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, September 24th with Kyisha Davenport of BarNoirBoston.
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 Kyisha Davenport; read on for more about Davneport’s journey and what to expect from their Brown and Balanced appearance.
Keep reading to get to know Kyisha Davenport 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.
Kyisha Davenport speaks to Josh Davis for Brown + Balanced
Name, City/State, most recent place of employment.
Kyisha (Kyi pronounced like sky)! Brooklyn-born, Boston-based, most recently Tanam, currently BarNoirBoston.
What are your pronouns?
She / They / Yerrr
If you weren’t a Bartender what would you be doing?
I’d be in music or politics.
How did you get started in the industry?
Looking for a job out of high school, I came across a bartending school on Craigslist, and took a chance…not on bartending, but asking my mom for $600 to pay for it.
Being a Black/Brown Bartender what are some of the issues you face?
There’s room to take risks and be creative in the industry, but it’s not being shared equitably. There’s a house conversation to be had here, too. Outside the house, people pay a lot of lip service without backing it up with hard resources. I don’t need your praise, I need the paper to do this work. Bartending is expensive, and in an environment where Black and Brown folks are pushed to keep churning out culture for others’ profit, it’s not sustainable to keep things popping on a shoestring budget or without a team. I fear many of us are being set up to find ourselves 20 years deep into this without any stability, despite sustaining the growth of the industry all the while. On the house convo side, classism and access are definitely threats to progress in the industry. We need to dig deeper into who gets opportunities in the business and why, how folks are paying that forward, and how to move into a more transparent, collaborative space for the collective benefit.
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?
Mannn, we are DOPE. I didn’t make the rules, we just are (LOL). I love to see people get real into the mix around ingredient choices, putting things together. And that has nothing to do with using a centrifuge or anything like that (though it can). But are we a subculture? In the punk sense, yes – literally being Black does make you a bit of an outlier. However, we simply are the culture. So, even when I watch certain moments blow up among non Black or Brown people simply because they’ve been removed of their Blackness and Brownness, I know where it truly belongs, we know that it’s never gonna hit the same as it does where it truly belongs, and I can always take pride in that.
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?
Well first off, choose to be equitable over equal everyday. If you take my cookie from me, eat half of it, and then give me half of what’s left, that’s equal. Equitable is not being a thief in the first place, equitable is buying me the cookie I had, equitable is giving me money to buy another cookie myself. Then, be CONSISTENT. For Black and Brown people things happen everyday. Because we’re just out here living like everyone else. In choosing equity, practice when no one is watching over performance because people are watching. More importantly, we need to invest in the business models that divest from whiteness and capitalism, period. There’s no soft capitalism, no conscious capitalism. We need cooperatives, not profit sharing. We need signatures on documentation, not IG selfies. There are actions that we can take on individual and group levels to move toward equity, but ultimately it’s a goal we’ll never meet if we use capitalism as the means to reach it.
If you could describe yourself as a cocktail what would it be and why?
Absinthe (it’s not a cocktail, I know). Perhaps hard to approach at first, unusual. But it’s a game changer in appearance, aroma, and taste once you add water, drop by drop. I’m my best self where I am watered.
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?
It’s a little odd to say this as an activist minded person, but honestly I see Black and Brown people just being more free with their art and unapologetic about who they are. Whatever that looks like. It’s stressful to always have to be there for the people or be a hero. Just doing my thing should be enough. I should have the freedom to create like everyone else. I don’t want our work to only be reactive of trauma, violence and death. And, let me emphasize, hospitality has unquestionably pressured Black and Brown bartenders to produce work out of trauma because that’s all they’ll pay for. We need to say no to this. We need to disclose who or which business asked, did or said these things. We need to be transparent about who paid us what. We have to be on the lookout for each other whenever possible. I’d love to see more BIPOC collabs. A lot of my mixology career is rooted in cultural solidarity, through good and bad. I want to keep seeing creations and spaces like Hanumanh, Brown and Balanced and Tiki and Slow Jams showing up and showing out.
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?
I’m not really interested in talking about pivots or anything like that specifically. I’ll say that I’ve reconnected to writing, which was a passion of mine as a younger person. I left the business I built, which is probably the biggest act of self love I’ve given to myself in some time. Brown and Balanced definitely blew my world open last year, having never been connected to so many Black and Brown bartenders in the decade plus I’ve been behind the stick. Seeing the community has deeply inspired me to stay on my path in this industry.
If you could have drinks with 5 people dead, alive, or fictional who would you choose and what would you be drinking?
I’m having rum and OJ with my maternal grandmother, who passed away before my 21st birthday. That was her go-to sip.
I don’t care what y’all think about Bono, but we’re having a dope wine flight – Kvevri, Pais, Jura vibes.
This is definitely cheating, but I’m having good soju with Shinee, one of my favorite artists. We’re gonna need translators (they’re a Korean-based band), which will be even funnier.
I’m going to Cuba to link with Assata. I will make her whatever she asks for, dassit.
Honestly this one’s probably not that far off, but all tiki everything with Issa Rae (brb, manifesting).
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 don’t think people read me as queer very much in the industry, so save for a few situations that are house conversations, I haven’t had many challenges based in my queerness. So with that, I do my best and can always do better to amplify the challenges that my Black trans, nonbinary and queer fam are going through and more importantly, their successes. That said, support Pride Extended, For the Gworls, and go to Church.
What is the best advice a bar mentor of yours (official or unofficial mentor) has given you?
Your rate is your rate! Knowing your worth and holding that is something I’ve heard all over leadership in the Black and Brown hospitality community, and I take it to heart as best as I can. It’s crucial that we assert our identity and the value of our work in the industry. Watch what happens over the next few years as more and more of us stick to our rate…
If you could go back to the beginning of your career what is some advice you would give yourself?
I would say, “Girl, stop giving a damn and go have fun.” I spent a chunk of my career early on in hospitality labor organizing. Being a stressed out twenty two year old with gray hair and herniated discs was NOT the wave. I loved my work and am a fighter, no question – but if I took half of that time for myself and just traveled, picked up bar gigs, and followed my heart instead of the obligations in my head? Whew! Honestly God prob knew what he was doing, but still. lol
“Ba de ya, something you’ll remember…” September is always a time of year that brings joy and a little funk. Still enjoying summer while not being mad at fall approaching, BaDeeYa is a perfect balance of the two. Using dried hawthorn fruit (available at most Asian markets and online) to bring out a softer side of Campari, vermouth rosso, goat’s milk, blood orange, and rose vinegar add texture and tang to a very sessionable cocktail – perfect for dancing in September.
- .5 oz Haw Infused Campari*
- .75 oz Cinzano Rosso
- .25 oz Goat’s Milk
- Two to three drops Rose Vinegar
- Blood orange soda, to top
- Cinzano Prosecco, to top (optional)
Build all ingredients except soda and prosecco in a shaker. Fill the shaker with ice and shake well, about 15 seconds. Strain into a large chilled coupe. Top with blood orange soda. For a higher ABV cocktail, add a splash or two of your preferred sparkling white wine.
*Haw Infused Campari:
Infuse 1/3 cup haw fruit to 10 oz Campari for at least 72 hours (haw will absorb some of the Campari). A longer infusion time (at least a week) mellows the Campari and brings forward more haw flavor.
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