By Leah Grigsby Collins
Be sure to read this year’s other profiles with Alisa Beyer and Tiffanie Barriere in our Women’s History Month series!
A-K Hada is the creative force behind the bar of some of hospitality’s biggest names—from her six-year tenure as head bartender for PDT, to her time as the Beverage Director for Dante and their partnerships with Jean-Georges at The Greens and with The Snow Lodge in Aspen.
She has also led the apprenticeship program as CAP Manager at Tales of the Cocktail for the last five years running and has been recognized as both a two-time National Finalist in the USBG World Class competition and a Spirited Awards Finalist.
Currently, A-K serves as BACARDÍ’s National Brand Ambassador, where she uses her experience and expertise to help tell the story of the BACARDÍ portfolio.
Bar Business Media chatted with A-K about her career and experience as a woman in the hospitality industry, the cocktail space more broadly, and her advice to women looking to get into the industry.
Bar Business Media (BBM): Tell our readers more about yourself and your career in the hospitality industry, both as a bartender and now as BACARDÍ’s National Brand Ambassador.
A-K Hada (AKH): I began working in restaurants in my teens and early twenties, but I would say I truly began my career in the hospitality industry 10 years ago when I moved to NYC. I was incredibly fortunate to land a job at PDT before I even fully appreciated its significance in our field, and that was where I built my foundation as a bartender, host, business person, and manager. I attribute much of my industry expertise to my six-year tenure there and am thrilled to now apply that skill set to my role as BACARDÍ’s National Brand Ambassador. I see so much possibility on the horizon for our industry after the hardship and learnings of the last couple of years, and witnessing the resilience of the hospitality and spirits industries has only strengthened the passion I have for my work. I can’t wait to continue growing with BACARDÍ and see what’s in store for the rum category as we forge ahead.
BBM: Have you observed any upcoming trends or innovations in the cocktails space?
AKH: Most places I’ve visited are still trying to get their feet back on stable ground, but their ability to adapt during tumultuous times has been truly inspiring. Businesses have exhibited such innovation and flexibility when it comes to bar efficiency and prep, and many operators have had to implement things like turning to draft cocktails and batching systems to keep up with the increasing on-premise consumer demand, as people have begun to get back out into the world. While that’s ultimately the goal, it’s been an added struggle for restaurants running with fewer staff members. I applaud any industry professional that has managed to take the lemons life has dealt us these past couple of years and squeeze them into sours.
BBM: What were/are your biggest hurdles being a woman in the hospitality industry?
AKH: This is a tricky question, because on one hand, certainly some of the biggest hurdles for women in the hospitality space are the biggest hurdles for women in any capacity. Between societal stigmas and doubts when it comes to our capabilities, we’ve had to overcome a lot of disrespect over the years to show that we’re capable of being excellent in our craft. On the other hand, I try my best to not give those obstacles more power than they deserve and to focus on what I can achieve, rather than fixate on others’ opinions that are out of my control.
BBM: What advice would you give to your younger self and to women who will enter the hospitality industry in the coming years?
AKH: One of the most rewarding aspects of working in this industry has been that it has forced me to discover and believe in myself. This is a very interpersonal job, and in order to succeed at it, someone needs to have a lot of self-awareness. Finding confidence in my own voice has been (and continues to be) a journey, but I would advise my younger self and any women entering the hospitality industry to make that a priority.
BBM: What are some of the ways that the industry can better support women in the workplace?
AKH: I would encourage the industry to focus on culture. If you consistently lack diversity among your staff, instead of pinning the blame on a lack of diversity in applicants, I suggest looking at why that might be. People go where they feel comfortable and welcome, and that extends to guests. Businesses should take stock of their environments and leadership teams, and begin by asking themselves if they are crafting a workplace culture that women, non-binary, and people of color WANT to work in.
BBM: Do you have a favorite cocktail recipe that you’d like to share?
AKH: One of the best parts of this job has been rediscovering classic rum cocktails. A favorite that I’ve been drinking lately is a Dick Bradsell cocktail from the ‘90s called a Treacle. This is the recipe I use:
2 oz BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho (or Diez)
0.5 oz Apple Juice
0.25 oz Simple Syrup
2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
Orange twist as garnish
Traditionally, the rum, sugar, and bitters were stirred together like an Old Fashioned, poured over a large ice cube, and the apple juice was floated on top. My own shortcut, however, is that I’ll use chilled apple juice and do a short stir with all ingredients. This drink is certainly delicious!