Evelyn Chick’s visionary ethos is centered on building (socially distanced) communities and inclusive spaces. She’s honed her skills in the two Cosmopolitan cities of Vancouver and Toronto, where she’s worked at a multitude of businesses — from event spaces such as Blue Water Cafe in Vancouver, to high-volume cocktail bars and fine dining restaurants like Toronto’s Bar Raval and Pretty Ugly, both of which placed Top 10 in Canada’s Best Bars for two years in a row.
With 13 years of experience in the hospitality industry so far, Chick has held numerous roles. Presently, these include beverage director for the Donnelly Group; Canadian coordinator of Speed Rack, an all-female charity competition focused on speed bartending; and, most recently, founder of Evelyn Chick Projects (EC Projects), which launched in May of this year.
Plenty of praise and accolades have accompanied her professional life. She is a WSET-certified sommelier, a certified specialist of spirits, and global champion 2015 of the Beefeater MIXLDN cocktail competition. (Her signature drink, crowned champion at the MIXLDN competition, was called “Endless English Summers,” an homage to a classic Gimlet offering an intoxicating melange of Beefeater London Dry Gin, fino sherry, a Green Park Cordial made of pomelo, fennel, caraway, and salted absinthe.)
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Chick’s distinctive flair for crafting creative sips that span cannabis cocktails to zero-proof serves are central to EC Projects, a digital education platform bringing her wellspring of wisdom into people’s homes through livestream classes and virtual workshops. In building this digital hub, Chick says she is all about facilitating an accessible and fun environment where “cocktail-curious” novices can feel free to ask questions, to maximize their learning enjoyment without feeling judged or intimidated. Additionally, Chick recently signed on with Quell, a hospitality agency that represents a roster of talented BIPOC industry professionals. The company is helping her juggle numerous projects on the go, and aligns with her belief that sharing a passion for drinks, food, and bespoke experiences can be achieved through continued diversification of the community at large.
In advocating for equal representation and opportunities, Chick continues to champion for a more robust cultural climate of drinks inclusivity. Her ability to facilitate an ongoing dialogue of what it means to enjoy both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks in this ever-shifting landscape only serves to further spark her inventiveness, and cement her place as a beverage leader. Below, Chick shares these thoughts and her affinity for pioneering dynamic drinks in the interview below.
1. What are you doing currently within the drinks industry?
At the moment, I am the regional beverage director for the Donnelly Group in Toronto. In the pandemic, I founded EC Projects, a creative hub for drinks enthusiasts. Additionally, I’m the bar & beverage curator for Restaurants Canada, a national association that serves the needs of the food service industry; and bartender-in-residence for a publication in the city called Toronto Life.
2. Can you share with me the genesis of you founding EC Projects?
The biggest question I get as a bartender is, “How did you come up with stuff like that?” — in terms of developing a cocktail — or, “I have this ingredient at home … how do I use it?” Evelyn Chick Projects is an approachable guide to bartending techniques and artisan recipes for the at-home drinks enthusiast. It started as a passion project for a way to connect with consumers and show them the creative side of the hospitality industry. It explores more than just “this is how you make a drink,” but digs into thoughtful ways in which home bartenders can use ingredients readily found in their pantry or fridge, easy uses they hadn’t considered before with them, and how they complement spirits. It evolved into a cool way for drinks enthusiasts to explore new techniques and recipes through virtual learning and experimentation, all from the comfort of their own home! Everyone had to pivot during the pandemic, so bringing elements of the bar to a digital form makes sense!
For instance, in one session, I used the entire banana (including the peel) to make a food-and-drink-paired recipe. It featured a Banana Chocolate Mug Cake and Caramelized Banana Peel Syrup which I used as a sweetener in an Espresso Martini that was fortified with Bacardi Ocho. This Low Waste project is one of the many subjects I explore in my easy-to-follow recipe series from EC Projects. For more information about tailored classes (one-on-one and group), recipes, tutorials, etc., I encourage everyone to visit my website for more information.
