In 2015, Jane Apio was just another waitress at Carmel Club in Nakasero.
After three months, she hungered for more than waiting on patrons. Her supervisor had also noticed her zeal at giving her best while on duty so she started training her to become a bartender, a step which she took positively.
Then opportunity struck
Months into the new position, she heard about the mixology competitions. She shared with a friend who told her it is an event which is largely dominated by men. This motivated her to go in and prove that women too, could compete and win.
Apio was the only woman among 30 mixologists from bars within and outside Kampala. She was keen to use the competition to learn all she could about mixology and the drinks, for example she learnt that a mixologist helped customers make choices of drink flavours they wanted to blend in the mix while her other job as a bartender was simply about taking orders and serving them as ordered by customers.
“As a mixologist, I would be consulted on what drinks to mix. A customer would walk up to me and ask to take a gin. I would then give them a range of drinks that would blend well with the gin. In the end, they would be happy with the cocktail,” she recounts.
Apio qualified as a nurse at the Mulago School of Nursing and Midwifery but her passion led her into a bar setting, one where she envisioned becoming a bartender.
Before going to work as a bartender, she felt more women needed to move away from simply waiting on customers to working behind the bar counters. “The bar industry is full of men and this gave me the motivation to become a mixologist which introduced me to the Master Bar Academy sponsored by Uganda Waragi. I took my chance. There was an opening at Riders Bar so I applied and I was taken on,” Apio recalls.
When people go to Mythos Greek Tavern & Lounge, where she currently works, she says customers always place orders with male bartenders who in turn consult her on the best cocktail choices.
On top of hungering to compete with men, she was also motivated to become a mixologist on the night when a colleague served her a cocktail. She was curious to find out what the drink consisted of.
Her colleague told her it was a margarita which had tequila, orange cure with lemon and sugar. From then on, she took special interest in drinks that were used in making cocktails. On a daily basis, Apio makes many cocktails but the one that she is most proud of, was one created by a team she headed. It is called ‘The Queen of Katwe’. “It is made from Uganda Waragi, lemon, sugar and a dash of pineapple juice,” she adds.
For someone who dreamt of becoming a pilot, Apio feels she cannot switch careers now because her job exposes her to many people, which allows her to widen her network. She could have chased her childhood career aspiration but says that her father, a medical doctor, always pushed her to study something in the medical line. That is how she ended up doing nursing. Apio is the first born in a family of nine. She has five brothers and four sisters, all raised in a Christian family.
Master Bar Academy is an annual programme in which bartenders and mixologists participate to improve skills, customer service care and ultimately better drinking experience for consumers.
By rewarding and recognising the top bar tenders, the local brewery aims to transform bartending from what is often seen as a part time job to a viable career.