When Kapri Robinson organized the first Chocolate City’s Best cocktail competition in 2018, she quickly realized that her mission would go beyond crowning a winner—it would rewrite the rulebook in its entirety.
Created in reaction to the lack of visible diversity at Tales of the Cocktail, Robinson, along with co-founders Michael Holiday and Anisha Gupta, launched Chocolate City’s Best as a competition focused on people of color in the bar industry. Having entered a number of competitions herself, winning the title of Washington, D.C.’s Cocktail Queen in 2017, Robinson was privy to the opportunities this opened up. “I was like, ‘I really want more people—people of color, Black people—to be in these spaces with me.’ So I asked myself, ‘What can I do? How can we be taking advantage of this?’”
Robinson’s notion of competition prioritizes community building over the pressure of rivalry—and she hopes it can be an eye-opener for what cocktail competitions can offer. “We do a lot that others don’t do,” she says, noting how each contestant in the top 10 is paired with a mentor, in addition to participating in daylong educational programming. She adds, “We’re getting really creative, talented bartenders who understand their personal craft. But for us, it isn’t just, ‘Get up there, tell your story.’ It’s, ‘How can we better help you tell your story?’” Competitors—not just winners—have gone on to work at distilleries, obtain bar leadership positions, and partner with brands.
Since that first competition two years ago, Chocolate City’s Best has evolved into a collective vision to empower people of color across the hospitality industry. “I’m hoping that every time someone does something with us, it reignites some fires of why they love to do this,” says Robinson. She notes that the impact of their programming starts with access to resources, which include dedicated online panels to discuss, for example, the mental well-being of people of color or Black entrepreneurship among distillers, winemakers, brewers and bartenders. Along the way, it’s become a two-way conversation for peers to continue learning from one another.
“It means a lot that my organization can facilitate those types of things. That was something that was missing in our industry,” says Robinson. “For a while, you wouldn’t even share recipes with people—it was an ‘every man for himself’ type of deal. I don’t want that anymore.”
Here, Robinson tackles our questionnaire, sharing her daily routine, her greatest accomplishment to date and the worst thing she’s ever drank.
President and Engagement Ambassador at Chocolate City’s Best; bartender at Reliable Tavern
Current mission statement:
I dream, hope and aspire to become a leader in this industry connecting people to only the best opportunities for their growth. I always hold my self to honesty and courage and hope that that shines through me and encourages others to be the same around me. I strive to put more faces of color in the forefront of this industry, because we deserve it. I want to be remembered by my hard work, smile and determination.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
A bar industry legend.
Describe your daily routine in one sentence:
Wake up, say hi to my plants, check email, search for breakfast.
Your greatest accomplishment to date?
Founding a nonprofit organization.
This is a hard one. I’ve had many failures.
The No. 1 thing you want to eradicate from drink culture?
Assigning gender to glassware.
The one adjective you’d use to describe yourself:
Best thing you ever drank:
Very hard question! I can’t choose!
Worst thing you ever drank:
The one wine/beer/cocktail that best reflects you/your interests/tastes:
A crisp rosé and a shot of warm rail gin.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Know your worth! Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Your favorite bar, and why:
El Batey in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It has all the aspects of a dive bar, great Daiquiris and amazing bartenders!
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Soup dumplings at the Gourmet Dumpling House in Boston.
The last text message you sent:
My order for Sweetgreen.