I was lucky enough to meet Nicole many years ago, while I was at the Grand and she was at Marina Sunset bar. Over one summer, we started with shy waves, quiet hellos, then moved on to shared cigarette breaks and indulging in local gossip. A friendship soon formed and Nicole took me under her wing, mentoring me, supporting me, picking me up when I was down and celebrating every success with me.
We meet on a rainy Thursday afternoon at Proof. She does a quick tasting of some beautiful Island2island whiskeys with Joseph and Claudia, then we head upstairs, drink in hand to get into things. After about 10 minutes of general catch up chat, we have both forgotten that we’re here for Bitchen’ Boozy Babes.
It’s my first time interviewing someone, so I’m as nervous as a cornered mouse. I’m so glad I’m doing my first interview with such a good friend and trusted mentor. As I turn on the recorder, my mind goes blank and I struggle to get my questions out. Ever patient, I manage to get my questions out and she manages to answer, despite us both feeling like we are in a job interview.
Beginning her career with a 6 week Government Funded course, Nicole originally found her niche in suburban pubs. Sadly, pokies started to take over in the suburbs, killing the vibe of the loved local. It became increasingly more difficult to find work in the suburbs in a venue with no pokies. It was a blessing in disguise for Nicole as it pushed her into bar work in the CBD.
Nicole came up in the industry in the early 90’s, where she really couldn’t recount having any specific female figures to look up to. Although being the loving,strong and quiet energy that she is, she counts everyone she worked with at The Lion Arts Theatre, Cargo Club, Savvy Cocktail Lounge, Garage and Fumo Blu to name a few.
Renato Capoccia, owner of Cargo Club is Nicole’s biggest inspiration. It was Renato that gave Nicole her first management role, after 12 months at Cargo Club. She also names Grantley Souter, part owner of Fumo Blu as a huge inspiration to her, which is a testament to their decade plus friendship. She stresses that everyone you work with has something to teach you. “There’s always something to learn!” She says to me, grinning.
Continuously keeping an open mind is a big key to succeeding in the booze industry. Nicole has always recommended articles, books and techniques to me. Keep on reading, keep on attending tastings and tutorials and keep on asking questions. Travel around and see what’s happening in the industry in different cities and countries. Watch them, see what is working, what is new and interesting and bring it back to your bar. She maintains that the key to growing in this industry is by constantly expanding your knowledge bank and I couldn’t agree more.
Like me, she counts the highlight of her career to being a state finalist in the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge. The other big highlight for her was obviously then landing a role as state rep for Island2island beverages. Landing the role out of 200 candidates and bringing all her skills to a state role, is an amazing feat.
Now on the other side of the bar, she communicates about I2I products to bartenders and managers in a language that we understand. More than just selling to venues, Nicole dedicates much time of her new career to training and assisting venues on a bartender level. She gets to do small masterclasses with bar staff, as an overview across all different liquor or as a focus on a particular type of spirit. She also conducts some classes with consumers as well, such as “A journey of the dram” event that she hosted to 96 people in Port Lincholn recently.
Her passion for rum, bitters and all things booze is totally infectious. She will never stop inspiring me and pushing me to be my best. If you are lucky enough to meet Nicole, or even luckier to sit in on one of her training sessions, you will see what I mean.
In closing, Nicole, thank you for being one of my first female mentors. You’ve been an great educator, a shoulder to cry on and a Rum drinking buddy when our arms have been twisted. An extra thank you for being my Guinea Pig for this article.