Ann is the entrepreneurial founder of Tales of the Cocktail. Established in 2002, this is seen by many as THE must go to drinks industry event. Drawing in tens of thousands of cocktail aficionados and enthusiasts from over 35 countries it delivers educational seminars and networking opportunities. Ann’s hometown, New Orleans is a fabulous and welcoming host city and she’s passionate about sharing its drinks heritage, rich in stories and ‘tales’.
I got into the drinks industry 15 years ago. When I left University, I worked for TV and radio stations and decided one time to pitch to one of my bosses at a TV station the idea of taking spirits drinks advertising. At the time, there was a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that there wasn’t going to be spirits advertising on television. However, in New Orleans we did have beer companies advertising and so I thought we could create a new revenue stream. I pitched it to my boss and he agreed “as long as we didn’t get any complaints”. That started my relationship with spirits companies.
The precursor to Tales of the Cocktail was a walking tour of New Orleans that I started, which actually still takes place today. I wanted to celebrate New Orleans dining and drinking history and tell people the stories behind all the famous bars and restaurants. So I started the tour, and because of my background in marketing and promotions I was always doing little promotions to create a sense of urgency to get people to take part. So, to mark the first anniversary of the walking tour I created Tales of the Cocktail. It started very small, we literally we had a press conference one afternoon where we honoured historic bars and restaurants and we had two events, a happy hour and 10 spirited dinners.
What has made it successful is that it did start out that way. After year one we had 50 people there. And somehow I managed to persuade people like Dale DeGroff, Anastasia Miller and Jared Brown, as well as people I didn’t even know, to come to the first Tales of the Cocktail. They liked it. They said “hey this is great, you really ought to do this again”. And so it has evolved.
Tales has been successful for a number of reasons. We listen to our attendees. We have round tables, we survey people, and really find out what they want. This means the event is always evolving and improving. The longevity of the team is also an important factor. Three of my team have been with me for eight years. They are like family to the attendees.
And also, we are a non-profit and we give back to the bartending community. We always try to give good value at the event. And deliver what we say we’re doing to deliver on.
We spend a lot of time with bartenders and talking to professionals, finding out what they want. It’s the industry’s event, we just organise it. We let them curate it.
It’s never easy being a pioneer. You can see something in your mind that other people don’t yet see, but if you can get people excited about it they will follow suit. I envisaged us growing and evolving, while always maintaining the same mission. We’re an educational industry non-profit event. I don’t think I could have imagined the impact we’ve had on people but I did feel right from the start that it was going to be sustaining.
At Tales, come expecting to learn. It will be an enjoyable, educational and motivating experience. New Orleans is a great host, and we’ll welcome you. Dive in head first and you’ll leave feeling really fired up.
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and I’ve always been in a creative field. I don’t think I could work now for anyone else and I’m lucky to have people around me encouraging creativity.
I’m not too good at relaxing, it’s something I’m working on. But I’m going sailing with my husband and some friends soon and looking forward to that, and I’ve also started diving. I like that because you can’t have a phone or a laptop with you and I’m starting to enjoy the silence that brings.
My favourite cocktail? My sentimental favourite is the Sazerac. We were the folks who instigated the Sazerac becoming the official cocktail of the city of New Orleans in 2008. Its New Orleans history in a glass, it’s been around since the 1870s and hasn’t changed much at all.
I’ve had lots of proud moments in my career. One of them would definitely be coming back after Katrina. Just being here and people showing up and supporting us – that was very prideful because I knew then that we would survive. We held Tales 10 days before Katrina, and afterwards I went to NYC for three months and came back to New Orleans on New Year’s Day 2006. That year, we moved it up a month so it didn’t coincide with the Katrina anniversary. There were a lot of personal and professional emotions going on at the same time. It wasn’t going to be easy but I knew we could keep moving forwards. As New Orleanians we were still standing, the event was still standing and that’s what mattered.
My one piece of advice to others is to be nice and be yourself. If you’re nice and authentic and genuine people will appreciate that and respond to that.