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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Jai Chandegra, Bar Manager

We make another chip into the local bartending community with Jai Chandegra. This isn’t just an origin story. Time for some home truths about the hospitality industry too…

A self-confessed “bar whore”, Jai Chandegra is one of those people you’ll have seen behind bars at sporadic intervals all across the Bournemouth and Poole area. Joining the likes of Jamie Barter, Andy Thakkar, Liam White, and Jack Quinney on our list of interviewees from the local bar community.

Throughout the pandemic, the hospitality has faced the wringer again and again. Heavily restricted by the government, and continually held in low esteem by the public. As someone who has been in the industry since he was ten, we asked Jai for some home truths. Not only about the government’s treatment of hospitality businesses recently, but the public attitude too.

WHERE ARE YOU FROM ORIGINALLY?

I’m from London originally — Paddington and lived around Kingston. Me and the family moved down here when I was ten years-old.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO TAKE UP A CAREER IN HOSPITALITY? WHERE AND WHEN DID IT START?

I wouldn’t say so much that I was “inspired”. It was something I was forced into when my parents bought a B&B down here. I was looking after hungover stags every weekend, taking their Full English to them, cleaning their rooms… So I’ve been doing it since I was ten.

From there, I had some KP jobs when I was a teenager, here and there. But when it came to bar work itself… I finished college, and I hadn’t really sorted out university. So I was just playing Xbox in the living room, and my mum bust down the door one day, saying, “There’s a bar that’s opened up around the corner. I’ve already spoken to the owner – you have a job there. Get your arse up there now.”

That was a bar called Eau du Vie, which is now Camden in Westbourne. It was owned by James Edis, run by Gemma Terry, and manned by CJ Lohez and Niall Percival. CJ left, and Edis, Gem and Niall taught me everything to start off in bar work. But I started as a KP, then onto the floor, looking after the floor, then bar back, bartender, and cocktail bartender. I learnt everything there, really.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVOURITE BAR TO WORK AT? EITHER IN BOURNEMOUTH OR ELSEWHERE…

I have actually lived in Australia a couple of times. I lived in Brisbane for a year-and-a-half, and in Melbourne for a year. In Brisbane, I was just bartending in bars and restaurants, whereas in Melbourne, I was managing venues as well. My favourite place in Melbourne is this little neighbourhood bar called Collection Bar. It was partly owned by this genius dude… I can’t remember his name, but I remember this cocktail he created called The Laphroaig Project — it’s amazing.

That was my favourite place out in Australia, but over here in Bournemouth… that’s a tough one, because I’ve worked everywhere. I’m a bit of a bar whore. 1812… Smokin’ Aces… Sky Bar… I used to run Canvas… Lost Paradise for a bit… Poison Apple… yeah, I’ve worked at a bunch of places. Out of all of those, I reckon 1812 is my favourite. For the camaraderie – it was such an awesome team back then. When I was there, we just had so much fun. I have made some of my best friends because of that team. Then Eau du Vie, because that’s where it all started, and Smokin’ Aces, just for the sheer fun of it all.

WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING PART OF BARTENDING IN GENERAL?

It used to be customer satisfaction and all that. But you know what? I’m a bit disillusioned. After working this job for so many years, I’ve realised in general people don’t really very much care about you… I think that’s fair to say. For me, now, the most rewarding part is the camaraderie. The friendships and the love that you build for the people who you’re working with. I don’t have friends with normal jobs. They’re all bartenders, because those are the people that I love and always will love.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE COCKTAIL TO MAKE?

I have created many over the years, but you can’t go wrong with a classic. For me, it’s the daiquiri. Classic daiquiri — rum, lime and sugar. Can’t beat it. Sure, you can make a nice strawberry one, but get that out of my face. Give me good white rum, sugar, lime: done. No messing about.

Niall Percival taught me how to make that. And he explained it to me like this:

“It’s the easiest drink to make, and the hardest drink to master”. You have to balance everything perfectly, and when it’s good, it’s amazing.

WHAT IS YOUR HONEST OPINION OF THE WAY THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY AND ITS WORKERS HAVE BEEN TREATED THROUGHOUT THIS PANDEMIC?

