Havana Club and Black Eats LDN spotlight mixologist Lawrence Gregory, aka 'The Rum Boss', is the second of a four-part series highlighting Black talent in the hospitality industry.
Black EATS LDN, based at its Hackney market platform, is the UK’s first and only Black-owned restaurant directory, boasting 300+ vendors. It was launched in 2020 as a response to the lack of exposure of Black-owned restaurants and businesses in mainstream media.
Havana Club’s goal has been to shine that light that has so often been lacking, and to that end, it’s teamed up with has Black Eats LDN to champion and elevate amazing talents within the mixology scene.
This month’s event proved to be a treat for visitors. Attended by the likes of top radio personalities Yinka and Yasmin Evans, the event sported talented mixologists such as Lawrence Gregory, aka The Rum Boss, and Dan Kaizen, as well as the bartenders of the Three Little Birds cocktail bar from Brixton.
We had a chat with Lawrence to hear about his love of storytelling, his advice for up-and-comers and the importance of mentorship in the hospitality industry.
Tell us about yourself!
My name is Lawrence Gregory, also known as ‘the Rum Boss’. I’ve been in hospitality for over 12 years. I started out working in pubs, then moved over to cocktails, and for the last six years specifically I’ve gone into the niche of rum – which I absolutely enjoy. Why rum? My family background is Caribbean, so we’ve always had rum in the household. I just wanted to educate not only myself, but others within the industry, or customers, or rum enthusiasts, what rum is about. That’s where my journey began.
What does hospitality mean to you?
Hospitality for me is about an experience, or more specifically, creating a memorable experience for whoever it is – whether it’s a customer or bar team. Hospitality for me is about a memorable experience because you come in and forget about what’s happening outside of work or the craziness of life. You’re there to have a good time, and that’s what I’m about. Whether I showcase you something to do with rum or whatever have you, I just want you to have a good time.
Can you talk about the challenges that you’ve faced as a bartender of Black heritage?
I think one of the most important things is, because there’s pretty much a lack of diversity, you don’t really see any mentorship that’s available or someone you could relate to – to help bring you up or guide you in the right direction. That’s very important for anyone, it doesn’t matter whatever background you are. It was really hard to relate when I was ‘up and coming’ within the bartender scene. I was just very fortunate that within the rum community there were some fantastic characters, fantastic people, that were there to look after me. They helped me step to step to get where I was. Also, you have to be fearless. The most difficult thing is that it can be a bit lonely. However, you have to persevere and network as much as you can. You will find people who are like-minded, people who have good intentions, and people who are just on a vibe. So yeah, it is a struggle, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
You’ve spoken about the lack of role models in hospitality for yourself. Is there anyone in particular in the industry that you looked up to when you were starting up, or have you had to be your own role model?
Role model-wise, the template of someone I would look up to is Ian Burrell, the famous rum ambassador. However, I never got to know him personally. Someone who personally mentored me is a guy called Roger Barnes, who distributes rum. He’s is insanely intelligent, can talk all day about rum and is very inspiring. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had him to guide me where I need to go, but it was literally like I had to chase him down and say ‘You need to be my mentor!’ Eventually we established a relationship and it’s been an amazing experience so far. And even for myself, if there are any up-and-coming bartenders that are out there and they need a helping hand or want some advice, I’ve always had the time and energy to say, ‘If you need schooling, I’m here’. It’s just about sharing the love and if they have an enthusiasm about rum in particular, because that’s what I’m about, I’ve got all the time in the world for those guys.
What would be your advice for the next generation of bartenders, or the next generation of Black and Brown business owners?
My advice is: you gotta network like crazy. You gotta put yourself out there. Otherwise, no-one’s going to know who you are and what you’re about. Of course, we have social media, which is our generation’s way of communicating globally. Social media is very important to showcase yourself and your talents, but in the real world you’ve got to get to know people on the ground level. So go to these bar events or spirit masterclasses, because you’ll find fanatics, you’ll find people. You gotta go out there, do your groundwork, meet and greets, your social media needs to be on point to help showcase what you do and have an on-screen presence. Also, do something fun – be creative. As a bartender, our creativity is not only with drinks but also what we do on the bar. The bar is our theatre and we’re here to entertain, we’re here to create an experience. Mentorship is very much key in anything, so [from] the senior managers or the connoisseurs of this world, try and learn and absorb as much information as you can. Read a load of books – reading is very important! Watch documentaries, whatever category of spirit it is. Know your stuff, know your classics, and as you build your career within hospitality – whether it might be in coffee shops, pubs or cocktail bars, take each particular aspect of that niche and build yourself character. You’re not going to get it straight away, it’s a building process. Be patient, surround yourself with key and great people and you’ll reach it, no problem.
What is your process in creating a cocktail?
The way that I create a cocktail, I keep it very simple. I love telling stories, so a cocktail should have a beginning, a middle and an end. So, what does that mean? You take a sip of your cocktail and you’re like, okay, there’s a bit of sweet notes, there’s a little bit of complexity. And then in the middle, there’s that in-between flavour. Maybe there’s a bit of woody aspects of the rum coming through, the fruitiness of the particular juice. Then you’ve got the aftertaste which is the end of the story, where you might get a hint of bitter or something sour which will hit the sides of your palette. I love telling stories, and when I’m creating cocktails, it’s about telling a great story. That’s how you make a great cocktail.