BABE #305: KATE CARPENTER - Bartender, Grape & Grain Exchange
On a typical day, you can find Kate slingin’ drinks and promoting the beverage industry to anyone who’s interested. She’s the lead bartender at Grape and Grain Exchange, the president of the United States Bartenders Guild Jacksonville Chapter, and a dedicated advocate for the hard work, intricate craft and genuine camaraderie that comes with preparing a quality cocktail. She’s also not shy when it comes to exposing industry misconceptions and uplifting fellow bartender babes near and far. Our team has been lucky enough to watch this hustlin’ lady kill it behind the bar regularly, and encourage other Jacksonville locals to do the same.
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
Current city: Jacksonville, Florida
Alma mater: Douglas Anderson School of the Arts; FSCJ
Degree: AA; Level One Sommelier; Certified Specialist of Spirits, BarSmarts Advanced Certified
Very first job: Salon assistant
Hustle: Lead Bartender, Grape and Grain Exchange; President, United States Bartenders Guild Jacksonville Chapter; Administrator, San Marco Pick of the Litter
Babe you admire and why?
Honestly, I have to say my mother, Toni Garcia Carpenter. She raised me and my brother while managing my father’s hectic travel schedule, writing multiple books and freelancing as a television producer and writer. She balances being a badass while supporting everyone around her. I’ve never seen her put herself before anyone else and I cannot imagine this world without her. She’s intelligent, caring, morally driven and beautiful. What more could a babe be?
How do you spend your free time?
Most of the free time I have is opposite of the rest of the world’s schedule, so I usually end up hanging out with my friends at their bars.
Go-to coffee order and/or adult beverage?
I love a nice iced Earl Grey tea or cold brew. When it comes to alcoholic beverages, I rarely drink the same thing every day. There are too many things out there to just stick to one!
Current power anthem?
Honestly, it’s hard to pick one. By default, “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” by Bonnie Tyler, will always get me amped.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
My mother’s Thanksgiving stuffing. It’s the most delicious thing in the world.
What’s something you want to learn or master?
I need to learn Spanish. Bad.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Bob Ross. I want to absorb his perspective of life.
What’s something most don’t know about you?
I am a huge empath. Assumedly people think that I am an intense person, but I brake for butterflies crossing the road and lizards on my car. It’s made me late to work multiple times.
Tell us about your hustle.
Currently, my hustle involves a few different responsibilities. I am the lead bartender at Grape and Grain Exchange, which is a hell of a machine. We have two bars, one of which is a music venue, as well as a full package store. There is a lot that goes into maintaining the day-to-day operations, and luckily my uppers, Jerry Mullins and Miles Howard, have been guiding me through the process. Currently I am the president of the local USBG chapter, which is a national nonprofit organization that connects spirits companies and bartenders through educational events, organizes competitions and partakes in community outreach. Lastly, I help administrate a group called the San Marco Pick of the Litter, which is a group of service industry professionals who meet once a month to pick up trash in the San Marco area. We help organize the areas we pick up and the people who come out every month to participate.
What does your typical workday look like?
If it’s my “weekend” (Monday and Tuesday) I wake up, work on emails and meet with my leadership teams for USBG and/or Pick of the Litter. Those days are usually when we have events for either group, because those are days most industry folks have off. Those nights are usually occupied by some sort of competition or event. The other days I try to rest, do some work on my house and then prepare for an eight- to 13-hour shift filled with orders, invoices and making drinks. Never a day off!
When and how did your love for bartending begin?
It all started when I was growing up. My grandmother drank gin gibsons and everyone in my family had a spirit of choice. I guess it sounds crazy, but the old-style cocktails always fascinated me. I started bartending when I was 20 (*cough-cough* I mean 21) in dive bars. The most “craft” thing we had was a plethora of flavored vodkas. No fresh juices, no shaker sets or strainers. From there, I worked my way up through various chains and styles of bartending, from beer bars to neighborhood bars to chain restaurants that put grenadine in everything. I never really had a mentor while I was “growing up” in the industry, so I started out flying blind when I finally decided to pursue the craft cocktail world. At that time, the restaurant I was working in wasn’t very supportive. My manager told me that Manhattans were shaken and there was no room for a female behind the bar (even though this particular manager was also a female). So, I decided to learn on my own. I would sit at craft bars and ask questions (God bless those bartenders who actually answered—y’all know who you are). I found books and resources on my own and ingested every bit of knowledge I could. Finally, I got my first craft bartending job thanks to some dear friends who knew my passion. I did BarSmarts and tried to navigate the waters of the industry. From then on, I’ve been in craft restaurant bars for four years and finally landed at Grape and Grain.
How have you honed the necessary skills of multitasking and time management bartending requires?
