Words by: Thanos Prunarus 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.
For Thanos Prunarus, opening his award-winning bar, Baba Au Rum was not far from revolutionary. “We brought the real fine drinking culture to our country making our city, Athens, one of the world's fine drinking destinations,” he says.
Since opening in Athens in 2009, Baba Au Rum has risen to international acclaim, placing 22nd in the World’s 50 Best Bars list in 2018. Yet, for a pioneering bar, the road was not always easy.
Alike many visionaries, Prunarus had to persuade his clients to trust in his dream, which he recalls involved, "working behind the bar and next to my employees talking to every single person and client we had for the very first two years of operation, patiently explaining to them what exactly we were doing.”
Baba Au Rum soon became one of the foremost bars in the city, influencing the Greek bar scene and the rum market. “We brought the rum revolution to Greece, maybe to a big part of Europe as well," Prunarus notes.
And Prunarus is passionate about not just rum but about enlightening his staff on the spirit. “We are developing an inner-website to be used as a rum encyclopaedia by all those who work at Baba,” he says.
While eager to train his team, Prunarus values proficiency. “I always insist on high levels from my staff on fundamentals and encourage them to pay attention to the detail,” he explains. “I personally train all my staff behind the bar or on the floor. We have meetings where I talk with all my staff and try to solve any problem they may have.”
And Prunarus' highly skilled team boast longevity. “My team at Baba Au Rum have worked together for the past six years," he says. "It’s the same professionals behind the bar and at service.”
Prunarus considers his presence at the bar to be key in its success. “Despite traveling a lot, I’m trying to be there among my clients as much as I can," he notes.
A decade on, Prunarus still welcomes criticism. "I read and take all reviews we have on the web seriously. No need for panic if we have a negative one, but it's always good to have a deeper search,” he says.
Prunarus attributes his success to both guest experience and drinks offering. "Guests realize the quality and they always return back. In the long term, it always pays off with financial success".
Being an entrepreneur today, Prunarus says, “means something very different than 10 years ago. A contemporary bar entrepreneur has to have a rounded, high-level education and be a person of the world.”
“They have to travel a lot, and have the ability to understand different cultures,” Prunarus explains. “They have to be the most open-minded people on this planet … and connect people through their bar work. Bars are once again taking a place that they deserve in the modern world.”
His vision for the industry's future incorporates better education and humility. "It's all about hospitality,” Prunarus says. “I would love to see more educated people and bartenders. More cosmopolitan professionals with smaller egos and more love for humans."
“We are the positive ambassadors in this world,” Prunarus says. And it's with that diligent philosophy he joins the finalists of the Havana Club Bar Entrepreneur Awards at the grand finale in Cuba this month. We wish him the best of luck!