This is Kristi-Leigh Akister, from Vancouver, bar manager at The Shameful Tiki Room.
Kristi-Leigh is 38 years old and is originally from Alberta. She started in hospitality straight out of high school, at age 18. Working as a server in a pub with lazy male bartenders as colleagues, she fought tooth and nail to get a spot behind the bar, while they would only hire men to bartend. One day, someone called in sick, Kristi-Leigh jumped behind the bar and basically never left ever since, about 20 years ago.
In her early twenties, she hitchhiked out West and decided that she did not want to live in Calgary anymore. She has been living in Vancouver since. Her first job on the West coast was at a music venue that was sort of a dive bar and that allowed her to build a lot of connections with people who eventually inspired her to start thinking about what you can do with alcohol. Then one day she was working with Amber Bruce at The Irish Heather, who was leaving to go work somewhere else. Kristi-Leigh asked her why she was leaving and Amber answered simply that she got a better opportunity. And that resonated a lot in KL’s mind. She realized that she was at a stepping stone in her career and that there were so many great opportunities to learn ahead. She would learn as much as she could and take all of that knowledge with her to her next step.
Eventually, she was brought on as a floor manager at The Union and was asked to run the bar program. She had never created a cocktail in her entire life but took on the challenge anyway. She promptly bought the Flavor Bible and started to smell and taste whatever she could put her hands on, experimenting and learning until it became her second nature. Somewhere along the way, she had also started to dive into the world of whiskey and to understand the differences and nuances within the category. When she realized that whiskey was one of many spirits categories, it kind of blew her mind and she became insatiable with spirits knowledge. She did her Certified Spirits Specialist diploma, then went onto Bar Smarts, and kept diving in. She realized that spirits were ingredients in a chef’s tool belt and that the more you knew, the more you could fulfill your guests needs.
Eventually, she took time off for the first time since she started in the industry and went on back-packing Mexico. She had been absorbed in the industry for so long that she found herself sacrificing her mental health for it. While she was in Mexico, she caught up with her friend Christina Cottel who told her about a big initiative she was about to launch. She invited her to contribute to the very fundamentals and beginnings of Mind The Bar (an initiative that acts as a resource for our industry and promotes mental health, if you don’t know it already we highly recommend you check it out). KL would end up staying on the Board of Directors for two years.
After working at Tocador for a little bit, managing the bar at Pidgin for a couple of years, overseeing the bar program at Bass Coast for a few seasons, then fracturing both her ankles simultaneously and taking a full summer to heal, Kristi-Leigh was hired as the first female bartender at The Shameful Tiki Room, eventually became the bar manager and is now ready exit the industry to start a new career as a counselor after some flamboyant twenty + years in hospitality. For her, it was never about the drinks, but always about the style of service, the opportunities to connect with people, and to be a part of people’s lives. We are very grateful to have had a chance to meet with her before she moves on to the next chapter of her professional life and truly wishes her all of the best for all the new challenges and learning opportunities to come.