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Connecting During Covid - Oregon Bar Guild Wins Chapter of the Year

By Amira Ansari posted 12-16-2021 10:55


@michele colomb, an Enthusiast member of the USBG, is a writer, photojournalist, and avid traveler who calls Willamette Valley, home.

"I have always been curious about far away places and the people who live there. All cultures tend to gather around the table to share food, drink, stories, and most important, kinship. My goal is to encourage women to solo travel, always be curious, and travel sans baggage. Journey through life as you would an airport. Travel, like life, is best experienced with minimal baggage."

In this blog, Michele shares how the USBG Oregon Chapter (OBG) kept communication top of line during the pandemic, despite the challenges, winning them USBG 2021 Chapter of the Year!

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Staying connected has had its challenges during the last year but for some it became an opportunity to bond. Such is the case with the Oregon Bar Guild (OBG) who was named the USBG’s 3rd Annual Chapter of the Year. The announcement was made during USBG Regionals in Columbus Ohio this Fall much to the surprise of USBG OBG Chapter President, @Jason Marshall. Marshall said: “I got a text from OBG chapter member and Board Chair, @Bradley Stephens, saying "Hey, we won!” Stephens, who serves as Vice-Chair of the USBG National Education Committee. He was in attendance to represent the OBG along with fellow board member, @Randy Jeffers.

USBG Oregon Board member, Randy Jeffers,
& USBG Oregon Chapter Board member, Bradley Stephens

To qualify for the award, ranging from Rising Start Chapter to Best Health and Wellness, individual chapters had to submit information about chapter activities during the past year. A five person membership committee evaluated the information and announced the winners. Among the most notable activities organized by OBG was their 2020 Holiday Showcase with Bull in China (a Portland-based bar wear company). The officers staged a scripted Home Shopping Network style presentation via Zoom pitched as what bartenders really want for Christmas.

Zoom became one of the best tools to support the OBG's goal to stay connected. “When the pandemic hit our monthly in-person meeting was already scheduled,” Marshall reflected. “Members were contacting the officers and board members concerned and uncertain. It was @Mariah Tatham, current chapter secretary, who suggested setting up a Zoom call and turning the meeting virtual. It was a game changer and allowed the show to go on!” It also allowed the meetings to go from once a month to once a week (virtual) with sponsors providing samples, meals, and yes swag. All delivered by volunteer officers, board members, and chapter members. Holding the meetings via zoom also allowed the meetings to open-up to any industry workers interested. Marshall says they had people joining in from not only out of the Portland area, but even out of state.

Marshall is quick to point out the strengths and assets of fellow members and officers.@Cindy Capparelli, current Chapter Vice President, helped build so many relationships and helped us connect to smaller brands. She, herself, is a small brand owner with Portland Bitters Project. So much would have never happened if not for her.” To add to that, the OBG decided to lower its fee for branded sponsorship in order to attract more smaller brands (true Oregon style in my opinion).

OBG members are fast to boast about the support they receive from other members. Treasurer, @Amy Wong, feels @David Halpern, PatrónPatrón's Oregon retail account manager, has been a true asset to the OBG. “He is not an officer but voluntarily runs the Chapter website and creates many of the invitations and flyers posting opportunities for education and work. I feel his dedication helped maintain consistent and intuitive technical communication during the pandemic.” Halpern also contacted local beverage suppliers to include their contact information and content so members would be able to connect with them. Plus contacted vendors to offer discounts and services. Plus, with his connection to Patrón was able to sponsor events and educational opportunities. OBG helped to get through Covid by keeping him engaged with the community and connected to the passion he has for the alcohol industry. “I think in a lot of ways it allowed our industry members some semblance of structure and sanity. Having a schedule with something to do, and look forward to, does wonders for ones mental health. I would bet a lot of members felt more connected to the community during the shutdowns,” he added.

