It’s been a terrible week for Tales of the Cocktail, which has seen a flurry of accusations and slew of resignations from Colin Asare-appiah, the co-chair of the Diversity Council, and Tales founders Paul and Ann Tuennerman.
The finances surrounding Tales – produced by the New Orleans Culinary & Cultural Preservation Society (NOCCPS), a ‘non-profit’ organisation which sees money paid to charity – were also called into question, following the publication of a document - since deleted - that claimed Ann and Paul Tuennerman receive almost 60% of the net profits from Tales in professional fees, while less than 10% is paid to charity. The organisers have since issued a statement, clarifying the spending by Mojo 911 LLC, the PR, event and marketing firm that puts on Tales of the Cocktail.
The UK has always been highly involved in Tales of the Cocktail, with brands and bartenders alike running seminars and parties throughout the week. We spoke to some of the UK’s leading industry figures to get their view on it all before the statement was issued by Melissa Young, president of Mojo 911 LLC.
Jake Burger, Leelex
It's all a bit of a shame, I love Tales, it's my favourite week of the year, but it is falling apart at the seams. It's amazing to me that people are surprised that Ann and Paul [Tuennerman] are making money from it, in the nine years I've attended I never once got the impression they were doing it for their love of the industry or the city, it had been whispered in the shadows that they were taking half a million dollars each per year. Though to see quite how much they were taking in that document is indeed quite startling!
After the initial incident I think they handled it as well as they could, Paul’s departure and the establishment of the Diversity Council were textbook examples of how to deal with that calamity and many people got on board and gave Tales 2017 a pass because of it – the fact that much was already arranged/paid for also probably helped.
I suspect the industry will no longer be as forgiving. I truly hope something similar replaces it or that Tales in some way can find a way to carry on without benefiting the Tuennermans at all, but whilst they are attached in any way and whilst it continues to line their pockets I think it's over.
Stuart McCluskey, The Bon Vivant
I think the writing’s on the wall now. Over and above the issues surrounding ‘blackface-gate’, I've become increasingly annoyed at how badly they have dealt with, well, everything. They've had ample opportunity to ‘fess up and do the right, or to take the right steps forward, and they haven't done that. All this combined with the fact that what we all suspected is true regarding [the Tuennermans’] motives to generate monies for themselves rather than for what they purport, I'll find it very difficult to be involved with or support.
Tristan Stephenson, Fluid Movement
I’d already resigned myself to probably not attending next year, and I remain slightly hesitant to say ‘no’ because I love the city. One thing’s for sure, I’ve done over 20 seminars in seven years and I won’t be doing another one for them. Jared Brown made a good observation on Facebook. When you moderate a seminar you get an honorarium fee of (I think) $500. [The Tales organisers] lay it on thick and suggest that you waiver it to help support the charity. Now it turns out that 60% of your hard earned, waivered cash is landing directly in [the Tuennermans’] pockets. That’s pretty f*ed up.
Iain Griffiths, Trash Tiki, Mr Lyan
Literally at the start of last week we had made the decision to abstain from Tales in 2018, for many reasons but mainly in part as it’s become something of a vicious cycle with very little down time – seminar applications for next year are due in eight weeks!
I’m definitely not going to try and be Nostradamus on what will follow for Tales, but as bartenders we’ve long known the power we have as purchasers, and wouldn’t buy/pour/support brands that act in a manner that wasn’t okay with each one’s own code of ethics.
The latest events are causing the industry to stop just thinking about brands, and consider everywhere we spend our money. Which is awesome, because you shouldn’t support the bar owned by a wife beater, or the guy who embezzled tens of thousands of pounds out of his last company, but you should also not wait for a story to break or a controversy to happen for you to ride the bandwagon of.
Claire Warner, Moët Hennessy
Until I read the report, my greatest concern was for the impact having NO Tales would have on NOLA and the charity which we have always felt we were serving. This report raises several questions moving forward, most notably is the issue of how much was contributed to charities vs how much is personal gain. Including the many honorariums that were encouraged to be donated.I am now, more than ever, most interested in how we can try to support the local businesses that will be affected by this fiasco.Personally, I feel the need to take a break, as this year was my 11th in attendance and it's hard work. And I would like to spend my own money visiting NOLA and putting some cash in the tills of some amazing bars, because the city will always be a great place to visit.
This article was updated on 28 September 2017 following the deletion of the Google document calling the spending of Tales' revenue into question, and the resulting statement given by the Tales of the Cocktail organisers. All interviews above were given on 26 September, prior to this statement.