Neal Bodenheimer on taking Tales from the brink to the world

07 August, 2023

Hamish Smith speaks to Neal Bodenheimer, board member and co-resurrector of Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans.

It’s been five years since you and the Solomon family took over the running of Tales of the Cocktail. Can you take us back to the job that you took on in 2018 and the achievement you’re most proud of since?

Before we took over I was pretty scared to see to see what would happen if Tales wasn’t purchased. I didn't know what it would mean for the industry or for New Orleans – last year it was something like $23m of economic impact for the city. If Tales wasn't here, by the third or fourth week of July, you would see bars and restaurants that would start to go out of business or would be cutting down on their teams. It's a very long summer for hospitality here - it means a whole hell of a lot for people to be here.  

So, we spent the first two years trying to stabilise Tales. The goal was to keep it afloat. I'm really proud that we've been able to save this organisation. And I'm really proud that we've been able to make it into what I hoped it could be. 

For those that aren’t aware, can you explain what the foundation does – and what non-profit means within that context? 

There is no for-profit side of the business. Our goal is to make money so we can give away money through our grants.  Last year I think we gave away $100,000 and we’ve given away about $450,000 since we took Tales over. But we also have significant operating costs – we have year-round activities and a team of staff.  

We were also working with a deficit in 2020 and 2021 – we had limited sponsorship during the pandemic – but the Solomon family are in this for the long hall.  They understand that this foundation needs to exist and that it serves something really important. Hospitality is a such a critical component of every society that it serves – there are very few barriers to entry and so it is a real cross-section of every society.  

Before you took over, Tales had an ailing reputation. Do you think you’ve changed peoples’ minds?

I do. It's taken a long time. And I think that, for us, it was about gaining people's trust. And that's another thing I'm really proud of. It was a heavy lift - really heavy in the beginning – but it's getting less heavy, which is a sign that things are going well. 

Being the face of an organisation is not a particularly comfortable role for me. I'm not that guy, but I also felt the calling to do it. I enjoy serving the community, the bar world. I won't do it forever but I'd love to be involved at the organisation for as long as they'll have me. 

How is the team looking to grow Tales – a bigger New Orleans show or a bigger global footprint? 

Coming out of the pandemic, we wanted to focus on the New Orleans show, which drives the foundation. But obviously, you want to grow. But does that mean a bigger New Orleans show? Or does that mean bigger internationally? I think a bigger international footprint. I think if the New Orleans show gets too big, it gets unwieldy.  Education will be the driver, rather than branching out with the awards. We are discussing Tales on Tour right now. I've always felt that the sky's the limit for the foundation. 

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