Lynn House: From Actress to Mixologist to Brand Educator
Every year, Tales of the Cocktail inducts hardworking women of the spirits and cocktail industries into the Dame Hall of Fame to celebrate their contributions to the industry. Each of these women has their own story: from their starts, to their stumbles, and, finally, to their successes. In this series, Tales co-founder Ann Tuennerman highlights some of the past Dame Hall of Fame recipients, and explores the path that led them to where they are today. This edition highlights Lynn House, national brand educator for Heaven Hill Brands.
What attracted you to enter the cocktail/spirits industry in the first place?
I paid my way through college. Worked in a restaurant as a hostess. When I turned 19, I was able to become a server, and at 21 I went into the bar. It was all about earning dollars for school.
Was it planned, or was it a temporary gig that evolved into a career?
Temporary. My degree was in theatre. I expected to be a working actor right off the bat. What I didn't expect was how little theatre paid. So I bartended and waited tables to pay the bills.
What and where was your first job in the industry?
Attractions Restaurant in Oxford, Ohio. I was a hostess.
Was there a moment when you decided that the cocktail/spirits industry would be your career path?
About 12 years ago I realized that I really loved the creative aspect of spirits and cocktails. I was working at Spring [a Chicago restaurant] and started studying, tasting and learning all that I could.
As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry, what did you find the most rewarding and the most challenging?
I had strong female role models. The hardest part, though, was having male counterparts realize that the accolades I was getting were well-earned. I can remember several bartenders saying "the only reason you get press is because you are America's Sweetheart." It was painful because they were friends.
Was your family supportive of your decision?
For the most part, yes. I think they always wanted me to be a lawyer. But they also know that I am someone who does what I want to do and I won't be pigeonholed.
How has the role of women in the cocktail/spirits industry changed since you first joined it?
There are more and more women in all aspects of the industry. Instead of hearing things like "girly," woman are being described as "badass." It's not uncommon to see a woman running a beverage program. When I started, I was one of a few fish in the sea.
For a woman who wants to pursue a career in this industry, what top 3 tips would you offer?
- Educate. Learn all that you can. We've made inroads, but you still have to be smarter than all the rest.
- Find a mentor. It's important to have someone guide you, support you and just be a shoulder to lean on when you need it.
- Ignore the noise. There's still a lot of negative chatter out there. Don't invest your time and energy listening to it. It's not worth it.
How did you first learn about Tales of the Cocktail?
Through the Chicago beverage community. This is my tenth [as of 2017] Tales.
Were there any challenges you had to overcome to attend Tales for the first time (financial, logistical, etc.)?
The first time I went I couldn't afford it. There was a competition that would pay cash. I entered it, determined to win. I did win, and was able to afford plane fare and hotel.
Kindly describe your first Tales experience and what it meant to you.
It was a wonderful sense of belonging to a great community. Did not do much the first year. I attended a lot of the parties and assisted friends who were participating in events. My first Tales was really about socializing and seeing the possibilities of what I could achieve. For my second Tales, I came back and hosted my own Spirit Dinner.
How did you first hear about the Dame Hall of Fame?
I was president of the Chicago Chapter of LUPEC. So I knew DHoF was something that was on the table.
Were any of its past inductees your mentors or role models?
Bridget Albert was my first teacher and mentor in the industry. She led the Academy of Spirits and Fine Service. I looked up to many of the women who were honored. But Audrey Sanders was someone whom I had always admired.
What was it like to be inducted into the Dame Hall of Fame at Tales?
It was humbling. To be recognized alongside so many incredible women was amazing and a true honor.
How has being inducted energized your career, and what opportunities have flowed as a result?
It definitely was a notch on the belt as far as my resume was considered. People took notice. Great bragging rights at the restaurant.