Words by: Emanuel Minez 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 great secret of my business is to have good teams,” says Emanuel Minez, the visionary bar owner behind Lisbon’s first speakeasy, Red Frog. “Good employees make us good entrepreneurs.”
Minez’s introduction to the industry came in 1995 while working in local bars and clubs. After graduating in Catering and Catering Management, Minez strived to open his own business. He opened his first venue in 2006 named Cais da Praia, a restaurant-bar focusing on cocktails.
That entrepreneurial urge, coupled with a desire to help professionalise the industry in his country, inspired him to establish the Lisbon Bar Show in 2014. It would become one of the biggest hospitality events in Portugal, attracting around 6,000 visitors a year. Then came Red Frog in 2015, and with it, Minez’s ambition of reaching the World’s Best Bars list. As a forerunner in the city’s booming bar scene, Red Frog reached the top 100 in their second year and came away with the award for Best Bar in Portugal in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Minez feels he owes much of his success to the support of those around him. “What has driven me has been the teams that I have selected and formed,” he says. Paulo Gomes, his partner in Red Frog, has supported Minez in his endeavours. “Gomes takes over the most technical part of a project,” he says.
And despite their fears that the Portuguese would not embrace Red Frog’s concept, they still pursued their dreams. “When we opened the Red Frog, we were in a deep crisis in Portugal and everyone discouraged us that it was not the time to open,” says Minez. “We wanted to focus on cocktails and even then, we wanted to take that risk.” Fortunately, it worked.
Whilst visions that big often require big bucks to make them happen, Minez has never had an investor. Instead, he notes, “the money I earn, I invest,” and he continues to fund his ventures. Monkey Mash is Minez's and Gome's latest innovative bar project due to launch in spring 2019. The vibrant, tropical-themed cocktail bar will focus on sustainable drinks using local ingredients and less resources.
Guest experience is the ne plus ultra of any hospitality business. “The way I try to give the best experience is to welcome people, give good attention and customer satisfaction, and then surprise them with our drinks, using different ingredients and how we present our cocktails,” Minez says. Along with a selection of bourbon and whisky, Red Frog’s drink offering showcases unusual ingredients from waffles to exotic fruits and popcorn. One of their signature cocktails American Gangster combines coffee, cocoa, bourbon, madeira, maple, amaro and tobacco leaves.
Minez recognises that he’s responsible for the growth of the Portuguese cocktail scene. In particular, Red Frog's international guest bartending programme helped develop cocktail culture, while also focusing on their drink offering and large-scale events. “We revolutionized the world of cocktails in Portugal and contributed a lot with the organization of Lisbon Bar Show,” he says.
For Minez, his entrepreneurial journey has been fuelled by hard work and innovation. “Being a businessman, I think is different from country to country, and in Portugal it requires a lot of dedication because I need to work many hours a day,” he adds. “I think that my futuristic vision and passion for the industry helps me a lot, because I have always transformed old spaces into trendy spaces.”
Let’s hope that chameleon ability will come in handy for him when he joins the other finalists on a grand trip to Cuba where the winner of the Havana Club Bar Entrepreneur of the Year will be announced.
Bar owner and entrepreneur