As a woman who writes about the Australian bar scene, one of the most inspiring parts of my job is talking to some amazing kick ass women of the industry.
So this week was made all the better after speaking to the incredible Kayla Grigoriou from Adelaide, who is the Venue Manager of Bar Torino, as well as the Distiller and Founder of Needle and Pin Spirits.
Grigoriou grew up alongside the industry – her family own and operate Portia Valley Wines, with multiple generations of viticulturalists and winemakers in their history. At around 19 years old when she was at uni studying law, working odd jobs in the family winery was all she knew. But she also really wanted a part time job, and so took her resume into a local pub, being offered a trial shift the very next day.
“I told them I had experience… I was like yes I’m great with people, and I can carry three plates and I can make cocktails. But I had no idea how to do any of it,” Grigoriou joked.
“But I learned a lot – pubs are so fast paced and it’s a way that you really learn quickly and you learn how to be a fast worker, because you have to be.”
From this first experience with the on-premise industry and ever since, Grigoriou has thrown herself into learning. She has taken advice and education from Adelaide industry legends like Jamie Gardner, Ollie Margan and Maria Favaro, who is also the owner of Bar Torino.
Through a self described ‘hunger to learn’ and ‘awkwardly fierce loyalty’ to her venues, as well as a love of creativity, Grigoriou fell in love with the industry. She already knew she hated law and after being introduced to the world of gin, knew that she wanted to work in bars full time.
“I love being on my feet and talking to people and being creative – for me that’s a big thing because I’m a pretty creative person most days,” Grigoriou said.
“I really like this industry for that – whether you’re running a restaurant, or you’re behind the bar or working in a distillery or brewery or winery – you’re creative and you’re creating and putting something out there that you could be really proud of.
“I’ve made some amazing friends in this industry and met some phenomenal people. You know, someone like Nick Tesar really turned it around for me as well. Watching him run Bar Liberty and have Marionette and do all these amazing things… I was like, this is who I want to be when I’m older.”
This all contributed to why Grigoriou didn’t just settle for playing with creativity behind the bar, but also took it to the back bar itself. Exploring the world of gin and all its variations, she began thinking about what she would tweak in certain products to make them better, which developed a step further into actually creating the product itself with Needle and Pin Spirits.
“What really drew me to distilling was the thought that I want to make a gin that I really liked. I loved Martinis, but I dislike olives and olive brine… I wanted that same sort of earthy character that you get and that kind of salty flavour,” Grigoriou said.
Needle and Pin launched last year with just Grigoriou and the help of her dad. COVID-19 has been an unexpectedly busy time for the brand and orders have been coming in thick and fast from across the country and the world.
“It’s been amazing the support and outreach that I’ve seen… but for me, I just love making the spirit and I love being in this industry. It was exciting to be able to do something on the side and now to see it really take form and take shape has been really cool,” Grigoriou said.
To be on both sides of the industry as a producer and venue manager is certainly a unique position. When asked about how she balances it, Grigoriou said she tries to keep each side separated so she can completely focus on the task at hand and do each role justice.
But also, having these different viewpoints and experiences has helped Grigoriou continue to learn valuable lessons and grow in the industry she loves.
With such a wealth of knowledge already behind her that’s being added to every day, I asked Grigoriou what messages of advice she would give to young women who may just starting out in the same way she did. I’d say all the great things she’s been able to achieve before 30 make her a pretty good role model and source of inspiration in this regard.
“I think sometimes you get overlooked as a female in this industry and there are amazing female females in this industry but it still happens and it can feel a bit like a lads group. But if you hustle and you work hard, you’re gonna get there. Like I said, I was hungry to learn and I really really really wanted to throw everything that I could at it.” Grigoriou said.
“If you can have as much information and as much knowledge in your head as possible, you’re going to get to where you want to go. You have to fight hard, take the bull by the horns and you just kind of have to run with it.
“Whatever gender you are, if you’re giving something 110% and you’re not afraid to fall flat on your face, then you’re going to achieve something. I wish somebody had said that to me when I was younger and learning and I would have maybe done things a little bit more aggressively in my approach.”
Grigoriou also explained that it’s not all doom and gloom as a female in the industry, and called out the great work being done to empower women, something that is continually being built on. Things like Coleman’s Academy and Speed Rack, as well as some incredible female leaders in the wider industry, are doing some absolutely amazing things.
In South Australia specifically, Grigoriou is also involved with a collective of women supporting women in the industry, called HERd.
“I think we’re so lucky at the moment to have so many amazing women in this industry that are really smashing it and we can all look up to them and strive for that and better ourselves,” Grigoriou said.
“Maybe a few years ago the women in the industry were more so the managers in pubs that were kind of the mean scary old ladies – I still want to be one of them when I’m older, they’re legends – but I think we’ve definitely seen a shift to more women being more vocal about everything, asking more questions and being more curious, which is always great.
“We’re all out here slogging away, doing what we can, and the more women that are out there, slogging away and creating noise too, the better.”