The rumors and controversy swirling around Tales of the Cocktail in the wake of resignations from founder Ann Tuennerman and her husband Paul Tuennerman were answered with a series of new developments on Thursday (9.28). The organization announced that the Tuennermans plan to sell their share in the affiliated, for-profit production company MOJO911 LLC, as detailed in a statement and fact sheet released by newly installed company President Melissa Young. In addition, interviews with Neat Pour as well as the release attempted to rebut accusations of fiscal impropriety. Meanwhile, in New Orleans, local leaders scrambled to shore up the millions of dollars in tourist money generated by the annual summer festival while national leaders expressed questions about the future of the event.
Young stressed that the Tuennermans are removing themselves from both entities. She wrote, “They [the Tuennermans] are not part of the daily activities of MOJO or any of the events we manage and are exploring how to transition their ownership in MOJO quickly.” In a followup discussion with Neat Pour, Tales Marketing Director Jeremy Thompson clarified that the founding couple is looking to sell MOJO911 as soon as possible, with discussions slated to begin as early as next week. He added that the Tuennermans have already cleared out their offices and passwords have been reset.
The release also attempted to clear up the roles and relationship between the for profit MOJO911 LLC currently owned by the Tunnermans and the nonprofit New Orleans Culinary & Cultural Preservation Society (NOCCPS) founded by Ann Tuennerman.
The Not for Profit
NOCCPS is described by press materials as a 501(c)(3) founded by Ann Tuennerman in 2006 with a mission to “Preserve and promote the culinary and cocktail heritage of New Orleans, around the World.” The organization explained that Tales of the Cocktail, Tales on Tour, Tales of the Toddy, and the Tales 365 Membership Program are the primary revenue generators for NOCCPS.
Young’s fact sheet stressed that “Ann and Paul Tuennerman are not members of the NOCCPS board of directors and have no direct involvement with the operation of NOCCPS.” However, this, too, must be a recent development. 2015 and 2014 tax documents from NOCCPS list Ann R. Tuennerman as “Founding Member & Director”, and reports that she worked an average of 40 hours weekly on NOCCPS business compared to the other ten members who only reported working one hour weekly. Among those other members was Paul Tuennerman, listed simply as a Director.
New MOJO911 President Young is also currently a NOCCPS Director. Asked if she would resign, Tales Marketing Director Jeremy Thompson replied, “That hasn’t been discussed yet, but we are aware that board needs to be revamped, and diversity will certainly be a priority.”
NOCCPS’ revenue for 2015 is listed at $2,904,200 on the organization’s 990 form. The same filing lists expenses at $2,719,400 and values the group’s assets at $579,652.
The glaring expense on NOCCPS’ books is annual payment to MOJO911. In 2015, that number came in at $844,760. A tax return screenshot making its way through social media led many to believe that said figure represented the Tuennerman’s direct salary, which it does not. That number is the amount paid to MOJO911 to produce events such as Tales, on behalf of NOCCPS. The group was quick to point out that the figure is not profit, but rather the base which then must be used to pay employees, rent venues, purchase insurance, etc.
The ownership of MOJO911 is split evenly between Ann and Paul Tunnerman, but as noted, appear to be actively shopping for buyers. Also notable is the fact that MOJO911 owns all of the intellectual property associated with Tales.
The IRS Question
Many Facebook comment threads have pondered the legality of the corporate structure. According to Thompson, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audited MOJO911 in 2015 and audited NOCCPS in 2016. “The outcome of the NOCCPS audit included a small number of recommendations from the IRS, which were implemented immediately,” declared Young. “The audit of MOJO was completed by the IRS with a “no change” response, requiring no further action.”
If Tales were to disappear altogether, it would leave a noticeable hole in the industry and an even greater gap in New Orleans’ economy. The economic impact of Tales in 2016 was estimated at $15.8MM in 2016, and the cumulative figure since 2009 is estimated to be more than $100 million. Likewise, there is an intangible community building element fostered by the event among its global participants.
The importance of the event to New Orleans’ hospitality market is lost on few. Diversity Council member Jackie Summers told Neat Pour, “Throughout all of our [the Diversity Council] discussions, making sure that we did not hurt New Orleans was a top priority. We love NOLA. Love NOLA! We certainly don’t want to see the community lose money.”
Hospitality and business leaders in the Crescent City have also been working behind the scenes to ensure that the show goes on. “We have been meeting with other organizations and people to see where Tales is and where it will go,” said New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau Vice President of Communications and Public Relation Krisitan Sonnier. “We’re proud of the event, it started, and we would like to see it stay here. So, we’re exploring several different options to continue to support the festival’s success.”
The issues 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. In addition, she tried mend her relationship with the bar community via a nearly hour long
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. Memorably, Tuennerman discussed diversity issues with bar consultant Ashtin Berry during a Facebook Live session viewed by over 10k people. 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. However, after Ann announced Paul’s return to Tales, Council Co-chair Colin Asare-appiah resigned in protest and other Council members told Neat Pour that they intended to follow suit. 24 hours after NP reported the controversy, both Tuennerman announced their resignation from the organization.