Imbibe 75 Person to Watch: Touré Folkes - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Imbibe 75 Person to Watch: Touré Folkes

Touré Folkes worked for an internet start-up, did stints as a street vendor, and has been involved with a U.S-funded sustainable development program in the Dominican Republic. He’d also been involved in the cocktail world as a bartender—he was “adjacent” to the early craft cocktail moment in New York, he says, while working at Jeffery’s Grocery in Manhattan’s West Village. “Sasha Petraske at Milk & Honey once said to me, ‘If you want to learn how to bartend you can come and cut ice,’ ” Folkes says. “But
I was too shy to become a part of it.”

He moved to New Orleans to help open a new hotel, but his “defining moment,” he says, was as a volunteer with Liberty’s Kitchen, a New Orleans nonprofit founded in 2008 to offer overlooked or criminalized young adults a place to get a hot meal and learn restaurant skills. He helped the group apply to Tales of the Cocktail for a grant to extend the training to the cocktail world. They got it, and he helped establish Turning Tables, a training program to give the underrepresented a route into the bar world.

Folkes developed a curriculum, brought in volunteer educators, and launched his first class of seven students. Then came the pandemic. Hospitality programs like Liberty’s Kitchen suffered, but Folkes, with the help of a benefactor, converted Turning Tables into an independent program and moved training online. Folkes has now enrolled his third class—meeting in person—and he’s expanded the program to teach about a broader scope of professional opportunities in the industry, ranging from small distillers to major liquor companies. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what the people who come out of this program do,” Folkes says. “They have a lot of ambition, they want to change the industry, and they all bring different values. I learn from them every year.”

Head here to learn more about Turning Tables and to support their work.

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