February 2017 Brand Ambassador of the Month: Joe Brooke

Joe Brooke in Panama. Photo: Rebecca Peplinski.

Joseph Brooke came to Los Angeles 11 years ago from New York City. He has since spent time working in some of the most popular nightspots in Los Angeles. Brooke has proven his commitment to the craft by continuously training and honing his skills. He graduated from the Southern Wine & Spirits Academy of Spirits & Fine Service in 2010. That same year, Brooke received his Bar Ready certification from AKA Wine Geek’s BAR program. He has tended bar at several well-known hotspots, including the legendary Bar Marmont, downtown’s vintage favorite The Edison, Copa d’Oro, Next Door Lounge, and Mixology 101 at the Original Farmers Market.

It was Brooke’s time as bar manager and head bartender at Mixology 101 that this month’s Brand Ambassador of the Month was finally able to work with and learn from one of the greatest barmen the world over: the Maestro himself, Salvatore Calabrese. Brooke co-created and curated a list of 65-plus fresh and original cocktails, and represented the venue on numerous nationally televised programs and through national and international media. He is also the co-creator of the Mixology Master Method, established 2014. The aim of the Method is to become the first national bartending school that trains proper technique without all the bells and whistles of modern mixology schools. Brooke’s recent accomplishments include being named the Southern California market manager for The 86 Co., the prestigious brand we all know and love for their dedication to serving the bartending community (and their commitment to noise and spirits).

Joseph Brooke and his wife Jennifer live in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles with their son and two cats. In his free time he enjoys science fiction, darts and the pursuit of the perfect espresso.

How did you first enter the bar and nightlife industry?

I was always aware of my affinities towards careers in acting and the service industry, so there wasn’t any other gig I could see myself working. Started out doing cater-waiter jobs until I got my first job at a brick and mortar: Starfoods in NYC, circa 2004. Over two quick years, I went from busser to food runner to expo to server to barback to bartender, and I haven’t looked back since.

How did you become a brand ambassador representing one of the most respected and authentic spirits brands in the industry?

Sheer dumb luck and a series of strategic bribes? I mean, after 10 years of slinging drinks in LA and having caught a bit of success through it, I was starting to get a bit antsy looking for what was to come next. I already had a good relationship with Simon Ford, but the tipping point was when Dushan moved to LA. His whole purpose in moving out here was to establish the SoCal presence of The 86 Co., and after a grueling series of interviews I was brought on board.

Everyone takes different paths to their career and building their resume in the industry, but what is your best advice to anyone interested in becoming a brand ambassador?

1. If you’re behind the bar, focus entirely on being the best possible bartender you can be, and don’t look for shortcuts. It’s what’ll put you above the other guy or girl when the brand comes a-looking.

2. If you aren’t behind the bar, befriend some bartenders who know their sh*t, and never stop learning from them. What they do is the bread and butter of brand advocacy, and your ability to speak their language is what will set you apart.

3. Ours is an industry predicated almost entirely on social interaction; you’re always interviewing, no matter who you’re talking to. Don’t talk sh*t, even if you’re in the right.

4. Prioritize your physical and mental health. You won’t be invincible forever, and unless you hire a handler, nobody else is going to be looking out for your mind and body but you.

It would seem that specific types of personalities work best in a brand ambassador role. Would you say that’s true?

I think that if you’re not social by design, you won’t last. If you’re the type of person who leads by example, and not by pointing at something while stomping your foot, then you’ll have a good following. If you tend to stress the negative vs. the positive, you might do well but it won’t be as good as it could be. Honey will always catch more flies than vinegar!

What’s one thing you wish you would have known before you began your career as a brand ambassador?

The importance of self-care, and the power of saying, “No.”

One of the greatest things about working in bars, nightclubs and restaurants is the various perks. What are some of the perks of being a brand ambassador?

The sheer volume of relationships you generate, and the trust people place in you. The unyielding presence of good drinks and quality spirits doesn’t hurt, either…

What are some experiences you’ve had being a brand ambassador that stand out?

Helping to train new staffs from the ground up. Getting to be the guy with the first brand to work with a large national chain to do something nobody’s ever done before. Going to Hawaii for a workcation.

Obviously, a lot of people want to know you, and many of those people want things from you. What are a couple of the oddest, most interesting, most rewarding or flat-out most challenging requests you’ve had from an owner, operator, manager, bartender, etc.? And were you able to deliver?

I’ve been asked to cover a few shifts here and there. Nothing crazier than that, just yet. Maybe 2017 will bring the weirdness?

Speaking of being asked for things, what are brand ambassadors prepared to do for operators in their territories?

Support in the form of training, education, happy hours and/or bigger events. Keeping in touch, letting their people know they are there, and willing and able to make their work lives easier.

Let’s say I’m an operator about to open my doors. How do I get in touch with brand ambassadors so I can start things off right?

Ask your reps. Aside from their quotas, they’ll know 3 to 5 of their BAs [brand ambassadors] who will call back and get it done.

Point-blank: What should a great brand ambassador be prepared to do for an operator?

Whatever it takes, so long as you wouldn’t be compromising your personal safety or moral standings. I was prepared to babysit for a bar manager/friend so that he could have a night off with his wife. If they don’t have the time to go out for lunch with you, bring lunch to them and help with inventory. My coworker up in San Francisco drove 1.5 hours to our distillery in Ukiah during one of our previous shortages to hand deliver bottles to key accounts. I’m still trying to live up to this example in my market.

Do you have any tips for operators when it comes to truly maximizing their relationship with a brand ambassador?

Treat us like people, and not like a set of udders. Meet us halfway. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll get from a relationship of equals.

If there’s anything different, what can bartenders do to maximize the relationship between a brand ambassador and the venue for which they tend bar?

That’s a tough one; it depends on their bosses. Don’t be shy, ask questions, and realize there’s no shame in being a vocal fan of the brand!

Is the relationship between a brand ambassador and a venue limited to operators and bartenders?

If the regulars have a reason to not like you, that isn’t going to help.

People make mistakes. What are some of the things operators have done or do that you wish they wouldn’t?

The assumption that we exist as a public service to dispense support dollars and free product simply because they ask. Not following through with menu and/or well commitments stings pretty bad, as well. Going back on one’s word is a pretty horrible thing to experience on the other end.

As I mentioned earlier, you work for one of the most respected portfolios in the industry. Can you share anything with our readers about exciting new products they’re going to want to get their hands on?

Look for a deepening of two of our existing brands in 2017, as well as a couple of projects that nobody’s seen before. Perhaps something other than full-proof spirits…?

We’ve pointed out before that brand ambassadors are often exposed to and educated about trends before they really take hold. What are your predictions for what we’ll see and what will be hot in 2017?

Not sure, just yet. I’ll be interested to see what’ll come with the end-of-the-gravy-train era of brand support, though. The scene is very different from where it was five years ago; expectations of bars and bar owners from big brands are far more dialed in than they’ve ever been. Sponsorships and all that support are going to be way less prevalent, I think. It will be interesting to see how the venues will handle that.

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