EXCLUSIVE: Controversial Decision Rocks Tales of the Cocktail

By B.E. Mintz |

Ann & Paul Tuennerman opening Tales 2015 (Courtesy Dr. Bill Copen)

Update: In a press release Saturday evening, Ann and Paul Tuennerman announced their resignations from leadership roles with Tales of the Cocktail and its parent company, MOJO911 LLC. Follow our developing story here.

A surprising decision from Tales of the Cocktail ownership recently sparked high profile resignations and left the future of the organization’s “Diversity Council” in question. In an email to the Council, Tales founder Ann Tuennerman announced that her husband, Paul Tuennerman, would be returning to the organization a mere seven months after his widely publicized resignation. In response to the controversial decision, Diversity Council Co-chair Colin Asare-appiah publicly resigned his post, creating questions about the Council’s mission, autonomy, and members.

The decision came just months after this year’s Tales festival, a multimillion dollar extravaganza, the industry’s largest convention. On Thursday, September 21st, Ann Tuennerman announced the move  to reinstate Paul with a call as well as an internal email obtained and verified by Neat Pour. In the email, Ann Tuennerman wrote that she is “asking Paul to come back to Tales”, but also clarified that “Paul will not be involved in other aspects of the business, nor will he be a public face of the brand.” She also noted that even during his seven months without a role with Tales of the Cocktail, he was still a 50% owner of Mojo 911 LLC, the company that produces the annual cocktail festival.

Response from members of the Diversity Council was swift. Asare-appiah, a public face and staunch advocate for the efforts of Tales‘ Diversity Council, issued a stern rebuke to Ann’s announcement. In documents obtained by Neat Pour, he criticized her lack of involvement with the Diversity Council itself, announced his resignation from the Council, and severed ties with the Tales of the Cocktail organization.

The resignation letter directly listed the former Co-chair’s grievances towards Tales‘ owners: “In your first action in dealing with the Diversity Council you undermine its very existence as a group that provides you with advice and support to make considerate decisions. You didn’t seek the councils [sic] advice on this very sensitivity issue that lies at the very core of why we as a group were established in the first place,”  Asare-appiah wrote. “The establishment of the council feels like lip service to my industry. My first priority is my fellow community and I apologize to all of my fellow council members for dragging you into this situation.”

Four additional Council members told Neat Pour that they plan to resign in the days ahead as well. Others expressed confusion about the status of the Council’s existence. Cameron George, a Diversity Council member from Seattle, said “I would like to continue to do anything to diversify the industry and affect change, but I don’t think it’s worth doing that within Tales. The most recent going-on with this thing have shown us that Tales already has clear goals and they have a set map to pursue those goals. Essentially there was no punishment since he still owned half of the company. It’s bullshit.”

Tales of the Cocktail, however, said that the organization remain committed to the Diversity Council’s efforts. In a conversation with Neat Pour, TOTC Marketing Manager Jeremy Thompson noted that after Asare-appiah’s resignation, Ann Tuennerman sent the remaining Council members a letter of apology promising to consult them before decisions are made in the future. Thompson said that there are ongoing discussions about next steps for the Council, but those decisions will be made by the members themselves.

Thompson stated, “Our hope is that the Council will take on full autonomy, with no direct relationship to Tales, but with an open invitation to help Tales and other organizations shape diversity initiatives.”

Council Co-chair Jasmine Haralson told Neat Pour that she is staying on, and remains committed to moving forward. “The Council has never been about one person, one bar, or one event. It’s about a larger conversation. The work will continue to get done. I am ready to continue doing the work as Co-chair.”

The tumult began with outcry over the behavior of the husband and wife owners of the Tales organization earlier this year. The Tuennermans wore black face as part of a Mardi Gras parade tradition, and Paul made racially insensitive remarks on social media just a few months before their annual summer cocktail festival. The fallout was swift, with Paul Tuennerman resigning, and Ann Tuennerman doing damage control to resuscitate Tales of the Cocktail‘s reputation and relationships with large corporate sponsors. After the controversy, many minority members of the bar community reached out to Tales in an attempt to create some positive impact from the founders’ mistakes. Ideas and programs were proposed to do more to educate and communicate to the bar community ways it can be more inclusive of minority voices and needs, resulting in the creation of the Diversity Council. It remains to be seen how Tales of the Cocktail will work with, and integrate ideas from future iterations of the Diversity Council.

This article was updated on 9.23.17 to reflect that the announcement involved a call as well an email.

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