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Women Who Mix: Black Mixologists You Need To Know

These black female mixologists are disrupting the cocktail space.

Human Interest

For years, the cocktail industry has been dominated by men. But women, especially women of color, are taking their rightful place on the throne and are doing what we do best - being a boss! Recently, we sat down with some of the leading mixologists that are literally shaking up the cocktail industry.

From winning cocktail competitions, becoming the first of their kind to publish a cocktail book, and to being booked and busy by some of the world's most influential brands, these women know a thing or two about the art of mixology.

These women have all worked their way through the trenches, are self-made bosses, and in their own unique way, have built companies that have notably disrupted the game.

Because we can definitely appreciate a good cocktail or two, we couldn't help but to connect with these ladies and of course, we asked them to give us the tea on how they got started and what they've done to achieve the success that they have now. Keep reading to get to know these leading mixologists and learn how they are stirring up far more than just well-crafted cocktails.

The mixologist that you and your favorite brand love to book:

​Jessica Robinson of JusTini Cocktails

@justinicocktails

Courtesy of Jessica Robinson

How did you get started?

I've been a mixologist for 12 years. I started when I was in college at Southern University. A classmate of mine started talking to me about a job at a bar she was working at. At the time, I didn't know much about liquor, just really the basics - I would just mix up Malibu and pineapple juice. But my friend convinced me and said that she would be able to help me get the job. So I started working there and that's how I got started. I fell in love with everything that came with the job, from the atmosphere to the people. Once I got started working as a mixologist, I never stopped.

Before I graduated from Southern, I actually started working in retail, and was juggling being a manager, going to school, and bartending on the side. Once I graduated, I got a job in my major which was doing marketing for a McDonald's franchise and I was also still bartending at night. I ended up getting laid off from McDonald's because they were downsizing and during that time is when I started building JusTini Cocktails. Shortly after that, I worked in HR doing contract work which allowed me to get started with bartending full-time. Now, I've been running Justini's for about a year and a half now.

What makes you unique?

I typically get a mix of both weddings and corporate/social events. I've done events for Essence, Pepsi, and the Urban League.

In my business, my brand is more than just a drink. I create an experience for my guests, from the presentation of my drink, to the name of the cocktail, and the fact that my drinks are actually really good.


What has been your biggest challenge and how do you stay motivated?

I think in the beginning, the biggest challenge that I went through was branding myself to show the need for my type of service. Once I was able to show the need, I was able to get the clientele that I wanted. A quote that keeps me motivated is by Elizabeth Gilbert and it says, "The women I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it. They handled it a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes."

The mixologist creating Instagrammable cocktails that’ll give your friends extreme FOMO

Kimberly Hunter of Potent Pours

@potentpours

Courtesy of Kimberly Hunter

How did you get started?

Potent Pours launched two years ago but I've definitely been a mixologist for longer than that. Potent Pours was actually birthed from my kitchen bar area. I would often make cocktails for myself, my sister, and friends when we couldn't get to happy hour because of rush hour traffic. When my sister and friends would come over, I would create really potent and beautiful cocktails for them using gorgeous glassware and over the top garnishes.

After a while, my sister actually suggested that I consider making cocktails professionally because of the beauty, attention to detail, and energy that I would put into every drink that I would make. When I started thinking about working in the industry, I tried to figure out where my place would be and how I could start working in it. Because of my schedule with my children, I always knew that working late nights at a bar wouldn't be ideal. From there, I did some research and started looking for a way to bring craft cocktails to the masses and saw that there was a booming market for mobile mixologists. I went ahead and did more research, got my license, and then started working on my brand.

What makes you unique?

My secret sauce is really the whole Potent Pours experience. Every person that has had my cocktails love how I create really potent, over-the-top, Instagrammable cocktails that overall makes the whole experience in indulging so much better. Also, my clients and their guests can always count on me to create original, unique cocktail recipes that they haven't seen or had anywhere else.

Since I launched my company, a lot of my business actually comes from social media. Typically, I've found that clients will book me after seeing their friends post about my cocktails. One thing about my cocktails is that I'm obsessed with making every single drink very potent, very pleasing to the eye, and really something that you would be excited to share with friends on social media.

What has been your biggest challenge and how do you stay motivated?

One of the challenges that I've faced is getting the right client. It's important for me to service clients that really appreciate all of the work and creative energy that goes into my business. Whenever I'm booked for an event, I never show up with a bunch of alcohol and pre-made, store-bought mixers. Literally, every cocktail that I make is handcrafted and are my original recipes. All of my cocktails are also made with juices or add-ons that are all created in-house. None of my cocktails have extra preservatives or anything like that. Finding the right client to appreciate all of this and the work that goes into creating the cocktail has been a challenge. I've been able to find awesome clients that get it, but every now and then, I run into some that don't.

A quote that keeps me motivated when I'm having long days is, "Just do that shit!" Whenever I'm scared to launch a new product or when I get overwhelmed, I tell myself to really "just do that shit" and it gives me the motivation that I need to keep pushing and to just get it done.

The #Blackgirlmagic mixologist duo putting Charleston on the map

Johnny Caldwell & Taneka Reaves of Cocktail Bandits

@cocktailbandits

Courtesy of Johnny Caldwell & Taneka Reaves

How did you get started?

Taneka:Cocktail Bandits ended up becoming a business because we were living in Charleston and we saw the food and beverage industries growing. Even though we saw it growing, we didn't really see a place for us in it. At the time, I was working at an urban bar and they didn't care about being creative with the cocktails. It was really about just making rum and coke or gin and juice drinks.

When I would make my cocktails really creative, my boss didn't like it because they were unable to recreate the drinks when I wasn't at work. So I started trying to find work at a high-end bar, but I couldn't find work there because of my appearance (I was natural). In Charleston at the time, we had over 400 bars downtown and maybe 5 Black mixologists. In 2012 and 2013, a lot of people weren't used to the natural look from people of color so it was hard for me to get a job. Since no one was responding back to my job applications, Johnny and I decided to create a lane for ourselves by launching our own brand.

What makes you unique?

Johnny: We talk about spirits in a very approachable way. I think in the beverage market, buying spirits can be very intimidating. Sometimes a lot of people speak about cocktail spirits in a very elevated way that most consumers don't understand. We work hard on exposing people to new things, and on educating, entertaining, and empowering the consumer so that when they go to the bar, they are confident in what they are ordering.

What has been your biggest challenge and how do you stay motivated?

Taneka: I think one challenge for us has been figuring out the budget cycles for companies. We learned that every company pretty much has a different budgeting cycle so we've been working on figuring that out for companies we're interested in. Whenever we run into challenges, one quote that keeps us motivated is to not look at anything like an obstacle but look at it as an opportunity.

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Featured image by Johnny & Neka/Instagram

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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