Words by: Jane Ryan
Not everyone stays a bartender for life. In a new feature we'll be searching out those who once plied their trade in the bar and now only drink in front of it. First up meet Doc Hendley whose last shift was in August 2004. But, says Doc, bartending has been a more useful skill that any course at university for what came next.
"My last gig as a bartender was in an Irish pub in Raleigh, North Carolina called Hibernian. I'd been living in Raleigh for three years at that point and working in the pub for about a year. I'd had a few jobs behind bars, firstly in a nightclub where we'd be ten-deep at the bar for three or more hours each night and not getting home till six, then in a sports bar and finally at the pub.
"It was a good mixture there and whether I was finished by midnight or on a closing shift I always had a blast. I was at university at the same time trying to finish my degree and, like most bartenders, I started to wonder if I wanted to be in the service industry for the rest of my life.
"I asked my boss in December of 2003 if I could have a few weeks off to get my head right and think things through. I went home and I was lying in bed, unable to find sleep when these words kept chasing themselves around my head, 'wine to water'. I was a bit of a musician as well, playing a few nights at the pub and I write my own music so I thought it was good inspiration for a song.
"After writing down the words I went down to my parent's computer and started to research water. I already knew a bit about wine having dealt with it a lot at work but I knew nothing about water. It was that night I learnt about the world's water crisis, at that point 1.1 billion people didn't have access to clean water and it was the number one cause of death.
"I was captivated at how bad the crisis was and how I'd never heard about it. I took the page I was going to write my song on and wrote down a plan for an organisation.
"In the beginning I decided I still wanted to be a bartender but figured I could host an event, called Wine to Water. I knew our wine distributor would be able to donate a few bottles, I'd worked in a restaurant so hoped they could donate food and the nightclub would give me space, all to raise money which we could give to an existing charity.
"I thought 'I've already got skills as a bartender, let me use that'. I was happy to keep working. The first handful of events together raised $10,000 which was shocking to me. I should say here almost everything I've done has been a miserable failure. I liked being a bartender because of the relationship you have with the customer. I always enjoyed that but I was never a great mixologist, I never remembered the recipes. I did get my degree but was always a C-grade student so I was shocked it was working.
"When I went to donate the money the charity threw me a real curve ball. I asked if the money would be going specifically to getting clean water and the guy turned and asked me why I was raising this money. I told him it was something I was interested in and he told me to keep the money and go out there to use the cash I'd raised and see how it is in the field.
"This guy gave me an opportunity to be able to match the fundraising and field work. In August 2004 I'd left the pub and landed in Darfur for one year. I'm quite a simple country guy, where I come from it's a good place, nice moderate temperature, my background in a conservative Christian family and there I found myself in a desert where the population is 95 per cent Islamic, where there is ongoing genocide and where there is a very serious water crisis.
"It couldn't have been more opposite but the organisation let me pick where I wanted to go and I thought I would have a better impact there. It was amazing how quickly I fell in love with that country, and the people. I had never travelled much before, like many Americans who don't leave their towns, but I wanted to work with these people and what I loved doing as a bartender, talking, making people feel relaxed, I saw as a way for me to get clean water and build relationships.
"My bartending skills transferred over in a way I never expected. In that time I used what I'd learnt behind the bar so much more than anything from university. So it snowballed from there. I came back from that year and established Wine to Water. We're now in 17 countries and I hope next year to have reached a million people.
"When I started it was just myself so I did a lot of field work but I have a team now, not to mention a wife and two kids, so I'm focused on growing the service industry's involvement. Together with gaz regan we started a campaign last year called Just One Shift. The idea is to get bartenders to give up one of their shifts and donate all their tips to getting clean water out to people who desperately need it.
"Last year we did it in April, this year it will be one week in May. People really got involved, inviting all their friends down and publicising what they were doing. We raised $40,000 with participants from around the world. This year we're aiming for $100,000.
"I'm excited to ingrate the service industry with Wine to Water. I started in bars and it resonates with my story. I'm nobody special, I didn't grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth, I was a bartender and I know they all have huge hearts too. You can have a huge impact on people's life in the best way behind the bar."
If you'd like to get involved in Just One Shift click here.