Multitasking is an important part of what I do. This past year I promised myself I would work on being ambidextrous while bartending. It’s more efficient if done well, and a hell of a show for the guest. Besides that, mentally it has to be systematic for me. I was diagnosed with short-term memory loss in middle school, so at work I have to apply systems to everything I do, or else it’s like walking into a kitchen and forgetting why you are there!
How do you stay on top of industry trends?
I am inspired by everything around me. It could be a sentence that someone says to me that would make a great cocktail name, it could be the dish I had at Taverna one night or a plant I saw while hiking at Spanish Pond. I think when you’re a creative person your brain never stops trying to fit square pegs in round holes. Our industry is ever-changing, so reading blogs and the hottest books are a must. But my favorite way to stay on top of the industry is attending conferences. Bartenders have legit conferences! It’s amazing. Not only is there so much industry knowledge I can take and share it with the USBG, but I get exposed to people on a national and international level. We talk about techniques and trends and grow with each other. I’ve met some of my best friends through conferences and elevated my bartending game.
How have your past professional and academic experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
When I first started bartending I was also freelancing in television production and had done theatre throughout middle and high school. Television is a different world, but it taught me how important self-marketing and networking is, even if I didn't quite know how to balance it back then. My clients were hiring me based on word of mouth, and really it’s the same with bartending. Theatre helped me because when you’re behind the stick, you’re on stage. You have to connect with a guest the same way you have to connect with an audience. I’ve also worked in so many different places throughout the years that I’ve been able to see a lot of what works (and a lot of what doesn’t).
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
For the majority of the history of bartending, it has been a male-dominated environment. However, recently, there have been some badass babes who have really taken over. These babes have fought hard to change the norm, however there seems to be an unfortunate side effect. A lot of women who have trudged their way through the mansplaining and unfair treatment tend to not want to share the spotlight with any other female, since it is such a small pedestal we stand on. Some of my greatest obstacles were other women who didn’t want me to succeed. For a while I felt the same, because it is absolutely toxic—but once I saw how detrimental it was to our growth (not only as a gender, but as a society in general), I really wanted to work to change this. We should never hold each other back, regardless of gender. Women can be horrible to each other and if we maintain that as a social norm, we will self-destruct and lose everything we have fought for. We have worked too hard to let that happen. Love your fellow babes, babe.
What female-specific challenges and victories do you face in your day-to-day work?
RBF. Can we insert emoji clapping hands between those letters? Listen, dudes have RBF too, but women get pinpointed for it. My body language can be intimidating to a lot of people because I don’t come off as a “sweet girl” initially. It’s an everyday struggle to be myself, but fit into the idea of what I should be to a guest.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
“So, what’s your real job?” If I had a penny for every time someone asked me this, I’d be rich enough to buy everything in that Barenaked Ladies song at today’s inflated prices. It’s a constant struggle to explain to people that bartending is a profession. Sure, you have the option to sling and get yourself through college, or you can pursue the hundreds of doors bartending can open. It’s not a linear progression, either. You can work your way up in a bar group, own a bar, go into the liquor rep side of things, become an ambassador, pursue an education, become a distiller, consult—I could go on. Bartending has sent me to Canada, Portland, Miami, Charleston, Charlotte; it’s not a lackluster profession, and it’s fun as hell. However, it’s also incredibly physically demanding. We all struggle with aches and pains you might not see. Not everyone is built to stand on cement floors for 12 hours a day.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
There’s this amazing national ambassador for Campari named Anne Louise Marquis. I listened to a podcast one time where she talked about her “panel.” These were essentially people she has in her back pocket who know her well enough to give sound advice. I’ve taken that with me for the last year. My panel consists of people like Sydney Jones, who is our resident badass distiller at Manifest, Dana DeToro, a babe from Tallahassee who has fought for reforming laws in our industry that are outdated, and some other people who can vouch for me personally. There are so many talented women in our industry, and the ones I admire most are the ones who are out there supporting each other and laying the groundwork for the babes to come.
What does your approach to work-life balance look like?
Sometimes I have to remove myself from the scene. I like to be in nature a lot, so going for a hike or sitting on the beach—even just meditating in my backyard for 10 minutes helps me reset. I bought a hammock recently; laying in the sun appreciating the silence for a quick second can really help me.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
My dearest babes: Please ignore the voice in your head that tells you “you’re not good enough”—because it’s wrong. Please cut the toxic people out of your life, because you ain’t got time for that. People are going to try to hold you down; learn from those people. Recognize those character traits that hurt you and move forward knowing that is not who you want to be. Support all the babes (and, yes, support dudes too). Live life with a moral map and you’ll lessen the chances of regretful mistakes. Know you are in control of the doors that are open and the ones that are closed. It’s OK to close a door you thought was going to be your best path. Be honest and forthright. Pet every dog you can safely touch. Find inspiration in everything. Call your mom, and drink some freaking water.
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