Meet the Shakers - Carina Soto Velasquez

World Best Bar

Oct 29, 2021

Meet the shakers Carina Soto Velasquez
Welcome back to “Meet the shakers”, our interview series dedicated to those shaking up the cocktail world through positive change.…

Welcome back to “Meet the shakers”, our interview series dedicated to those shaking up the cocktail world through positive change. Today we meet with one of the most emblematic faces of Parisian nightlife: star bartender and businesswoman extraordinaire Carina Soto Velasquez.

Carina Soto Velasquez started out on the scene in the mid-2000s, making her debut at Experimental Cocktail Club just as they were beginning their own rise to fame. Soon enough, she became a force to be reckoned with, making a name for herself while spearheading the cocktail bar renaissance in the capital.

In 2011, she co-founded Quixotic Projects, which now owns and operates three renowned hospitality venues in Paris (Candelaria, Le Mary Celeste and Hero) and does consulting and advisement for a number of international hospitality brands.

As a consultant, she shares her knowledge with bartenders and bar owners on topics such as entrepreneurship, industry trends and gender issues. As a boss and a feminist, she has made it a point to include and give visibility to more women bartenders in each of her venues. As a bartender and entrepreneur, her unique style and business acumen have made her an inspiration for many and an example to follow. 

Hello Carina and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself, your bartending journey, and the story behind Quixotic Projects?

I’m originally from Colombia, I’ve been living in France for 17 years (I arrived when I was 18) and today I’m based in London. My bartending journey started working in restaurants in Paris. I was a really good waitress, and quickly I was managing teams. I started bartending at a local bar in the 1st arrondissement. It was a job replacement that was proposed to me and I loved the challenge. Then I visited Experimental Cocktail Club, and it was love at first sight. The rest is history.

Quixotic Projects was born after the success of Candelaria. It was not a project, it just happened. We didn’t plan on opening multiple sites, our only plan was not to be out of business and build a place that will age and stay solid for a least 10 years (and here we are today). 

What were some of the challenges you’ve personally encountered as a woman in the industry, both as a bartender and an entrepreneur?

As a bartender when I started it was a very small scene in Paris with very little presence of women in any context. It was rough: customers being disrespectful, your colleagues trying to put you down… I was very young when I became the first manager at Experimental Cocktail Club (22 years old). I knew I would have to fight harder than my peers to make it, but that was fine, it was a great school. 

As an entrepreneur, it was all the classic judgements: “When you’re going to have kids is the business going to be over?”, “You look very young”, etc. And if you add the fact that I’m not a EU citizen, it wasn’t easy for bank loans, investors, getting a venue, etc. Today I feel that situation has evolved. 

Can you walk us through some of the concrete steps you’ve taken as a business owner to help change the paradigm?

– Empower women in your team

– Give them visibility 

– Make them feel safe and listened to. We have installed a box that only we have the code for, and it’s for the staff to feel free to complain or communicate privately if there are any issues. 

– We have a very clear service manual that stipulates behaviour “house rules” and things we do not tolerate. 

– Keep a diverse, balanced team — not only in terms of gender

– Make sure you pay people well and fair

– Build positions for people to grow

With topics such as gender equality and inclusivity opening up such important conversations in recent years, have you been noticing any signs that the bar industry is moving in the right direction, in Paris and beyond? What more do you think can and should be done?

There’s always room to improve but the press has been doing very good job at creating awareness on the topic. That has forced brands, awards, trade shows, etc. to change their habits and be more inclusive. 

Paris is doing well, it’s one of the European cities that I think has a really good representation in terms of gender, but there’s still a lot to do. We still need to keep the conversation going, keep making people uncomfortable because if it’s still uncomfortable it means that it’s still an issue.  

Could you describe the experience at your venues for those who haven’t visited yet?  What’s the common thread between them?

They are all different, for different occasions, but in common I would say they are surprising. We want to create the surprise, we want you to feel confortable but unique, sexy but fun. 

Where do you get your inspiration from when working on a cocktail menu or developing a new recipe? Can you walk us through your creative process? 

I don’t really make cocktails anymore, only for very specific situations. But I do like to challenge my teams and work with them on the menus. With Josh we share information that can be inspiring, articles, books, etc. And we like to push them by imposing some conditions that will make them more creative. 

Same question for your consulting work. What are the steps that go into, say, renovating a venue, building a new food and beverage program, or inventing a concept for a new place?

This is different because you have to match the client’s desires, but we always want to create venues that are meaningful and your will remember. 

Can you tell us about a few of your favorite projects you’ve worked on so far?

Bar Marilou has been a great experience. We love New Orleans and being able to create a venue from scratch and put together a delicious cocktail program in the city where cocktails where born, plus work with an amazing team, is fabulous. 

Now for our cocktail-making aficionados: what’s a spirit everyone should have at home and why?

Hard to give only one but I would say sweet vermouth. You can have it on the rocks, with any long drink or sour. 

Your favorite cocktail recipe at the moment?

L’Amour en cage is a cocktail at Candelaria that is perfectly balanced. It is incredible, I am  obsessed. 

Gin infused with physalis leaves, fermented physalis, Aperol.

And finally, any last words of advice for the aspiring women bartenders reading us?

Bartending is a beautiful profession that can open infinite doors to you depending on your desire to grow. The hospitality industry needs more women to be a better industry. Help and empower your colleagues, team work is the key.

Thank you so much for your answers Carina!

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