3. With such a diverse portfolio of experiences, what’s the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do in your role(s) so far?
As a Beverage Director for the Donnelly Group, I get to connect with guests on a personal level and share in their passion for learning about spirits, cocktails, etc. It’s all things that come natural to me. Due to the pandemic, I’ve also been able to share my expertise online and connect with a larger global network — which is pretty cool because I’ve missed engaging and interacting with people.
Additionally, in building a name for myself in the industry over the years, I’ve been able to reach audiences beyond the small/local cocktail community. In one instance, I got to curate beverage educational programs for large-scale conferences like the Restaurants Canada Show (Canada’s largest hospitality trade show), bringing a passion for drinks to folks who aren’t directly involved and/or wouldn’t think they would be interested in this side of the industry. I’ve created classes for people who are avid drink enthusiasts but don’t normally have access to the “how-tos” in the hospitality industry. Take, for example, my hosting a virtual cocktail hour for lawyers from a large firm based out of multiple countries across a few time zones, all enjoying the same drink.
4. How have you continued this community building with your businesses and respective roles in the pandemic, especially when it has uprooted and altered the lives of many people?
Evelyn Chick Projects is undoubtedly a product of the pandemic. Without our venues (at the Donnelly Group) open, I had to find a way to preserve that little bit of connection I had in the beverage industry. So for me, building this personal brand during an unprecedented crisis was a huge learning curve; it’s very different when you reach out to potential clients and represent yourself as “the brand” versus repping my position within a company that has buying power. While it was a challenge, I was incredibly excited about it because I had never pursued something of this nature before.
Prior to this, I worked to build up different companies my entire life. This is the first time I’ve created for myself. It’s almost like announcing to the world and saying, “Hey, this is my expertise, this is what I’ve worked on my whole life, and I’m putting it all out there.” I’ve discovered that you almost have to reinvent yourself, think outside the box, and showcase what you can offer as an individual to set yourself apart from the “other you” (e.g., the one repping company brands), if that makes sense. At first, I had doubts all the time about the likability of my content, whether or not I’m justifying what I’m presenting, and whether or not it’s been enough. But so far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. It’s a continuing journey of navigating the social network(s), gaining exposure, and telling my personal brand’s story. While there’s a lot of talent, and to set yourself apart is not the easiest task, it’s been an incredibly rewarding venture so far.
5. Have there been additional challenges you or your businesses faced since Covid-19? How did you address it?
In wearing my beverage director hat (with the Donnelly Group), with the world filled with uncertainty, the toughest thing has been keeping my staff informed of the ever-changing situation. We try our best to stay connected with staff (e.g., via Zoom chats) and keep one another posted of any learning opportunities, foster ongoing positivity, and offer each other any prospects that could help them survive the lack of work available. For instance, any time we stumble upon government aid updates, resources from local nonprofits geared toward our hospitality industry, brands that have reached out to support us, or anything just beyond their reach, I’m there to help facilitate dialogue between these channels.
6. What’s a significant shift your business has made in the last six months that you had never considered before?
Altering the business model completely as a restaurant and bar for Pretty Ugly.* We’ve had to learn to be flexible in terms of how service should run, and the magnitude of precautionary measures we have to take just to open the doors. There were a lot more considerations to put into practice, such as ensuring the whole space was socially distanced; training staff who are used to nightlife service to shift focus on what to pay attention to in this “new normal” (e.g., health and safety protocols); and exploring alternative options to recoup the loss of revenue from being in lockdown, like takeout, delivery, and cocktail kits. Despite all of these shifts, we remain optimistic: Any obstacle can be overcome, it just may take a bit more time to achieve it!
7. In light of your recent announcement of being repped by Quell (a hospitality agency that represents BIPOC industry professionals), I’m wondering: How are you using your position to push forward on racial equity in the industry?
