In our Rising Stars series, seasoned beverage professionals spotlight five of the most outstanding up-and-comers in their city—and discuss the mark they’re making on the drinks scene.
Like the city itself, the beverage trade in Los Angeles has had peaks and lulls in its 200-year history. What is now Downtown L.A. was the center of American commercial winemaking in the mid-19th century, only to lose that distinction to Napa Valley in the 20th. This century, however, has seen expansion in production and cultural interest across beer, wine, and spirits as the city has come into its own as a culinary destination.
According to Department of California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) licensing reports, the number of licensed “small beer manufacturers” in L.A. County has grown from 11 in 2010 to 104 in 2018. The year 2012 saw the opening of Greenbar Distillery, L.A.’s first legal distillery in 92 years—since then, five others have opened within the city limits. In the 10 years since the opening of The Varnish in Downtown L.A. heralded the proliferation of cocktail bars across the city, the city’s bartenders have brought home accolades from the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, the James Beard Foundation, and countless brand-led competitions. As the hub of the entertainment industry, L.A. is a place where creativity is not only prized but recognized as lucrative, and this appreciation extends to hospitality. It’s all about the hustle—and as the following individuals show, multiple hustles can lead to wonderful and unexpected accomplishments.
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The Community Wrangler
In the decade Daniel Djang has spent documenting L.A.’s emergence in the national consciousness from a town shrouded in clichés about being a soulless, sprawling cultural wasteland to a multiethnic culinary juggernaut, he has gotten to know countless bartenders—but he says Kentucky native Clare Ward stands out. Serving up culinary cocktails and rotating $10 drink menus aimed at greater accessibility, “[Ward] is absolutely killing it at the red-hot Hippo in Highland Park,” Djang says. “In her role as production manager for Art Beyond the Glass (ABTG), the annual bartender artistry showcase, she [also] oversees more than 100 bartenders from L.A. and across Southern California.”
Ward’s bartending career began in Cincinnati, after she left the theater track she’d been on in high school and college. Her Midwestern friendliness helped her land her first L.A. bar job at Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City (now closed), which led to her first bar director position when the neighboring restaurant Akasha opened the Indian restaurant Sambar. Ward’s spice-driven drinks menu at Sambar earned her a spot on the cover of the Los Angeles Times food section when legendary critic Jonathan Gold took notice. Ward says she’s always been influenced by the chefs she works with, tagging along with them on farmers’ market runs and reducing food waste by finding creative uses for unused scraps.
Ward joined ABTG in 2018 as production director one month before its annual festival, despite having no experience producing events of that size and having been hired to open the bar program at Hippo during the same week. She nonetheless threw herself into the planning with enthusiasm. “[ABTG is] such a special event [in which] we get to celebrate the bartenders themselves and everything we all do,” she says. For 2019’s event, Ward’s ambitious planning resulted in a party that featured the visual and musical talents of bartenders from across Southern California, as well as elaborate pop-up bars that raised money for Beautify Earth, a community revitalization and arts nonprofit.
The Homegrown Dynamo
Harry Chin had been a regular at Caña Rum Bar in downtown Los Angeles for a year when he started as a barback in 2012. He was teaching middle school at the time, and then decided he wanted to switch professions. According to Caña’s former general manager, Allan Katz, who runs Temple Beverage Consulting, a bar-consulting firm with his partner, Danielle Crouch, Chin’s embrace of his new profession was profound and academic. “In a local [bar] industry where you can essentially divide the talent pool by acolytes of three schools of bartending—[Eric] Alperin, [Julian] Cox, or [Matthew] Biancaniello—[Chin] reps all those influences in his work,” Katz says. “He is defiantly weird with savory flavors, like Matt; measured in his attack, à la Julian; and uses a firm knowledge of classical composition, like Eric.”
While working at Caña, Chin picked up shifts at other high-profile cocktails bars around the city, absorbing technique from notable bar directors. His efforts account not only for his mastery of cocktail styles but for his reputation as a hardworking and considerate colleague. Says Katz, “His enthusiasm for the craft is infectious to both teammates and guests.”
Chin assumed the role of bar director two years after opening Here’s Looking at You as head bartender for the program created by Crouch and Katz for owners Lien Ta and chef Jonathan Whitener. “[Ta] has taken me further in paying attention to detail and ways of providing excellent experiences for guests,” says Chin. “[Whitener] has kept me on my toes [and] taught me to be more alert.” The restaurant, colloquially known as HLAY, quickly became a national culinary standout thanks to Whitener’s menus, inspired by the multicultural mix of his native Orange County. Chin, a born-and-raised Angeleno (specifically, Culver City), says he also draws inspiration from his hometown, creating elaborate themed cocktail menus that celebrate L.A.’s architecture, landmarks, history, and global cultures, as he continues to educate himself and others through his craft.
