Ernest Gantz has been in the hospitality industry for more than a decade, bartending at various spots in the Triangle, Florida, and Texas. He’d always planned on getting out and starting something of his own but was never quite sure what that would be. He thought about starting a T-shirt business or going back to school to become an engineer. Eventually, he realized that the answer was right under his nose.
“The whole time, I loved bartending,” he says. “It was right there in front of me.”
A certified mixologist, Gantz decided to start a business making craft cocktails more accessible. As a Black man in Raleigh, he’d also noticed a striking lack of diversity in the bar and restaurant staffs he’d worked on. That’s not to say that there isn’t a rich tradition of Black mixologists in America: Cocktail pioneers like John Dabney, Richard Francis, and Jim Cook are finally getting acknowledged in the history of the 19th-century bar scene. Gantz notes, too, that he’s visited many Black-owned cocktail joints across the South.
In the Triangle, though, many of the upscale spots with established cocktail programs don’t seem to draw a particularly diverse crowd.
“I can’t say they’re not meant for us, but they’re just not inviting for us,” Gantz says. And he doesn’t view that as his problem to fix. “I can’t change another company’s atmosphere.”
Instead, he’s trying to build an accessible mixology and craft-cocktail scene outside of bars and restaurants. In January, Gantz and his wife, Amanda, launched On My Way Bartending, a business offering bar service for events, plus interactive mixology classes.
“It’s just like Wine & Design, but with bartending,” Gantz says. “It’s called Mix&Sip. You come, I educate you about the liquor, you make the drinks yourself, and then you drink them.”
Their first class, tiki-themed and titled Yum Yum Gimme Rum, got positive feedback from guests. They’d already begun selling tickets for the next event when the COVID-19 pandemic shut them down.
When circumstances changed and bars (and parties) shut down, everyone was forced to be their own bartender. Gantz chose to roll with the tide and began selling monthly Mix&Sip kits through On My Way.
“The kits are bringing the classes straight to your home,” Gantz explains. “Each kit comes with three five-ounce homemade syrups, nine cocktail recipes for the syrups, and three bar tools.” There’s no booze included, so you can either bring your own for cocktail recipes or use the syrups to make non-alcoholic drinks.
Gantz tapped into his network of local influencers for help promoting the kits on social media. The first kit launched on May 1, and On My Way sold 72 units by the end of the month. Gantz says they’re on track to hit similar numbers in June.
While Gantz’s experience as a bartender shapes the way he runs his business—”It helped me come into myself, learn how to talk to all different kinds of guests”—it’s his passion for mixology education that’s driving things forward.
Ultimately, Gantz hopes to grow On My Way slowly, without outside help, and with plenty of customer input about what’s working and what isn’t. He’d like to start offering in-person classes again, but right now he’s happy to focus on expanding the vision and reach of the company.
“I’m blessed that everything is happening so quickly,” he says. “We’re really just getting started.”
Comment on this story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.