Both personally and professionally, I’m blessed to have multiple platforms — events, virtual classes, social media — to voice my opinion in matters involving race, diversity, and inclusivity. I am constantly learning from my BIPOC peers, their personal and collective experiences, [and] trying to understand and empathize with situations that they may have come across. Moreover, I have zero tolerance for anyone who makes remarks that are intended to be sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, whether internally with staff or externally with patrons. These individuals are made to know that their school of thought is not welcome anywhere.
For my BIPOC peers, I’m not only appreciative of their candor, but use these as teachable moments for our own establishments. For instance, at the Donnelly Group, we have hired external help to set up a diversity council, whose protocols are currently under development, ensuring that our hiring and training practices are inclusive, respectful, and empowering. Everyone should feel safe and welcome to share in what I consider to be these essential community hubs together.
In the interim, I’ve hosted numerous virtual round-table panel discussions called “Initiating Change: Global Hospitality Through a BIPOC Lens,” which delves into many issues regarding the topic of race in hospitality. For example, identifying existing structures, as well as systematic and operational biases we need to change. For those who are interested in learning more, you can find previously recorded and upcoming sessions on my IGTV channel.
8. Looking forward, what opportunities do you see for your business to grow?
There’s lots of room in curating fun virtual experiences at the moment. Thinking beyond classic drink creation and traditional pairings, I’d want to bring something that promotes social gatherings, but in a responsible manner. My ideas include wine and food pairing workshops, showcasing the versatility of one ingredient and using it in numerous ways, cook-along sessions with booze, and a sober-curious rave that’s set to live DJ-spun tunes.
There’s also great demand for unique initiatives that have to do with health, wellness, and moderation. As an example, I’ll be guiding and informing such curious people on how to craft non-alcoholic beverages (that aren’t boring!). There’s a fantastic Spiced Carrot Ginger Mule I’ve made that features spiced chili cinnamon syrup, some fresh lime, and soda, with the buzz from the spice. For those interested in making this recipe, you can find the video link here.
Additionally, with the legalization of cannabis in Canada, there are ways to bridge the world of cannabis and (non-alcoholic) cocktails, educate consumers on these types of drinks; and opportunities to pair terpenes with global cuisines. These sips not only taste delicious, but facilitate much-needed conversations to help remove the stigma surrounding that industry. One drink I’ll highlight is my THC tonic that has notes of pine, earth, and wood from the terpene pinene I use. I take a thoughtful and methodical approach to creating this drink by first identifying the terpenes that the cannabis concentrate bring, then introducing flavors that complement those aromas. It’s very much like an art form, and similar to tasting a spirit or a wine and picking out flavor associations, all while being aware of dosage.
Overall, many businesses have had to shift their goals and perspectives, and the drinks industry is no exception — we’re all learning to cater to different demands. It’s a trying but very exciting time.
9. What’s your long-term vision for your brand?
The goal for Evelyn Chick Projects is to connect people from different industries, walks of life, race, religion — through the shared passion and enjoyment of everything food and drinks — together, but virtually. For the time being, it’s kind of hard to pinpoint exactly what this can look like as EC Projects is very much a fluid, approachable, global, and online brand. With that said, I would like to get to a point where one day, the only barrier between myself and connecting with other food and drink collaborators are dissimilar interests — and I would bridge this divide.
Since everything is going virtual through apps such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, House Party, etc., the possibilities are endless. A cool example I can think of is if a bar from London, England would have me host virtual sessions with their guests and collaborate on a cocktail kit they can follow along with. It’d be such an invigorating opportunity for both parties because we’d inject our respective cultures and thoughts into the process. But this would only be the beginning — it’s just one very small part of what this is about. Ultimately, it’s about creating and uniting a global network of drink enthusiasts beyond the “traditional” confines of a bar, curating incredible experiences that transcend time and space.
*Ed. note: Pretty Ugly is on a hiatus due to the pandemic.