From breaking glasses to shaking cocktails at the Weslodge Saloon in Dubai, Nana Sechere has worked his way up the hospitality ladder. He shares with us what it’s like as a Canadian to work in a foreign place, where the alcohol rules are much stricter, and also how he enjoys making sure that other people have a great night.
Drinks World: Share with us how you got started in the industry and why you chose bartending as a career?
Nana Sechere: I started out as a busboy when I was about 19 years old and had a lot of fun doing it, but I would always watch the bartenders and wish I had the chance to be like them. I was a busboy for the same club for about three years, and never got a chance to bartend so I left and found any bar gig that I could. I found a job at a local pub, got fired, then I ended up working at a place called ‘Jacques Trap,’ which was a biker bar. The place was a disaster, and I didn’t learn much, but I was fortunate enough to get hired at a major chain restaurant in Canada that taught me all the basics.
DW: Tell us how you have progressed as a bartender?
NS: The Nana now compared to who I was on day 1? Night and Day is an understatement. Because I was going for any bar gig I could find, without being trained properly, my first shift behind the bar was hilarious! I can’t even tell you how many glasses I broke, or how many terrible drinks I made because I didn’t know any recipes. These days I’m a major cocktail nerd. I read as much as I can, practice new recipes and techniques, I take as many training opportunities as I can, and I try to create the best experience for my guests. I ended up here in Dubai working at Weslodge because I’ve dedicated myself to those elements my whole career. Let’s see where it takes me.
DW: How did the opportunity come about to work in Weslodge and what appealed to you most working in Dubai?
NS: My friend Isaac Viner was the original bar manager of Weslodge, and we are from the same city in Canada (Ottawa). When he got here, he wanted to shape the bar a certain way and he thought I was the perfect fit for the team. At the time, I had a slew of job offers in Canada, but I wasn’t quite sure which direction I wanted to go in. When he called me, and proposed Dubai, it was easily the most interesting to me because I didn’t know much about Dubai and it seemed like something I wouldn’t get the chance to do again. So I met with the company in Toronto, had a great interview and made a quick decision. What appealed to me most about Dubai was the chance to work in an international environment. I mean there are bartenders and clientele from all over the world there. People I would never have met in Canada, and opportunities that I may never have if I continued on in my old life. Dubai represented a chance to get better so that’s why I took it.
DW: Given the strict drinking culture in Dubai, tourists would be your main clientele. How do you create a cocktail menu given the various palate profiles and the vast array of guests that come to your venue?
NS: It isn’t anything too different from creating a list in London or North America. As ‘strict’ as it may appear to be, there is a pretty big drink culture here. A lot of the clientele are still doing shots from the 80s like B-52s but they also appreciate when a bartender does something creative with flavours or presentation. The classics are very much in fashion right now, along with a vast array of unique creations. With Dubai being an international market, it’s important to have cocktails that appeal to the discerning palate, along with more accessible drinks that new cocktail drinkers will love. There are two major bar academies in Dubai, so the cocktail knowledge in this city is much higher than one might expect.
DW: For a bartender who is new to Dubai, what are significant rules behind the bar or within a venue that could be different to other parts of the world, where the drinking culture is less regulated?
NS: It’s business as usual for the most part, except when it comes to the bar you have to respect the various cultures and religious sensitivities at times. Be mindful of how you address people. There are religious observation days called ‘Dry Days’ where no alcohol can be served anywhere in the country. In addition, Ramadan occurs and no alcohol, food, or even water can be served until the sun goes down in numerous venues. Even music must be played at a very low volume and in some cases, no entertainment can occur. This may be hard for some to cope with for the month, but when it comes to Dubai, the city has so much happening and such high energy evenings that it’s great to have that month off from the excitement.
DW: For those who are yet to be acquainted with Weslodge, what can they expect? And also the overall cocktail scene in Dubai?
NS: We are a unique restaurant here in Dubai and in fact, I think we are different than our original restaurant in Canada. During the week, you can expect a chilled vibe where the bartenders and servers engage in conversation, but on the weekends we transform into an extremely busy supper club. The music played is Old School Hip Hop, we sling drinks at a fast and furious rate, and the lounge transforms into a big dance party. We have a lot of fun. As for the cocktail scene here in Dubai? I didn’t know what I was walking into, but I’ve met some of the best bartenders in the world here. The skill level is very high, and we have a tonne of competitions every year. All the major competitions like World Class, Chivas, and Legacy are here, and that’s due to the major bar academies here including MMI, and African & Eastern. Just being here has raised my game up at an incredible rate.
DW: And finally, what do you enjoy most about the F&B industry?
NS: From the working perspective, I love how much skill is required to do what we do and how much you can learn. I think you can keep learning and climbing that knowledge mountain with bartending and that’s something that makes me happy. Regarding guests, I love being able to be a major part of ensuring someone has a great evening. People come to see us because they’re hungry, thirsty, and want to have an experience. They want an atmosphere, and that’s what we offer. I was reluctant to make this a career, but knowing that my career path is one that makes people happy all over the world is enough reason for me to keep doing it.