Ian Burrell Interviews Deano Moncrieffe

Ian Burrell aka The Rum Ambassador is the world's only Global Ambassador for the Rum category, Entrepreneur, TV Presenter, Drinks Consultant and Professional Speaker. He is also a Patron of The Drinks Trust of which he said, “over the many years of being part of the drinks industry, it has become clear that I have TWO families. My biological one and my SPIRITUAL one, made up from some of the most amazing people that I have had the pleasure to worked with in the UK. The Drinks Trust is like another family member who is there, if needed, for that extra support and guidance. I'm honoured that I was asked to be a patron, to support and create even more awareness for The Drinks Trust community”. 

Deano Moncrieffe has worked in almost every aspect of the hospitality industry from bar backing in Paris to representing Diageo as a global Tequila ambassador. He co-owns Hacha Bars in Dalston and Brixton in a bid to bring agave-based spirits to a larger audience. In 2020, he founded Equal Measures with the ambition of changing the conversation about ethnicity in the industry. He began the platform in a bid to encourage more equitable recruitment and promotion practices by providing education, mentorship, and support. Recently, he partnered with The Drinks Trust to help deliver this programme. 

I love energetic and inspiring stories from entrepreneurs within the drinks industry, and one of my favourite figures is Deano Moncrieffe, founder and owner of two amazing Agave bars called Hacha, both in London. I had the pleasure of interviewing him in his first bar in Hacha Dalston, to find out a little more about his inspirations, challenges and ambitions for the future.

Hey Deano, I love your bar, the feel and the atmosphere that your “baby” oozes from its four walls. Congratulations. When did you set up the bar? 

We opened on May 1st 2019, just in time for Cinco de Mayo. It was a challenge for although I had travelled the world as a Don Julio Tequila brand ambassador, and been to many bars, I had never opened up one for myself from scratch. My objectives were to be “a world’s first”, and also one of, if not, the best Agaveria’s in the world.  

What were your inspirations in its concept? 

I had been to many Tequila & Mezcal focused bars before but one thing I noticed in many were the offerings. There were too many for the casual consumer. Even as an expert Tequila drinker, if you go to bar that has 100 plus Agave spirits you may struggle to order as there are too many choices. My concept was to have 25 of the best Agave spirits at any one time. When the bottle is finished, we replace it with different great agave spirit. Simple, but effective as our regulars are guided through the nuances of Tequila & Mezcal from different parts of Mexico.  

Wow, I love that. It reminds me of a quote from Rum bar owner Sly Augustine who said, because you have 100 rums in your bar, doesn’t make you a great rum bar. Because you have 100 coloured paints doesn’t make you Picasso.   

Yes, Sly’s right. It’s a massive investment to buy & hold stock that may never or seldomly get sold. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have many spirits on the back bar if that is your concept, but we felt that as a small start up bar/restaurant it was better to have a rotation of 25 spirits because you’ll actually sell within a year over 100 different brands of spirits anyway, without the huge inventory. 

“It was a challenge for although I had travelled the world as a Don Julio Tequila brand ambassador, and been to many bars, I had never opened up one for myself from scratch. My objectives were to be ‘a world’s first’, and also one of, if not, the best Agaveria’s in the world.”

How did the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown affect your business, because it came about a year after you had opened right? 

Yes, in February, Class magazine had just announced our signature cocktail “The Mirror Margarita” had been named cocktail of the year for 2020. We were ecstatic that our new business had been recognised by the media, and we hoped, in turn, that the extra publicity would help to promote our business to a wider audience. And then everything locked down in March. Nearly all of suppliers told us to pay up now exhausting any cash we had saved for a “rainy day”. Luckily because of the love for our signature cocktail we had already started to bottle and sell it “off premises”, so when the pandemic happened, we had a “ready to drink cocktail” brand with our logo & name to sell online to the lock downed public and help to keep some much-needed income coming into the business. So that one special cocktail saved us.  

Was it just you running the show during lockdown? 

We had to furlough most of the staff and some part-timers went on to do other things. As a small business, we financially tried to support as much of our team as we could. Only two of us, my bar manager Harriet (she’s amazing and trustworthy) as well as myself, made and bottled our signature cocktail. I actually taste ALL of the batches. My business partner Emma Murphy facilitated all of the orders that we had. So, we were a very small team, but intended to grow as we looked for a 2nd site in Brixton*.  

Did you see yourself change as a person, a boss a leader through the tough times? 

Yes, I did. I had never had to manage bar during a lockdown before, never had worry too much about my staff’s wellbeing during a time of national crisis, I had just become a dad for the first time too, so that again was a journey into the unknown. But I had to be positive for my staff. I had to reassure them that everything was going to get better and we will fight through this. The longer we were closed, the more doubt crept into the team. I would drop a regular message to my staff just to say, hey guys, we’re still going. The Mirror Margarita is going well.

Yes. Fail to plan, you plan to fail!!! 

Yes. If we didn’t plan to grow our Hacha brand independently from our bar, like at private events, and private parties we may have never survived. I think it’s important as a bar owner to always plan for the unexpected. And use all tools available to grow your brand especially online and on social media. In hindsight I wish we did more back in 2019, but it’s never too late.  

*Since this interview in August 2021 Dean, Emma and their team have opened their 2nd bar Hacha Brixton to rave reviews, showing that even through the temporary forced closure of their Dalston bar their plans to grow and spread their love of Agave spirits was not dampened. A true testament to positive thinking having a staff around you that work together as a family.  

The Equal Measures initiative from founder Deano Moncrieffe aims to help enrich possibilities for those from Black, Asian, and other minority ethnicities, as well as those from other marginalised groups, such as queer and gender queer persons, those who are neurodivergent, or who face systemic barriers to their progression. The cornerstone of Equal Measures is built on creating new educational opportunities that lead to personal growth alongside education and project partner Hannah Lanfear (founder of The Mixing Class). The overall aim of Equal Measures is to deliver greater equity in the drinks industry.  

The partnership with The Drinks Trust will offer educational courses and mentoring to individuals, as well as supporting businesses to improve their internal practices. 

For more information, visit https://www.equalmeasuresuk.org/