The future is yours to create: Emilio Valencia

Emilio Valencia 2 Copy scaled

The second interviewee in our new series is Emilio Valencia, group beverage development manager for Soho Luxury Restaurants in Dubai. He tells us the most helpful career advice he’s been given, what a good role model means to him and the one thing he would change about the bar industry 

A little bit about me

I was born in the beautiful city of Guadalajara in Jalisco, Mexico, 36 years ago. My dad was in the music business, so I was always surrounded by creative people growing up, and my mum has always been supportive of me – so have my siblings.  

When I turned 18, I decided to take a gap year and move to London to experience existence outside of my very closed circle. (I went to an all-boys private Catholic school so there wasn’t much struggle as a kid.) The decision to move abroad changed me completely. My first job in London while I was studying music production (which I didn’t finish) was as a rickshaw, but after hitting a cab by mistake and having the driver shout at and threaten me, I decided to change jobs.  

I had zero experience when a friend of mine, a barback in a place called Everything Must Go (later known as Punk), told me they were looking for a bartender. I decided to take the risk, got the job and ended up staying for eight years – and the rest is history, I guess. It was a complete gamble and I am so incredibly happy that I took it. 

How I approach my work

Creativity plays a major role in why I do what I do. As does the interaction with the people who come to your bar to have a good time. In my head it is a very similar feeling to when you are on stage (I used to have a band and I also DJ). Feeding off peoples’ energy is a thing that not many get to experience. 

The most helpful piece of advice I’ve been given is to keep getting better and better until you can rise to a point where you can do meaningful change in your industry. There is so much that needs to change in the hospitality industry, and the best way to do it is by getting to a position where you can actually make an impact. Will I ever get there? I don’t know, but I will make sure any place I work at and any team I run leaves happy and better. I want real change for the industry, a healthier environment for everyone. 

“There is so much that needs to change in the hospitality industry, and the best way to do it is by getting to a position where you can actually make an impact.”

Employers can motivate me at work by being clear with their expectations of me, communicate and then let me do my job.  

Winning competitions and working with brands have catapulted my career forward incredibly fast, but I try to remember that I also need to be good with people management, numbers, etc. There are people who are happy being beverage managers and directors behind-the-scenes where brands don’t really have an impact on your career progression. In my individual case, having been a brand ambassador, I think the pull and push between brand and operator is important. Advocacy is important because it brings awareness and knowledge to the industry, and remember – knowledge is power, always. 

My thoughts on mentorship

A good role model to me is someone who pushes people to be better in all aspects of life, who do as they say and say as they do. I always strive to set an example, but I think whether I’m a role model is for other people to decide. In the meantime, I will keep doing what I think is good for my friends, my team and work on what I need to do to better myself. 

There are many people who I look up to, but outside hospitality my parents take first place. They taught me to always think before I act, and how said act will affect not only me but also those around me. Then there’s my Muay Thai coach, Jason Woodham, who has changed the way I think about pain and being in uncomfortable situations which can be applied both in the ring and outside. Inside hospitality, one person that comes to mind is Danil Nevsky. His push for hospitality moving away from pretentiousness, towards education and health is amazing. Then there’s Rebecca Strut, Nana Sashere, Jan Liska, Laura Duca, Tatiana and Max le Van… the list goes on and on. I think it’s important to look up to people who push you and make you have a good look at yourself when you are wrong. 

“I think it’s important to look up to people who push you and make you have a good look at yourself when you are wrong.”

 A lot of how our industry leaders can help the next generation of bartenders is to do with wellness: encourage people to do sports as well as party; encourage people to seek help when their mental health is struggling; don’t only do seminars on why this spirit is what it is, but also on people management and numbers, and emphasise how important that is for your future self. 

My hopes for the future

If I could change one thing about our industry, it would be the grind-or-die mentality. Working six days a week, 12 hours a day; missing weddings, Christmas celebrations, birthdays… It is not healthy for anyone, and it’s not something to brag about.  

I think bartenders hold the power to define the future of our industry in some aspects (like trends, for example), but it’s a combined effort from leaders, management, bartenders, waiters, chefs to change for the better. 

I don’t know how the bar community can grow together and make our voices heard in larger society. For now, I will keep communicating with whoever wants to listen that we can have a healthy work environment without having to kill ourselves working.  

My own legacy? That people were happy while working with me.