The hospitality industry is full of multifaceted, talented, adaptable individuals. We’ve certainly proven that over the last ten months and with the challenges this year has brought, the importance of creative pursuits that sustain us outside of our day-to-day work is more crucial than ever. In this series, we highlight people who stand out not only for their contributions to our industry, but also for the passion projects that fuel them creatively.
In February of 2020, Katie Rose Myers became the Southwest region’s Speed Rack champion here in Denver at what none of us knew would be one of the last large bartending competitions (or events of any kind, for that matter) for months. Myers, a longtime bartender at Retrograde, is currently taking a hiatus from the industry to work with Colorado Access as a health programs specialist. She hopes to return to bartending once a COVID vaccine is available, but in the meantime she’s focusing on putting her recently earned master’s degree in public health to work.
Myers has been a full-time student and bartender for the last nine years. She says of the balance between books and bartending, “Academia offered the rigor that challenged [me] and improved my abilities to think critically, understand intersecting health and social issues, and pursue the path of public service. Bartending provided an opportunity to be creative, to engage with the world around me, and introduced me to a community where I’d meet my closest friends and loved ones.”
In addition to her scholastic pursuits and excelling in the bar world, Myers has been an active board member for Chaska, a nonprofit with mission a mission of disrupting the cycle of poverty in Cusco, Peru.
DiningOut: What is the “outside of work” activity that sustains you?
Katie Rose Myers: The Chaska program provides educational, financial, and emotional support to 26 young women and their families so they can be empowered to break the cycle of severe generational poverty that is prevalent in Cusco. When Chaska was in the beginning stages of development, their mission and strategy is what spoke to me.
In 2019, I developed a comprehensive sex-ed program that was age appropriate, culturally relevant, and took a rights-based and gender-focused approach to education. I spent this past January  in Cusco helping implement and evaluate the effectiveness of this program.
Our team at Retrograde collaborated on a fundraising campaign, and in March 2020 we launched a special menu with Peruvian-inspired cocktails. The cocktails featured ingredients specific to Peru, like chicha morada, ponche de quinoa, and mate de coca, and a percentage of sales were allocated to Chaska. I am grateful that my public service and community engagement efforts are well-supported by my colleagues and employer.
DO: How does your work in the service industry help you manage this pursuit?
KRM: Of course there’s the flexibility in scheduling and support that my colleagues provide. This made it possible for me to spend days working on strategic development and program planning, and for me to spend the entire month of January in Peru.
In terms of fundraising, it helps expand the reach of my fundraising efforts to an audience that may care about the work Chaska does, but would never hear about it otherwise. And of course, the inspiration…working on that menu with Retrograde was so fun and let me share what I learned about flavors and ingredients from Peru.
DO: What were some experiences that motivated you to stay involved and further your involvement with Chaska?
[During my trip to Cusco,] it was really nice to finally be able to meet all the young women in person. I had been working with this project for years and have heard names and general comments, but it was really nice to be there and finally put some faces and personalities to the names.
On the last day of the sex-ed program, I built and facilitated a Jeopardy game with all the terms and concepts we had spent the last month working on. Being a part of the excitement, competition, and engagement was a fun shared experience. Listening to their answers was really reassuring that the program was effective in helping them understand their lived experience as young women and how to address their sexual health.
DO: What advice or parting thoughts do you have for those looking to expand or explore a pursuit, challenge themselves, or undertake a new practice?
KRM: Whatever your pursuit is, network! Seriously. Having a strong network is mutually beneficial. I wouldn’t have the successes I have had if I didn’t have a community of people that supported me. Likewise, I would have so many more successes if I broke out of my comfort zone and networked more.
What does this look like? It’s not a bunch of people with name tags standing around a cocktail table. It looks like community engagement, volunteering, showing up to USBG events, engaging with your bartenders and people around you. The connections we make every day (or could make every day) matter. A lot of us have big ideas and aspirations. We’re also not special—we’re merely human. We need to help each other if we want to get the good work done.
Jen Mattioni started working in bars and restaurants as a Philadelphia high school student and never left the industry. She moved to Denver in 2008 and has had the opportunity to manage, bartend, and serve at great spots including Q House, Leña, Prohibition, The Walnut Room, and Central Bistro; she is also the cocktail creator for Colorado FIVE 2019 and 2020. Currently, she’s completing her MFA degree and spends her free time eating as many breakfast sandwiches as humanly possible, creating oddball cocktails with ingredients she’s never used, fiending for dumplings, and reading too many books simultaneously.