Alex Koblan (BA 2013 in Anthropology with minors in Psychology and Fine Arts )
Head Bartender at Blossom Bar in Brookline, MA
Tell us about your current job role/employer and what you’re currently working on.
I am currently the Head Bartender at an award-winning tropical bar located inside of a Sichuan Chinese restaurant. In addition to welcoming guests on a nightly business and overseeing the success of daily service, I contribute cocktails to the menu and compete nationally in cocktail competitions.
What personal and/or career experiences did you have prior to landing your current job and leading to where you are now?
My time spent helping to run Boston-based breweries and distilleries helped lay a strong technical base of understanding for how alcohols of all types are crafted and ultimately, consumed. I had the opportunity to revamp the guest facing experience at a large craft brewery in New Orleans which gave me wonderful insight into more of the business associated aspects of engaging with the hospitality industry.
What was the most challenging aspect of your first “real world job” and what did you learn from it?
While I had worked in retail settings throughout high school, my first job at a large craft brewery was truly the first time I had worked in hospitality. There was certainly a learning curve to mastering the ins and outs of how to conduct business in a customer-facing manner. Ultimately, alcohol complicates the dynamic of this relationship. Providing a service to guests and customers is an exchange, but a delicate one in which the provider should be knowledgeable and warm while ensuring they maintain control in every situation. Learning how to control these situations required guidance and experience.
What advice would you give to new Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions – of everyone. Reach out to professionals in this field, ask co-workers and friends, listen to what your parents have to say. You probably won’t end up implementing the systems that work for them verbatim but you’ll get an idea of what will and will not work for you. Don’t stray from creating a system that works uniquely for your life and the variables you invite in on a daily basis.
How have you made personal and professional relationships in your city, company, or community?
The hospitality industry is inherently very social; both during the shift and after hours. It’s easy to feel over-extended when heading to networking events on days off or after a long shift. While it’s important to listen to yourself and your limits and recognize when you’ve had too much social engagement, it’s important to push yourself to connect with people in your network. I’ve found it can help to commit to a certain number of events a week or month and then sprinkle in fun, low pressure social outings when I feel up to it. Often times these last-minute meet-ups can be the most impactful. Try to talk to someone you haven’t met before.
Have you been mentored by anyone at Wake Forest or in your professional life? If so, what impact has that relationship had on you?
I have had a few mentors during my career so far but one has been more impactful than the rest and continues to be a source of professional guidance for me. This individual saw potential in me during my first six months on the job and actively worked to engage me in professional projects and outings. Whenever we meet up for lunch or a beer they always ask me about my future plans and encourage me to work through important business questions about how to best ensure my future success. This individual has helped me gain an incredible sense of self-worth and confidence over the years and has helped hone me into a more savvy businesswoman. I continue to be incredibly grateful to this individual and have very much appreciated their trust and guidance.
What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are about to start their first professional job?
Remember that you have to start at the beginning. You cannot skip ahead to being the head of your department and I would remind you that it’s unlikely you have all of the tools you need to knock your first position out of the park. You are, however, hopefully entering into a field you’re passionate about with intelligence and curiosity. Ask questions, be present, and learn from any missteps you take. It’s inevitable that you will make mistakes as you settle into each new position you have – how you recover will make all of the difference.
What are your future career goals or plans? How are you being intentional about working towards them?
The more I learn about the hospitality industry the more I realize my future is wide open. Ultimately I’d love to own and operate my own establishment, welcoming guests to a space wholly of my design. More immediately I see myself continuing to compete in cocktail competitions – transitioning from the mid-level of competition to the higher echelon. As we continue to develop our cocktail program at my current establishment I’d love to acquire a James Beard nod or recognition from the Tales Of The Cocktail Foundation.
Story published in November 2021. For current updates about Alex, visit her LinkedIn page.