ShakeStir recently had the opportunity to chat with Doug Frost and Ryan Maybee, the guys behind the Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition which is now the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival loving referred to as PoPFestkc. See what the industry leaders have to say about why they decided to start the competition and then transform it into a multi-day event.
SS: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Doug: I’m a thirty-five year veteran of the wine and spirits industry and one of three people in the world who is both a Master Sommelier and a Master of Wine. That’s the cute line on the resume; but in truth, I come out of the hospitality industry for even more years than that, and I believe deeply that the spirits and cocktail business embodies the very spirit of hospitality. We are here to serve things that taste great and make people happy and the rest is bullsh!t. And I am simply doing what I can to keep singing that song as loudly as I can until people tell me to shut up.
SS: You’re co-founders of Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival (PoPFestKC). There are so many industry-orientated conferences, why did you decide to start up another?
Ryan: It began with a localized competition, called the Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition. The goal was to identify a community of bartenders who take pride in their craft and approach it as a career, not just a part-time gig. It was also meant to showcase to the public that bartending is a legit profession and that these pros have talent, skill, knowledge, training, and are artists. After about 3 or 4 years, the competition outgrew itself; Kansas City has now begun to have a national reputation, and PoPFest was just the next logical step. Now, with this, we have the ability to not only improve the educational and professional opportunities for our local and regional bartenders, but also to showcase to the rest of the country what makes KC special and unique.
Doug: It’s the intersection between the industry and the enthusiast; that’s where all the fun is. Yes, I’m certainly active in other festivals and have always believed that the excitement is talking to people who are legends in the business, and being able to do so in a casual environment. Yet, the large festivals have begun to take on an air of exclusivity with some of their events; perhaps the size of these events makes such a change of mood inevitable. But the Midwest and especially Kansas City has unique merit - that there will always be a friendly, open manner that the people here share. Just as we believe that our bartending community represents this sense of mutual respect, we hope to foster this attitude in the wider mixology world, helping to restore the sense of humility and service to one of the world’s most noble professions.
SS: How does PoPFestKC differ from the other conferences?
Ryan: Our personality. Our sense of hospitality. Our history and culture. All these things will play a big role in PopFest. It’s not solely about cocktails or geeky bartenders. That’s a part of it, but we also will showcase what makes KC relevant due to our history and influence over Jazz music, BBQ, the way we rejected Prohibition, and more.
Doug: The size of the events allows greater interaction and contact between the top bartenders and those just beginning their bartending journeys, as well as those enthusiastic consumers who want to learn more about how the most talented mixologists imagine and create their tastiest drinks. We have carefully balanced the educational needs of bar professionals, who can admittedly be rather wonky at times, with people who are far more interested in drinks that taste great by themselves and with food, and who are happy to simply be entertained by bar celebrities and personalities.
SS: What is your goal for PoPFestKC?
Ryan: To give our local bartenders, musicians, artists, chefs, and anyone who has a sense of civic pride a platform to showcase who we are. To show anyone who has not been to KC before what they’re missing. It’s a great place to live, work, and play.
Doug: We believe that there is a legitimate and distinct bar culture in Kansas City and we want to provide a platform for that group of talented people to be seen, noticed, and celebrated; we also want to give that community a greater sense of its place in the wider world of international mixology. The greater Kansas City bartending industry also rightly seeks to learn more from its peers in other markets, and PopFest offers them the chance to do just that.
SS: This the first PoPFestKC but you previously had the Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition; why did you change up this year's event? What have you learned along the way?
Ryan: I’ve learned that I can’t be comfortable without striving for constant progress. I think last year the Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition finally proved a success, which made me question just how big we could make it. We also had to change it up because it’s simply not just about the bartending competition anymore. It grew to something much more than that.
Doug: The initial goal of the Bartending Competition was not so different than our goals with PopFest: that people should know about the talents in our area, and that those talented bartenders should not only be noticed but be challenged to continually improve their work. PopFest provides an even more robust forum within which those goals can be reached.
SS: How does a bartender get to attend PoPFestKC? Once there, what can they expect?
Ryan: Anyone that wants to attend is welcome. We’re doing everything we can to involve the local bartenders in making this happen, and giving them an opportunity to showcase their bars. As for bartenders from out of town, we’re offering discounted hotel rates, and a lot of discounted tickets to events. They can expect to have a good time, celebrate, and meet with friends that possibly they’ve only met before in places like New York or New Orleans. Or they can expect to spend time attending seminars by some of our industry’s most knowledgeable professionals. Their experience will be whatever they want to make of it, but I think they’ll definitely leave with a new idea and expectation of what KC has to offer.
Doug: Bartenders should book a ticket and get their butts here; they will have a fantastic time at the parties and out at the bars; they’ll find an incredibly welcoming community with little of the attitude that mars the bar scene in some cities. They’ll love the seminars, which will feature experts like Dave Wondrich, Paul Pacult, Steve Olson, Andy Seymour, Angus Winchester, Ron Cooper and many others. And because it’s Kansas City, everything will be up close and personal.
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