Bar Talk

How Portland’s Mindy Kucan Went From Bartender to Perfumer

From slinging calvados cocktails behind the bar at Normandie to creating custom natural perfume, Kucan pursues her two passions

Photo courtesy of Jordan Hughes.

There are many things that Portland, Oregon bartender Mindy Kucan misses from pre-COVID days—such as Mondays off at Thai barbecue and cocktail joint EEM—but the past year has offered Kucan unexpected opportunities. She was working behind the bar at coastal-inspired bistro Normandie when restaurants shut down in March 2020, and though she rejoined the team part-time last summer as a server, Normandie took a break from service after the holidays.

Over the past year, Kucan—who honed her bartending skills at Houston’s Anvil Bar & Refuge and Portland’s Hale Pele—has launched a new venture as both a beverage and scent consultant, melding her two passions. SevenFifty Daily caught up with Kucan to discuss her background in the industry, Normandie’s obsession with calvados cocktails, and how she parlayed her interest in perfumes into a consulting career.

Getting Her Start

Kucan had her industry aha moment at a bar competition more than a decade ago, when mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim introduced her to industry legends like Dale DeGroff and Gaz Regan. “My mind exploded,” says Kucan. “How could I become a better bartender?” Soon after, she approached Bobby Heugel, co-owner of the then just-opened Anvil Bar & Refuge, and took on a weekly shift there—all while still living and working full-time at the Hilton in Austin. “They saw my potential at Anvil,” she reflects, “and pushed me toward it.”

Finding Normandie’s Signature

Since Normandie opened in fall 2018, it has showcased a notable affinity for calvados, the apple brandy that fittingly hails from Normandy, France. The synergy was the brainchild of Judson Winquist, who co-owns Normandie and oversees the bar program. 

A lot of people don’t have experience with calvados like they do with Cognac, and a lot of bars don’t offer many expressions,” says Kucan. To introduce consumers to the spirit, Normandie offers a wide range of calvados cocktails. We change the cocktails regularly so there is a balance—strong and boozy, light and refreshing—and they definitely strike up curiosity”

Photo courtesy of Judson Winquist.

Kucan’s Spin on Calvados

Kucan’s time at tiki hangout Hale Pele is showcased in some of her calvados creations. The Normandie Fog is a riff on the Fog Cutter, with gin and rhum agricole, while the Secret Life of Quakers, is  an Old-Fashioned spin with Laird’s Applejack, angelica orgeat, and pecan bitters. “In those two drinks you can sense my tiki influence,” she says.

Pandemic Transitions

Though Kucan missed the interaction with guests and coworkers when restaurants shut down last year—she started a Zoom happy hour with old regulars from Hale Pele last spring—she’s also had the opportunity to take classes at Portland Community College toward her associate degree. Now, Kucan is working on her own scent-related project, making custom, natural perfume. “I’ve always been into perfume, which connects to my interest in distilling,” she says.

Alia Akkam is a writer who covers food, drink, travel, and design. She is the author of Behind the Bar: 50 Cocktails from the World’s Most Iconic Hotels (Hardie Grant) and her work has appeared in Architecturaldigest.com, Dwell.com, Penta, Vogue.com, BBC, Playboy, and Taste, among others, and she is a former editor at Edible Queens, Hospitality Design, and Beverage Media. A native New Yorker, Alia now calls Budapest home. Follow Alia @behdria.

Most Recent