The founder of Tales of the Cocktail, the New Orleans convention that has become a must-attend annual town hall for the drinks business, announced Saturday that she would step down, months after a controversial costumed ride in a Mardi Gras parade.
“Our goal has always been to create something lasting that can benefit the industry and the people of New Orleans well beyond our years. This allows that to continue,” said Ann R. Tuennerman in her resignation statement. Tuennerman founded Tales 15 years ago, later running it with her husband, Paul, and the event has grown from a tiny gathering of cocktail aficionados to a massive international enterprise with corporate liquor sponsorships. Both of them resigned over the weekend.
A string of events led to the resignations. It began in March, when the Tuennermans, who are white, were denounced after posting a Facebook Live video of Ann Tuennerman wearing blackface for the Zulu Mardi Gras parade, with a caption that included what was intended as a joking reference to blackface. The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club is one of the oldest African-American social clubs in New Orleans, and during the annual Carnival parade, many of its members and float riders, both black and white, wear blackface, wigs and grass skirts.
The Facebook post traveled far beyond New Orleans at a time when the cocktail community was already grappling with issues of diversity and sexism within the industry. Paul Tuennerman left his position as chief business officer, and a diversity council was formed, made up of minority and female members from the bar world.
But late last week, Neat Pour, a new industry news site, reported that Paul Tuennerman would return to the organization. Colin Asare-Appiah — a chairman of the diversity council and, as a former bartender and current brand ambassador with Bacardi, a well-known figure in bar circles — announced he was resigning from the council. Other members also resigned, while some chose to remain.
“Ann made the independent decision to recently invite Paul Tuennerman back into the Tales organization, without consulting or advising the diversity council,” Asare-Appiah wrote in a Facebook post. “In doing so, her action has undermined the council’s very existence.”
The Tuennermans announced Saturday that they would relinquish their producing roles, handing over the reins to Melissa Young, the director of operations. It was unclear whether the Tuennermans had divested themselves from their company MOJO 911, which produces Tales of the Cocktail.
Ann Tuennerman and Young did not return requests for comment.