Causes and Effect: Do Bar Ownership and Politics Mix?

Capitol Building
Image: tupungato / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Operators in this challenging but rewarding industry of ours have a lot to navigate. Profits and losses, staff management, technology, consumer behavior, ever-changing demands and trends, promotions, and even politics. Many operators would rather leave that last element out of their businesses but it’s not that easy, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Like it, dislike it or feel indifferent, bars, nightclubs and restaurants are not free of politics, institutional, social or otherwise. Bar ownership, operation and management may look like fun and games from the outside but there’s so much more to this business.

More than just a handful of politicians like to use bars as scapegoats for all manner of “societal ills” to impose excise taxes, get elected or re-elected, and stay in office. The hospitality industry is not free of gender inequality or harassment. And there’s no denying that a significant portion of this industry’s workforce is made up of immigrants who, if not the backbone, are the cartilage holding things together.

The owners of a new modern Mexican restaurant in Brooklyn are using their venue to give voice—and donations—to a cause close to their hearts. La Loncheria from the Hecho en Dumbo team is hosting a benefit event on this National Margarita Day to raise awareness and funds for Border Angels, “an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that advocates for human rights, humane immigration reform, and social justice with a special focus on issues related to issues related to the US-Mexican border.” At the same time, co-owners Danny Mena and Oscar León Bernal, both Mexico City natives, are also celebrating women in the industry on National Margarita Day.

Read this: Queen of the Scene: Celebrating National Margarita Day

As an operator, you can plan and execute similar promotions, tying political, social and local issues you believe in to bar and restaurant holidays. Doing so can be as simple as looking at the non-profit groups operating in your community, reviewing their mission statements, and determining if they align with your beliefs and those of your staff.

Bear in mind that steering clear of political hot-button issues doesn’t make you a “bad” operator or neighbor. Choosing instead to hitch your wagon to local food drives doesn’t mean you’re less supportive of your community than another operator. Being uncomfortable offering more than a venue for great service, excellent drinks and awesome food also doesn’t make you less than other operators.

Read this: A Core Value Walks Into a Bar

For those of you interested in hosting benefits and other charitable events during highly visible bar holidays such as National Margarita Day, below is an interview with La Loncheria co-owners Mena and Bernal. As you'll learn, planning an event that raises awareness for a political and/or social issue doesn't mean designing it to be free of fun, creative food and delicious drinks.

As a few examples, La Loncheria has planned a happy hour featuring the Pepino el Toro Margarita (Pelotón Mezcal, pineapple and cucumber) for $5, guacamole for $5, and complimentary botanas (Spanish for "appetizers"), consisting of bar snacks such as a ceviche, chipotle meatballs or tacos sudados (stewed tacos). Guest bartenders will be serving guests the Madame Freeman’s Folly, a Del Maguey Vida Margarita (Del Maguey VIDA, Suze, peach tea, lime oil) for $10 and the Shrubb a Dub Dub Margarita (Azteca Azul Reposado Tequila, Agave de Cortes Mezcal, lime, Rhum J.M Shrubb J.M), also $10.

What inspired you to plan this benefit event?

We planned this benefit event to show the public exactly why National Margarita Day is important—the sheer volume of different national food and drink holidays can sometimes make people feel as if they lose meaning. We look at this day as a celebration of Mexican culture in the U.S. through the lens of a cocktail most Americans know and love. Everything we do at La Loncheria is a reflection of authentic Mexican cuisine, executed with a modern twist, so we partnered with some friends to offer a lineup of margaritas with a mezcal base as a nod to authenticity and interesting ingredients like peach tea and Shrubb J.M for a contemporary feel.

Mezcal Margarita from La Loncheria -
Mezcal Margarita at La Loncheria (image: La Loncheria)

Why did you choose to partner with Border Angels?

We are both Mexico City natives who believe in the importance of the cultural contributions other countries, and Mexico in particular, bring to the U.S. We chose to align with Border Angels because we feel very strongly about supporting the basic human rights of Mexicans looking to relocate to the U.S. for a better life. Border Angels’ focus on harm reduction and education and advocacy is admirable and important—perhaps now more than ever. 

How will this event benefit Border Angels?

This event will not only bring awareness to their mission within our industry and local community, but it will also directly benefit their organization by way of donation. We will donate a portion of all revenue generated at the bar during the event. We will also encourage all event attendees to provide additional donations, and have encouraged all who cannot make it to consider making a donation: https://www.borderangels.org/our-causes/.

What percentage of the proceeds generated through this event will go to benefit Border Angels?

We will be donating 25% of event proceeds to the organization. We will also have a representative from Border Angels on site to facilitate any additional donations patrons may wish to contribute. 

How will this event benefit the community in which you operate?

This event will benefit our local community by bringing people together over a shared love of food and drink from Mexico. We hope to inspire the community to become more aware of their appreciation for how Mexican culture enriches their lives in the U.S.

How did you decide on the guest bartenders who will be working this event?

We decided that there was no better time to support female bartenders in our community, Éva Pelczer of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal and Ginger Warburton of Skurnik Wines, by giving them a platform to showcase their favorite margaritas. 

Éva's margarita recipe is exciting because it was created by another influential woman in the industry, Misty Kalkofen, for her forthcoming book Drinking Like Ladies.

What do you want to tell our readers about the causes of human rights, humane immigration reform, and social justice, particularly as they relate to the U.S.-Mexico border?

If capital can move fluidly through borders, why can’t labor do so as well? Or at least, why can’t we acknowledge that economic integration has not fully benefited people across the board? Additionally, we believe that migration is going to occur regardless and these are real humans exposing themselves to highly dangerous situations in order to make a living.
 
Considering how much of this industry’s workforce consists of immigrants, what do you feel is the social responsibility of bar, nightclub and restaurant owners, operators and managers?

Again, it is important to understand that the labor force is made up of a lot of migrants with real lives, real families and life histories. Whether we agree with economic integration, flexible markets, etc., people’s lives changed dramatically and in the case of Mexico, as subsidies were taken away from programs in agriculture and as communal land holdings were privatized, people had to look for options, and the U.S. has a huge service sector that relies on documented and undocumented labor.

Do you have similar benefit events planned for 2018?

We hope that our National Margarita Day will be a successful event that generates a positive impact for Border Angels and our community, and while we do not have anything currently scheduled, we would absolutely arrange events to support their organization again.
 
What advice would you give our readers in terms of planning and executing this type of event?

Pick a cause that feels authentic to the mission of your establishment and personal beliefs.