Tales of the Cocktail, the international spirits event that takes place in New Orleans each year, went on the offensive again this week after an anonymous group questioned the spending decisions of its charitable arm, the New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society.
The group made the allegations in a since-deleted Google Doc — titled an “Industry Letter to Brands Regarding Tales of the Cocktail” — that made the rounds yesterday morning. The letter claimed that “less than 10 percent of the net profits” went to “charitable works,” while Ann and Paul Tuennerman, the event founders who resigned amid controversy earlier this week, “received nearly 60 percent of the net profits” as directors. The document then asked brands to forgo supporting the organization. A link to the Google Doc appeared in a story on Imbibe.com yesterday morning. It was taken down around noon yesterday.
According to publicly available tax documents, the total revenue from Tales of the Cocktail in 2013 was $1.9 million. Of that, approximately $40,000 was spent on “grants.” Meanwhile, about $710,000 went to non-employee fees for “services” and $153,000 went to “travel expenses.” Nearly a million dollars went to “other expenses,” which are unidentified. MOJO911, LLC, a company owned by the Tuennermans, is contracted by New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society (NOCCPS) to provide event management and production services.
Melissa Young, president of Tales of the Cocktail, sent a statement to media and sponsors this morning clarifying those “other expenses.” “As part of the recent leadership transition at MOJO and Tales of the Cocktail, factually incorrect information has been shared about the financial operations of MOJO and its contractual partnership with the NOCCPS,” the statement read.
Young said the other expenses included event management fees, production services, employee salaries, and other functions necessary to the operation of the organization. The in-depth statement goes into further specifics on exactly how the money was spent. Young also disclosed that both the New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society was independently audited by the IRS in 2016, and MOJO911 was independently audited by the IRS in the fall of 2015. A “small number of recommendations” were made by the IRS, and those changed were implemented immediately. The audit was completed and received a “no change” response from the IRS, so no further action was needed.
It is not clear who authored the original “Industry Letter,” though an earlier version listed the members of the TOTC Diversity Council, a group founded earlier this year with the aim to foster inclusivity and diversity in the spirits and cocktail industries. Those names were later removed, and Jeremy Thompson, marketing director at Tales of the Cocktail, said that several members of the council told him they did not have any part in the letter.
This is the newest incident in a wave of controversies that has rocked Tales of the Cocktail and the spirits industry since March 2017, when Ann Tuennerman faced criticism for a Facebook video she posted of herself wearing Zulu blackface while participating in the Zulu, the Mardi Gras Day parade for the largest and oldest black Carnival krewe in New Orleans. The video’s caption stated, “Paul G Tuennerman interviewing me on Mardi Gras Morning from the Zulu Den. As he said ‘Throw a little Black Face on you lose all your Media Skills.’ He did his best as the interviewer.”
Following the social media backlash to the comment, interpreted by many as racially insensitive, Ann Tuennerman issued an apology on the Tales of the Cocktail website and created the Diversity Council. Her husband, Paul Tuennerman, left the organization.
But this past weekend, many members of the Diversity Council, including co-chair and Bacardi senior portfolio ambassador Colin Asare-appiah, resigned in protest after Tuennerman moved to reinstate her husband, allegedly without consulting anyone on the council, as Asare-appiah wrote in a public Facebook post.
The newest chapter in the Tales of the Cocktail saga has caused many to ask if there is a future to the organization, while others say that the event is so big and important that it will survive this controversy.
Tales of the Cocktail organizers say they plan to move forward from this and prepare for a successful 2018. “We understand the importance of being responsible financial stewards of the resources invested in us,” the statement read. “We will always take the steps needed to ensure the financial accountability of this organization.”
- What is Going on at Tales of the Cocktail [IMBIBE.COM]
- Industry Letter to Brand Regarding Tales of the Cocktail [GOOGLE DOC]
- Cocktail Industry Leader Ann Tuennerman Resigns From Tales of the Cocktail [ENOLA]
- Controversial Decision Rocks Tales of the Cocktail [NEATPOUR.COM]
- Statement Regarding the Financial Operations of Tales of the Cocktail [press release]