Honestly… they have treated us like an absolute scapegoat, by the looks of it. All that data that was coming out, saying we were responsible for less than 5% of the cases. And yet the curfew and the regulations hit us hardest. You look at people across the board — hospitality were absolutely killing it in sticking to the regulations and making sure customers were sticking to them. Keeping everyone safe and making sure everyone was doing the right thing. I’ve never seen the hospitality industry just rise to the occasion like that before… they nailed it, quite frankly. Obviously some bars and restaurants were a bit cheeky, but that’s by-the-by. As a whole, as an industry, and not just here but around the world, you really saw hospitality rise to the occasion.

And we were hit again and again and again. Taking the blame for everything. We were the ones who had to put all the regulations in, and every time they put more regulations in, it’s less money for us. So they’re expecting us to stay open and work, but with less income. It looked to me like they were trying to have their cake and eat it. Saying, “You can be open, but here’s a 10pm curfew”. What’s the point of a 10pm curfew? That’s when it starts getting good.

At The Dancing Moose, where I currently work, they tried really hard to be open for December. Try to make some money and help everyone have a good time. But Tier 2 just wasn’t working. You can’t have a drink after you’ve had your food. I started getting quite bummed-out about it. A lot of customers were very respectful about what was going on and very understanding. There are some really sweet people out there. But there are a lot of arseholes out there too, who just didn’t give a toss. People who just treated us with blatant disrespect. Just not caring.

It would disillusion the most hardened veteran in the industry. Leaves you wondering, “What’s the point of doing this if I’m not getting what I want out of it?” It’s not just about money. If it was about money, we’d be in different industries, frankly. We do it because we love it. We love looking after people and having fun, but we’re not getting that when people are treating us like robots.

WHAT COMMENTS DO YOU HAVE ABOUT THE PUBLIC ATTITUDE TOWARDS HOSPITALITY WORKERS IN GENERAL?

We could definitely have a softer gaze upon us. From the general public, the customers, and so on. Maybe they could see how important the hospitality industry is, as a whole. When people finish their office jobs or whatever, and go to the pub for a pint or a bar for their favourite cocktail… they need that. They need that thing in their routine to let them say, “Ahh, today’s over. I’m going to go home, chill out, just needed to have my drink first”. We’re such an integral part of society, and I hope we’re no longer taken for granted.

At the end of the day, this is a business. Don’t get me wrong – we’re here to have a good time and we want our customers to have a good time. But we need to make money, so we can stay open and carry on having those good times. And people need to treat us with a bit more respect. We go through the works day-in, day-out. We have to turn on the sociable façade at 100, 24/7. Every hour, every minute of the shift. And it’s draining.

POST-COVID, WHAT ARE YOUR NEXT STEPS?

I will be going back to The Dancing Moose in Ashley Cross when we reopen. Our director has a lot of awesome plans for the company, but obviously everything has been put on hold and pushed back. Everyone is just biding their time, making sure everything is running smoothly before we start making our next big steps. It’s really exciting – there’s some awesome stuff coming out. I’m looking forward to being part of it all, as I only joined the company at the end of July.

FOR YOU, AS A BARTENDER, WHAT IS THE DREAM OR THE END GOAL?

My personal goal is to make some money, buy some properties and be a stay-at-home dad. That’s all I want. I’ve done my time. I tried ownership once but it didn’t really work out. You live and you learn.

During lockdown, I’ve been working on a cocktail book for my brother. He asked for it for his birthday or Christmas, both of which have gone. I’m still working on it, because I want it to be perfect. My mum is trying to convince me to maybe put it out there as an e-book or something, so people can buy it online.

For more local Catering and Hospitality stories, click here. You can also follow HQB News on all our social media channels: FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedIn and YouTube!

Dale Hurst
Dale Hursthttp://dale-hurst.com
HQB Media's Editor Dale Hurst is a novelist, restaurant critic and presenter. A graduate in Multimedia Journalism from Solent University, he has a wide variety of journalistic experience, ranging from reviewing top London restaurants to interviewing MPs for BBC Radio. Dale is the author of two mystery novels and also a part-time singer.

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