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intersections of beauty

Color Stories: Meet Lauren Paylor

Every shade has a story. And the inspiration for our Mixology Collection stemmed from something deeper than an iconic cocktail or craft beverage. It was inspired by the people behind each of the shades and libations, the skilled bartenders who pour their passion, energy and creativity into every concoction we drink and every glass we raise. 

We sat down to talk to Lauren Paylor (@lpdrinksdc), Bartender, US World Class 2019 Finalist, Bar World 100, Wine Enthusiast 40 under 40 Tastemaker and Focus on Health Co-Founder.

What inspired you to explore bartending?

When I was in nursing school, I started frequenting a bar. My roommate was a server there, so I would go there to do my homework.I grew up in a family of eight children, so loud environments are something that I was very accustomed to. Eventually, I found myself going there less to do my homework and more just because everyone there was extremely hospitable. They always provided me with delicious non-alcoholic beverages. After a while, I started asking more questions and eventually became interested in being that person behind the bar.

Is bartending a personal passion as well as a profession for you?

Yes. I consider it a personal passion and a profession. I don’t know if I felt that way in the very beginning. Telling your parents you quit nursing school to pursue bartending was challenging, and it didn’t go over very well in the beginning. But I knew when I transitioned into the food and beverage industry, that if I was going to proceed with it as a career, I had to be really good at it and I had to ensure that I was placing myself in a position where it was a sustainable career.

Is it part of your identity?

This is a question that comes up often, and every element in every aspect of everything that I do–it always goes back to bartending. I own a company called Focus on Health, which focuses on providing services to food and beverage folks. I work with the Social Justice Committee and for the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation, again, focused on the Food and Beverage Community. So yes, bartending is certainly very much embedded in who I am.

What challenges do you face as a woman of color in this industry?

I mean, there are challenges being anyone in this industry right now. And with COVID, there was a very long period of time where we had moments to sit with ourselves and just think about what part we play in all of these conversations, whether it be as a person of color, a woman, a man or anyone who identifies as non-binary. It’s such a nuanced and complex conversation, no matter what side of the spectrum you are on. And I think it’s just really important to figure out what part you play, but also to ensure you’re taking care of yourself because it can get really intense.

I’ve certainly invested a lot more time into having those conversations over the last 14 months, especially with Focus on Health. I make mistakes every day. I’m still figuring it all out, still learning, but I do have to take a few steps back once in a while to ensure that I’m in the right headspace. But it really is enlightening and it’s empowering to see how much we can learn when we are open to just being a little bit uncomfortable.

What excites you about bartending?

In the very beginning of my career, I was very focused on learning all of the drinks, the history of cocktails and spirits, and being the best bartender I could possibly be. And now, I am excited about all of the things outside of bartending that I care about: social justice, health and wellness. Right now, we’re in a position where we are finding ways to incorporate those things into our craft. And we’re seeing that, not just with myself and Focus on Health Co-Founder Alex Jump, but with other individuals as well.

What parts of the industry would you like to change?

I think one of the things that I’d like to see change about the food and beverage industry, or bartending in general, is work-life balance. I think we all are like, ‘Yeah, work-life balance is cool and rad!’ but actually being able to implement it is a challenge. We need to find ways to actually implement it, and make it sustainable.

Do you think the need for non-alcoholic beverages is growing? Why are they important? 

Non-alcoholic beverages are really important to me personally. I go through my waves of not drinking, so having booze-free options is always nice. For establishments that are really truly trying to be diverse and cater to all audiences, being able to provide a non-alcoholic option that’s not an afterthought, that’s very well-crafted, and takes the same time and care as every other drink on the menu is essential and important. 

It’s the little things, like are we putting the non-alcoholic cocktails on the back of the menu with the kids’ drinks? Or are they in the front with all of the other options? Are we only giving really bright pink drinks that taste like fruit punch, which are delicious, but ensuring that any guest who comes into our establishment feels and knows that we’re giving our non-alcoholic options the same care and thought as everything else on our menu. 

Is your hair an important part of your identity?

I do feel like my hair is part of my image as a bartender. I was actually talking to my hair stylist earlier about this.That was the way my mom always did it. It wasn’t until after college that I stopped perming it. I didn’t like the way it smelled, my hair was brittle and breaking. So, I figured out how to start styling it and realized I had these beautiful curls. I’m very comfortable with who I am and that certainly was the beginning of me figuring out my true identity. 

Is hair color a form of self expression for you?

Yes, my hair color is a form of self expression. I’m always doing something new to it, whether it’s the color or the actual style.

Is bartending a creative outlet for you?

Yes. I believe creativity looks different for everyone, but I also believe that creativity, day-to-day responsibilities and taking care of ourselves align. So whatever job you do, whatever career you choose, it’s important to ensure that you can still really lean into the  things that bring you joy and happiness, because we don’t live to work, and I know how important it is to have that outlet and that release.

Tell us about Focus on Health. What is it and why did you start it?

Focus on Health is a health and wellness company that advocates for health and wellness within the food and beverage sector. Alex [Jump] actually ended up pitching it as an idea for a bartending competition back in 2019. I saw that she was promoting this, and I was like, man, I’m kind of at the same point, going through my own transformation. I lost 30 pounds and I was just feeling great and wanted to share that knowledge with people. So I reached out and asked if she’d be interested in collaborating.

It’s been a really wild journey. We’ve spent more than 14 months collaborating with health and wellness professionals to really curate programming specific to the needs of the food and beverage industry, all focusing on our five pillars of wellness: Mental Wellness,which encompasses everything. Social Wellness, focusing on interpersonal relationships. Environmental Wellness, leaning into this idea that sustainability doesn’t have to be an all or nothing affair. Sustainability is a privilege and we acknowledge that. So we are  leaning into ways in which, depending on where you are, what programs you have, how you can incorporate it into what you’re doing. Physical Wellness and Financial Wellness, which is obviously very important. So we discuss that from a personal and a business standpoint.

Tell us about your podcasts

Absolutely. Focus on Health has three podcasts–the Focus on Health podcast, is led by Alex Jump. It really leans into tough conversations in a way where individuals who are listening can really relate to them and find resolution. I really enjoy those conversations because I think when we talk about success and we don’t talk about the difficulties that come with it, it kind of is like us putting on this facade. We all struggle. We all go through our hardships and difficulties. And so that’s one of my more favorite podcasts we offer.

We also have No-Proof, led by Joshua Gandee, who has been a sober bartender for years. He invites guests to talk about that realm of the hospitality sector and industry, and the ways in which they’ve thrived in that area. And to share advice for anyone struggling with substance abuse. 

And then there is my podcast, Currency Exchange, which focuses on having conversations about social justice and other important topics from a global perspective. We invite guests from other parts of the world to come in and have conversations with us to help gain new perspectives. It came about because I was traveling a lot before COVID and having these conversations in person, and I realized how impactful they were. So I wanted to keep them going.

Filed Under: intersections of beauty