Brown + Balanced in Conversation with DC’s Andra “AJ” Johnson

During these unprecedented times, the hospitality industry needs leaders like never before. Josh Davis is an industry veteran with over 15 years of experience and he is also the founder of Brown And Balanced which started as an event at Portland Cocktail Week and Camp Runamok and has since built into a stand-alone entity.

The first season aired last fall, with a focus on different Black hospitality professionals. Brown and Balanced, presented by Campari America, was such a success and is back again for Season 2, continuing on Friday, June 25th with Andra AJ Johnson, of Washington DC’s dual concept Serenata & Zumo.

At the core of Brown and Balanced is the mission to share talents and stories of Black and Brown food and beverage professionals and the projects they’re developing through digital content. As Davis describes it, “think In Living Color and Mad TV meets Charlamagne Tha God meets Black and Brown Bartenders. BOOM.”

When quarantine and lockdowns swept the nation, Brown and Balanced hosted a series of Happy Hours over on Instagram featuring bartenders, servers, and cocktail enthusiasts from all over the U.S. to share their stories and backgrounds. After taking time to rest and restore, Brown and Balanced is coming back to continue conversations.

The next Featured Bartender of the season will be DC’s Andra “AJ” Johnson. Read on for more about Johnson’s journey and what to expect from her Brown and Balanced appearance.

Keep reading to get to know Andra “AJ” Johnson and in support of Brown & Balanced, we ask that you please keep up with all of Campari America’s industry-focused events and education by following @CampariCommunity or signing up for the Campari mailing list HERE.

Brown + Balanced in Conversation with Andra AJ Johnson

Name, City/State, most recent place of employment

Serenata & Zumo (dual concept) 1280 4th St NE, Washington, DC 20002

What are your pronouns?

She/Her

If you weren’t a Bartender what would you be doing?

Writing. Always writing.

How did you get started in the industry?

I was hired as a host at Chili’s when I was 14 and I fell in love from there.

Being a Black/Brown Bartender what are some of the issues you face?

The same issues you face in the world everyday as a queer Black female: racism, sexism, doing your best to overcome nepotism and narcissism while simultaneously being in a profession where you have to smile and shuck in jive for money in order to survive.

Being a Black/Brown Bartender what are some of the things you take pride in as being a part of this subculture inside of the hospitality industry?

Black people built the hospitality industry so we are not the subculture.  We just don’t get to rejoice in the importance of our role in it because we weren’t allowed to write the history.  I am proud of the fact that there are Black voices telling our stories and making moves right now that will ensure that their contributions will never be forgotten.

What do you feel the leaders can do better to provide equal opportunities and representation for Black, Indigenous and People of Color in the industry?

Honestly, it is time to stop asking this question.  The hospitality industry is riddled with racism and asking this question only reaffirms this fact. It doesn’t show solidarity or understanding as is probably intended.  Simple answer: Don’t be a racist.  Black people are not monolithic. Leaders should have the wherewithal to treat people with the respect they deserve as individual human beings. If a person fits the bill in terms of talent, then hire them. It shouldn’t be a hard concept to grasp.  I also cannot speak on what other people of color need (non-Black), as that is not my lived experience.

If you could describe yourself as a cocktail what would it be and why?

Any aged spirit neat. I’ve had time to mature; I play no games and I get straight to the point.

With the social climate in the world today, I feel like our industry is a microcosm of society. How do you see Black/Brown Bartenders using their platforms to enact change in what we see across the bartending community?

Teaching, learning and making gains to educate themselves and those in their circles; creating programs to uplift people of color when they have been so blatantly ignored and written off by their jobs and by society; and creating space for Black bodies to thrive and flourish in their creativity and express themselves.

2020 was a crazy year, with the shutdown affecting all of our businesses. What are some ways you have been able to shift and try to stay afloat?

Pivoting to virtual cocktail classes, World Central Kitchen, pop-ups, and creating and activating partnerships that engaged clientele outside of my own.

If you could have drinks with 5 people dead, alive, or fictional who would you choose and what would you be drinking?

Malcolm (X) Little, Sean Carter, Oprah Winfrey, Osamu Tezuka, Langston Hughes drinking Pierre Paillard ‘Les Parcelles’ XV Bouzy Brut Grand Cru followed by 1987 Chateau Les Justices Cru Bourgeois Sauternes.

Being a Black/Brown Bartender and being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community what are some challenges that you have faced in the industry, and how have you overcome them?

I haven’t experienced anything out of the ordinary of being a queer person in America. People misgender me (I have always been and will always be a female), call me a dyke, and feel that I should dress more feminine.

What is the best advice a bar mentor of yours has given you?

Mind Your Business #2020 and don’t do anything for anybody for free.

If you could go back to the beginning of your career what is some advice you would give yourself?

Don’t use your own money to invest in someone else’s dream.

Touch the SKYY cocktail recipe + preparation

  • 1.5 oz SKYY Vodka
  • .75 oz Butterfly Pea Flower Tea Simple Syrup*
  • .5 oz Passionfruit Nectar
  • .5 oz Pineapple Juice
  • .25 oz Lime
  • .75 oz Egg White (1 egg white)
  • 1 pinch Ground Nutmeg

Add all ingredients to a shaker tin. Dry shake vigorously. Add ice to tin. Wet shake vigorously. Strain into Chilled Collins Glass. Add Ice. Garnish with Pineapple Fronds and straw

*For Butterfly Pea Flower Tea Simple Simple: 1:1 ratio water to white sugar on the stove on low heat. Stir to incorporate all sugar into the water. Add Dried Butterfly Pea Flowers to the mixture and let sit on low heat until simple syrup is a dark blue hue. Pull off heat and let cool.

 

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