also offers consultancy and training for those in hospitality. And despite this exhaustive list, Hinz continues to launch himself into new ventures.
Hinz’s passion for bartending flourished during stints at leading bars including Germany's Harry’s New York Bar and Hilton Hotels. When the entrepreneurial urge came knocking, Hinz put his energy into a company which would bring change to the bar industry.
In 2010, he launched Cocktailkunst, which translates as "Cocktail Art". The business focused on developing products and events. Today, the company has evolved into a specialist agency, which offers consultancy and services including marketing and training.
Hinz also saw a broader opportunity to offer training and support in the hospitality industry. In 2012, Hinz established Hinzself, which he explains, "focuses on gastronomy consulting".
2014 was a big year for Hinz. He published Cocktail Art: The Future of the Bar, which covers cocktail-making techniques, recipes and ingredients. And he opened his bar Little Link. The bar’s name refers to many connections including between guest and host, tradition and avant-garde, and kitchen and bar. The drinks employ modern techniques such as the use of sous vide, fat washing and a rotary evaporator and many of the ingredients are created behind the bar in Hinz’s laboratory. Subsequently, in 2015, Little Link took home the award for the Most Innovative Bar of the Year at Germany's fizzz awards.
For Hinz, the viability of new concepts is important. “It’s one thing to have a great idea, but another thing to make that idea work well in the long term,” he says.
Hinz released his own glass series in collaboration with glass manufacturer Spiegelau: the Perfect Serve Collection. “For months we studied the dimensions of freezers, dishwashers, and bars, experimented with prototypes on trays and analysed hundreds of cocktail recipes,” he explains. “We developed glasses that make no aesthetic compromises but still made the work behind the bar much easier.”
Hinz is delighted to see his developments helping bartenders around the globe. “I found our products being used by top companies around the world,” he says. “It makes me proud when I see our solutions improve the working day and the guest experience, whether on a different continent or just for a colleague around the corner.”
Despite walking a high-wire balancing his bar and two companies, Hinz is concentrating on new projects. “Under the name ‘novation’, we’ll soon launch a selection of functional clothing on the market that will relieve and support restaurateurs in their work,” he explains. “We will also launch the new brand ‘Stir & Straw’ which offers reusable and eco-friendly straws.”
To run a bar successfully, Hinz considers teamwork fundamental. “When we rebuilt our bar, we were able to implement the majority of it ourselves,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if you are a manager or a waitress. Everybody tackles the work together.”
Hinz credits his support network for bringing his dreams to life. “Without our many long-standing employees and a lot of mutual trust, that wouldn’t have been possible,” he says.
Yet, Hinz believes the bar industry lacks efficient training and workplace safety. “We have a lot of experience in education and training,” he explains. “We train thousands of bartenders annually.” He hopes the industry will start investing in staff’s physical and mental health over the long term. “Bars still have some catching up to do,” he adds.
Since the beginning, Hinz’s diligence and determination has been at the heart of his endeavours. “It was a tough road,” he says. “I basically didn’t take a salary for many years, and I’ve reinvested all profits.”
With big ideas, Hinz found it challenging to get others on board. “I faced the most resistance when it came to doing things differently,” he explains, and that his success came by “staying true to my ideas despite all the opposing voices."
But what makes a business successful? “Everything has to mesh,” he says. “Only when the workplace is well-structured, when the equipment and the quality of the goods all harmonise together, can the bartender completely take care of the guests.”
Hinz is fanatical on presentation, which he embodies at Little Link. “From the doorknob and the shape of the tables to the design of the menu, everything follows an overall concept ,” he says.
It's the prospects in the industry which fuel Hinz's ventures. “The bar industry is slowly learning to take itself seriously,” he says. “As a bar entrepreneur, my impulse is to drive the industry forward, to increase quality and to improve its reputation.”
“The bar industry is a very special field of work,” Hinz adds. And if he could guard one thing in the industry’s future, it would be the Little Link his bar celebrates, that magical night-time connection between guest and host.
It’s with that ideology of seamless togetherness he joins the finalists of the Havana Club Bar Entrepreneur of the Year on a grand trip to Cuba next month. We’re wishing him the best of luck!