USBG Oregon Leadership Team
Pictured left to right: William Mohring (CBOD), @Ian Arnold(CBOD), Cindy Capparelli (VP), Jason Marshall (Pres), Bradley Stephens (Board Chair), Mariah Tathem (Secretary), Amy Wong (Treasurer), David Halpern (everything we can’t do), Douglas Derrick (NCC)

Previous Chapter President and current Campari rep, @Douglas Derrick, elaborated that during the pandemic the OBG saw the need more than ever to bring community together. There was time to turn the meetings in to a weekly check in (43 in a row to be exact). For the 1st 30 min of each meeting there was a town hall of sorts, unrecorded, members could talk openly and share stories. Once the formal part of a meeting started the focus was on the sponsored brand introducing their product, then a unique education. Campari taught a valuable Control States vs Open States education, Four Roses Bourbon and Strong Water Beverages did an interactive scavenger hunt with participants having to find items in their own house (it was really fun). Smaller brands were also involved. Portland Bitters Project lead members through fun and informative trivia nights.

Wong summed up her thoughts “I think the OBG has consistently spent an extraordinary amount of time and energy going above and beyond to keep the bar community in touch and engaged when the world felt like it was ending and had left us behind. A lot of us felt our lives took crooked turns and raised doubt about our direction. Officers took the time to reach out to individual members day to day on a personal level making sure that no one was forgotten, and any basic needs were met” She added that Marshall, who she considers a mentor, and Capparelli have been anchors in creating the chapter that’s has held strong through the pandemic. She feels proud to have worked along side them has learned a lot, work and life related. Derrick agrees he has been fortunate to work with the community in Oregon. “We have a group of people who really care about our industry, promoting others, and inclusion. We would have never been successful without that as our base.”

Oregon also picked up the award for “Best Education Week.” Industry luminary, Jim Meehan, kicked off the week by sharing his thoughts on the future of bars and bartending and predicting trends to come. The chapter unveiled its “Members’ Library,” a resource sharing program through which members can trade their favorite books and testing materials with other members. From mini golf to hikes foraging for botanicals and harvesting local pears; throughout a year in which the entire industry struggled with the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Oregon also held events focused on health and wellness.

Said USBG Executive Director, @Aaron Gregory Smith, “Between producing an hour-long Ted Talk-style presentation on how to evolve the industry, different career paths, and how to get there, and keeping their community connected during shutdowns, the Oregon chapter uncovered ways to maximize the talents of all its members and we hope that effort will inspire chapters across the country.”

Pictured from left to right: USBG Executive Director, Aaron Gregory Smith, USBG Oregon Chapter Board member,
Bradley Stephens, USBG Oregon Board member, Randy Jeffers, & USBG National President, @Kim Haasarud

Marshall says he was inspired by other chapters, specifically previous winners Dallas and Columbus. He reflects on attending a leadership conference in Texas when he was OBG Chapter Vice President. It was there, he says he realized a sense of ownership. “All these people in our industry our friends. I love the connections while sitting at each other’s bars. Sharing a common bond and understanding. I want to help build up members to become leaders, build momentum, and enrich the community.”

“We are so thankful for our members and their dedication to the growth of the chapter and the USBG leadership for recognizing all that hard work,” added Marshall with clear pride. Derrick agreed: “We are humbled and honored to have achieved Chapter of the Year! It came from many years and the hands of many people. We want to ensure to thank our members, brand sponsors, our bar and restaurant partners, as well as leadership of the USBG.”

To sum it all up best, Jeffers feels incredibly proud but mainly the win has given him hope. Not just from the win but also attending Regionals. “Attending regionals has instilled my hope in the future of our industry.”

West coast regionals are back in person for 2022 with Portland hosting from May 1st - 4th. The hope is that those who attend feel inspired by the Oregon Bar Guild and take some of that energy back to their home chapters and become more involved. They have shown it really takes a group effort and working together can get us through the darkest times and lift each other up.


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