Rising Star: Andrea Onofre, senior associate, Highland Park Wine and Silver Lake Wine; brand ambassador and sales representative, Yola Mezcal
Nominated by: Amy Atwood, wine producer, wholesaler, and importer, Amy Atwood Selections and Oeno Wines; cofounder, Future Gin
Multiple simultaneous careers are the norm in a city full of side hustles, even across different branches of the beverage industry. Amy Atwood’s career has spanned production, distribution, and sales of wine and spirits, and she has come into contact with countless wine professionals over the past decade. Andrea Onofre caught Atwood’s attention as a young associate at the renowned shop Silver Lake Wine. “[Onofre] has one of the attributes I find most compelling in a beverage professional, and that is her unflagging curiosity,” Atwood says. “Her good energy fills the room.”
Born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, Onofre became intrigued with wine while at college, where she studied culinary arts and hospitality. She went on to Escuela Española de Sommeliers in Barcelona, Spain, for a one-year sommelier program before moving to L.A. to pursue a career in wine and spirits. “It wasn’t easy in the beginning since I had to translate every [technical term] I knew from Spanish to English, [in addition to] gaining experience and meeting people here,” Onofre says. She finally landed a host position at Everson Royce Bar, owned by the same proprietors of the popular wine and spirits shops Silver Lake, Highland Park, and Arts District Wines. She persuaded them over time to transfer her to the bottle shops, where Atwood says she has “seen [Onofre] blossom into a consummate wine professional.” Onofre now works as a senior associate in both the Silver Lake and Highland Park locations.
It was at Silver Lake Wine that Onofre encountered Yola Jimenez, the producer of Yola Mezcal, and she soon started working for the brand. She was particularly drawn to the company because its ethics hit close to home. “From its start,” says Onofre, “the brand has employed only women, from the farmers to the bottlers, promoting women’s economics in Mexico. I have a mission to show to [the] world who … Mexican women are. Who we are.”
The Somm Scribe
A reputation for being great to work with can do what no résumé or award can. That was the case for LaShea Delaney when Taylor Parsons was looking for sommeliers for the new Tartine Manufactory multihyphenate bakery, café and restaurant project in Downtown L.A. with the wine director, Jake Malmberg. “[Delaney] came highly recommended by my good friend and colleague Helen Johannesen, so we set up a meeting,” says Parsons. “[Malmberg] and I were immediately sold.” In addition to Delaney’s genuine love of hospitality, says Parsons, “she approaches wine with real curiosity and openness rather than ego—a great illustration of the ‘beginner’s mind’—which allows her to learn quickly and without prejudice.”
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Delaney’s love of learning is evident in her successful pursuit of tandem careers in writing and wine. She started working in restaurants while earning her master’s degree in playwriting at Brooklyn College in New York City. Working as a host, server, bartender, and manager, she was able to “learn all aspects of working front of house in a restaurant,” she says. This was also when she first had a wine that she loved, “a deliciously herbal Grüner Veltliner,” which set her on her next path.
Of her current positions, Delaney says, “Both gigs reflect what I love about hospitality—I learn something new every day. At Ototo, I’m learning about sake and the centuries of artisanship that go into each bottle. With Sacred Thirst, I’m learning more about winemaking and farming practices.” Her curiosity informs her creative work too. She is an accomplished playwright and a journalist who writes about art and culture, as well as the wine world. “I’m really inspired by my coworkers and customers,” Delaney says, “and a glass of wine or three usually helps get the wheels turning.”
The Sour Artist
Established in 2009, Ting Su’s Eagle Rock Brewery was the first microbrewery to open in Los Angeles in more than 60 years. A decade later, the Los Angeles County Brewers Guild boasts 90 members, 24 with L.A. addresses. Su is somewhat cautious, though, about rapid growth in the field. “In an increasingly competitive market right now, quality is frequently overlooked,” she warns, but she finds hope in Kevin Osborne’s Cellador Ales. “They maintain a consistency of quality that is great for upholding the standards of the community,” Su says. “They [also] do a lot of community fundraising events at their tasting room, which is always a good thing to see.”
Osborne started homebrewing seven years ago and quickly discovered that he wanted to start his own brewery, with a focus on mixed-culture sour beers. Three years later, he began brewing a unique line of 100 percent barrel-fermented sours made with local organic fruit and foraged botanicals—and quality is central to his mission. “I think a lot of ‘sour projects’ at breweries are an afterthought,” says Osbourne, “and people think you can just throw sour bugs in anything and make a good beer.
“I’m most proud of the really experimental beers we’ve done that push boundaries nobody has tried before,” he says, including one beer that has carrot sugar added at bottling, which carbonates naturally. To maintain quality in such uncharted territory, Osbourne employs what he calls a methodical and intentional approach to brewing, and he trusts his palate above all.
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Hope Ewing is a writer and bar director in Los Angeles. She is the author of Movers & Shakers: Women Making Waves in Spirits, Beer, and Wine.