Creating a gin specifically designed for cocktails is only one part of the Fords Gin mission, which aims to support the bartenders redefining the future of hospitality. Together, we’re profiling the industry’s most notable game-changers—the folks emerging as leaders beyond the bar by tackling key issues ranging from social justice to sustainability.
When the headlines seem to be full of not-so-great people doing not-so-great things, it’s good to be reminded that people like Bon Voyage bartender Maurice Brooks—better known as “Mo”—are out there trying to make the world a better place. Brooks has quietly built a reputation as a leader in community service, putting time toward charitable efforts at home in San Francisco that range from helping teens to homeless outreach, as well as in hurricane-torn Puerto Rico, while organizing and inspiring other bartenders to lend a hand.
“When you finish talking to Mo, you say, ‘You know, I really should do something,’” says Morgan Schick, creative director of The Bon Vivants, which owns Bon Voyage and sister bar Trick Dog. While Brooks doesn’t spend much time talking about his many and varied community service projects, Schick continues, “His attitude is infectious, and when it’s coupled with his warm personality and his big, outgoing self, it inspires people to get engaged.”
Like many bartenders, the San Francisco native didn’t start his career path intending to enter the hospitality business—but, in retrospect, it’s telling that his prior jobs also involved service to others. After attending nursing school, he worked as a certified nursing assistant for a number of years before becoming a teacher for elementary and middle school students. While teaching, Brooks took on a second job as “a door guy at a bar that no longer exists” to help ends meet. This eventually led to gigs at wide variety of bars across San Francisco—dives, nightclubs, high-volume bars, craft cocktail havens. One of his early jobs was at now-closed Hog & Rocks; Scott Beattie, the barman known for breaking ground by incorporating fresh seasonal produce into cocktails, was bar manager at the time.
“Ten years later, I am forever blessed and happy that it worked out this way,” Brooks says. “I love being behind the bar.”
As a bartender at Bon Voyage, Brooks is particularly at home—in part because parent company Bon Vivants supports charitable efforts, ranging from ScholarMatch at Bon Voyage, which raises funds for college-bound students in need, to Trick Dog’s practice of selling their unusual menus, then donating the proceeds to various local charities.
Brooks’ own service efforts hinge on rallying bartenders to help support Puerto Rico, where many areas remain devastated in the wake of 2017’s Hurricane Maria. In collaboration with hospitality industry veteran Milton Soto and grass-roots organization Island People Recovery, he’s working to bring a group of bartenders to the island in early 2019 to work at a relief center. “Puerto Rico means a lot to me,” Brooks says. “People there are living worse off than you, but they’ll give you the last of what they have.”
Looking further down the road, Brooks has hopes for longer-term projects to help out people closer to home, such as one day opening a resource center for kids and pre-teens, or an initiative to help San Francisco’s considerable homeless population. “If I could I’d multiply myself times 1000, for every kid that needed a mentor, every [homeless] person, I’d send a clone out to help them,” Brooks says.
In between his efforts, Brooks continues his work at Bon Voyage, mixing playful drinks such like the A Friend Always, a “tropical disco-tini” based on Fords Gin, kiwi vermouth and falernum topped with edible glitter. “I think of myself as a jack of all trades,” he says. “[And] I use all of those elements in my style of bartending.”