In Conversation with Chicago’s The Traveling Tender Charli Talley for Brown + Balanced

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, July 30th with Chicago’s Charli Talley, known as The Traveling Tender.

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 Chicago’s Charli Talley. Read on for more about Talley’s journey and what to expect from her Brown and Balanced appearance.

Keep reading to get to know Charli Talley 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.

Name, City/State, most recent place of employment.

The Traveling Tender LLC, Chicago, IL

What are your pronouns?

She/Her

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

I would be teaching, or training; maybe adults again, or school-aged children again. But this time, I’d love to deliver more classes on gardening, cooking, and of course Spanish dance.

How did you get started in the industry?

I got a job at a catering company as event wait-staff as a teenager. Almost immediately, the owner — a founding member of the International Caterers Association — said I was “a natural” at upscale hospitality and began showing me the way to excel at fine dining. A few years later, while working a wedding, I was asked to give one of the bar stations a break, and instantly fell in love with that delight that comes across the face of a guest with their first sip of a cocktail.

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

I could write a book about it. The issues are long-standing, but somehow continue to breed even newer ones. I have worked at establishments where I was uniquely subjected to bag checks, criticism of my hairstyle choices, and consistently scheduled for the least desirable shifts. I have had guests refuse to consume either food or drink from anything I touch. I have worked alongside colleagues who assume I’m good for nothing more than cutting garnish and pouring an occasional beer, and try to “take over” a shared bar space. Years ago, I was told that no one would ever take me seriously [by someone brazen enough to say] because “my people just don’t have a history of being good at crafting fine cocktails.” In his defense, he may have meant to slight my gender instead of my ethnicity, but the environment was far from encouraging. Serving up adult beverages comes with lots of tense political conversations, tons of debates on hot social issues, and a real bevy of stereotypes, insensitivity, and epithets float out of the mouths of patrons relaxed by the spirits we serve. By no means am I suggesting we censor people. I only point out how true colors and underlying sentiments are revealed when drinking is involved.

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?

The persistence. I am so proud of how fervently we persist. Throughout history, and especially now. The everyday simple stuff (jogging, going to a convenience store, walking home, or even sleeping at home) can be so difficult, sometimes DEADLY, and we still persist. Despite the millions of roadblocks to success or even just survival that we encounter, some that are even still written into the laws of this land, Black people still continue to persist. We hear “no”, “not yet”, and “it can’t be that bad,” ALL THE TIME… and we still keep going. I am so proud that, while the deck is often stacked against us, I never have a shortage of examples of champions who excelled despite it all, and everyday heroes who show the world (as well as my children) that we are brilliant and essential, that our skin shades should not warrant prejudice, ignorance nor genocide.

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?

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? While I don’t feel that I remained afloat necessarily, I will say that having so much more time with my family in close proximity was a blessing. The sudden change to remote learning gave me so much insight to my children’s daily lives in school. As a former educator and private tutor, I learned so much about their habits and responses to curriculum that I was able to apply in my own lessons with families I work with. I even began some transition tutoring to help other parents adjust more seamlessly. In the initial weeks of the shutdown, I donated all of the consumables (cases of fruit, juices, bottled water, soda, etc) and supplies (disinfectant sprays, sanitizer, paper products, cups, etc) from our The Traveling Tender storehub to local charity/pantries. (I spent the next month, wishing I’d held on to some of that Lysol however.)

This gave me more time to contribute to the community, using my food sanitation certification to pack meals for soup kitchens converted to pickup stations, and dropping off food to the homebound. Business slowed, stopped, then changed. We now offer more virtual sessions than ever before, as well as design pre packaged kits to create cocktail or mocktail experiences for our guests. Our team within this industry is kind of like the equivalent of field medics within healthcare, so we were prepared for the shift toward more intimate events where we build bars and dining experiences at private residences and in outdoor venues. We are also looking forward to supporting our friends and industry colleagues as restaurants and bars begin to reopen.

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

I’d love to have one with a few people who have passed on. Of course, I would love to have a glass of Tennessee whiskey neat with my Daddy; with my cousin George we would sip bourbon over a large format cube with a slice of candied ginger; I would make a pitcher of Catalán Sangría and catch up with my dear sister-friend Nina; and with my Ma we would drink green monster smoothies. The only person alive on this list is my brother Charles, because with or without a bottle of his beloved cognac, the laughter and tears we share are beyond compare. And maybe Nikki Giovanni too, “the unwillingness to try is worse than any failure.”

What is the best advice a bar mentor of yours (official or unofficial mentor) has given you?

I’ve gotten some great gems through the years. When I was 19, and just months away from my bachelors degree, I told my family I wanted to skip law school and go to culinary school. My boss at the catering company that I worked for told me, “You’re good at this. A natural. But this will always be here. Go to school, you’re young, and if you love it that much, the hospitality industry will always be here whenever you come back.” I’m ever grateful for his guidance. He was among the many wonderful people who died last year. Another bar colleague (and unofficial mentor) reminded me just a few years ago that while it’s great to always be willing to help others, I should also know it’s okay to ask for help when needed.

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

I would likely tell myself, “If you love it, you should do it.” I have been fortunate that life has dealt me a number of failures, that have allowed (required) me to reinvent myself and redirect my path. If not for these stumbles throughout the years, I would not have grown accustomed to the art of the pivot.

 

Minnie Rivers to Cross

  • 1.5 oz Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum
  • .75 oz Aperol Liqueur
  • .50 oz Passion Fruit Syrup
  • .50 oz Fresh Lime Juice
  • .50 oz Fresh Orange Juice
  • Coconut Water
  • 3 Strawberries, halved
  • Brown Sugar
  • Cayenne Pepper

Add strawberry halves, bar spoon of brown sugar, and a pinch of cayenne to a shaker and muddle. Add Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum, Aperol Liqueur, passion fruit syrup, lime juice, and orange juice. Add ice and shake well. Double strain into a prepared mason jar filled with fresh ice and rimmed with passion fruit syrup then dipped into brown sugar & cayenne pepper granules. Top with coconut water. Serve garnished with orange and strawberry slices (tiny boat optional).

 

 

 

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