This is Shawn Soole, from Victoria.
Shawn was born in the UK, grew up in Australia and moved to Victoria in 2006, the same city he has been living in since then and now considers his home. Shawn has a lovely wife called Jules and a wonderful daughter called Willow Grace. If you don’t already know Shawn Soole, let’s just say very simply put that the guy has done pretty much everything in our industry, won many national and global prestigious awards, wrote a couple of books and on top is a serial entrepreneur who always has several projects going on at the same time. Writing about his path in hospitality would have needed a whole chapter, or maybe even a book. So, since our goal is to shine the light on the cocktail community, we decided to shift our focus towards how Shawn brought the cocktail culture to Victoria and contributed to put Canada on the world map.
Before moving to Vancouver Island, Shawn had already won national cocktail competitions and had run numerous cocktail bars in Australia. Coming to Victoria, he had to face the fact that there was literally no cocktail culture there. It was the land of the franchises. So he went to work at Moxies. Fast forward a few years later, he started to see the market slowly changing and people were coming to see him for cocktails. That was in 2008, the same year that Solomon’s opened, the first cocktail bar in Victoria. Then Shawn took over the room at Clive’s Classic Lounge early in 2009, a now multiple award-winning top hotel bar in the world. But back then, Shawn would be working the room a Saturday night, alone, no servers, would walk out with 20$ tips and 120$ total sales. It was a very hard slog. That same year, he helped start a local cocktail festival called Art of the Cocktail, and the room at Clive’s was completely empty. For the next 18 months, he set his mind a goal and truly had a push and worked really hard to get the cocktail culture going. And it worked. The big switch happened in 2010. From Art of the Cocktail in 2009 when it was empty, the following year the room was completely packed with standing guests only.
After that, Clive’s just built up, and so did the cocktail culture. Venice opened around that time, which would become another iconic cocktail bar in Victoria. Slowly and slowly other bartenders started to join the clan. And then in 2011, Clive’s Classic Lounge won top 4 best hotel bars in the world. Which not only gave a big push to the local community, but also definitely put Canada on the world map.
To achieve that, Shawn did a few things that could be summarized very simply: he built a community. Every Friday, Clive’s would serve 5 cocktails replicated from another bar in the world. They did a different menu every Friday for 18 months. That would not only bring inspiration to the local community, but also build relationships with some of the best bars worldwide and surely got a lot of attention. Then the following day, they would have what they called Experimental Saturdays, where they would select one ingredient and focus on understanding it and playing with it in different ways. Furthermore, Shawn would also make sure that every rep that stepped into the room to teach his team would replicate the exact same masterclass to the general public right after. Which built a culture of as the bartenders are learning and growing, so is the market. And then you got a general public that’s educated, feels involved and that want to come to events and take part in the movement.
And Shawn pretty much never stopped. Today, he is known to most local bartenders as “Dad”. About 85% of Victoria’s bartenders have either worked with him or have been trained by him. And to this day, Victoria has its own plethora of local cocktail competitions and cocktail events. They have their own epic Negroni Week cocktail competition, they do bartender boot camp once a month, they have a black box competition where they educate bartenders not only on how to compete, but also on how to judge cocktail competitions as well, and it goes on and on.
Overall, building community is kind of an abstract concept. Rarely do we meet someone who has been that practical and efficient about it. Today was our last feature on the Canadian cocktail community, and we couldn’t be prouder to end it with someone who truly managed to make a difference.