Once Upon a Cocktail to Launch Events & Signature Book on International Women’s Day

By Brianna Ruelas Brianna Ruelas has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on February 19, 2024

“Once Upon a Cocktail” is gearing up to honor women in March with an event on International Women’s Day, March 8th, and on National Cocktail Day, March 24th. We sat down with Founder Katie Brightside to learn more about the dynamic duo — including partner Sarah L.M. Mengoni — behind this female-founded company and their signature book.

Grit Daily: Tell us about your individual backgrounds and how you decided to collaborate on this project together. 

Katie Brightside: I have lived in West Hollywood for nine years, and I am the creator of the award-winning company Welcome to the Brightside and the publisher of Once Upon a Cocktail. I hold a Master’s in Fine Art from Central St. Martin’s. My company is impassioned with a melting pot of creatives from vast spectrums of the arts and delivers unique design and artistic projects. The firm also houses The Digs Collection, a homeware company highlighting illustrated mural scale artwork, wallpaper, and handmade kimonos. 

In addition, I have secured several public art installations and personally received a 2022 WeHo Artist Grant. Also, in 2022, Welcome to the Brightside won the John Chase Award for Innovation of Art and Design at the West Hollywood Creative Business Awards. In 2021, I received the Phyllis Morris Women in Leadership Award from the West Hollywood Women’s Advisory Board.

From 2002-2012, I lived in Australia and worked as a fashion and print designer. My career started after completing a BA (Hons) in fashion design, where I moved to Italy to work for the United Colors of Benetton. Born in the UK, I always dreamed of traveling the world with my career — a dream that has come to fruition! 

In 2018, I had been specializing in menu design and bar and restaurant branding. I was between clients when the infancy of Once Upon a Cocktail was noodled. When work flowed in, the project was tabled until the radio silence of the pandemic. During this valuable creative time, the idea grew legs. I shimmied the concept into a pitch deck and presented it to a long-time collaborator. 2022 was a perfect time to green-light such a project to bring support to the hospitality industry, which had been starved of affection. That very first pitch meeting was where I was introduced to Historical Drinking’s Sarah L.M. Mengoni. With Sarah’s gusto and expertise, I immediately saw the vision of celebrating the bartenders and uniting a community together over a drink. 

Sarah began bartending in Michigan, but it was in Chicago that she fell into the craft cocktail world. It was there that Sarah found herself fortunate to have great mentorship and embarked on her journey working for Kimpton, a leader in hotel bar programming. This position provided access to all the spirits, cocktails, and other bar-related education she could ask for and was where she gained her first role in leadership as a lead bartender. Sarah thrived in this role and held this position for many years over three Kimpton properties in Los Angeles.

Sarah eventually gravitated to creating cocktails for national campaigns, traveled to open new bars, and helped to organize the beverage side of events. Today, Sarah works in events and openings and helps with national campaigns as a consultant for Kimpton and its parent company, InterContinental Hotel Group. In 2019, she passed the BAR 5 Day, a top certification for beverage professionals, and in 2023, Sarah was accepted as a Tales of the Cocktail cocktail apprentice. 

Together, we are the team that is Once Upon a Cocktail. 

Grit Daily: What were some of the biggest challenges in starting and growing the Once Upon a Cocktail brand?

Katie Brightside: I’m sure this is a generic answer to this question: funding, lack of, or money promised then pulled. The financial roller coaster gave me whiplash. I actually didn’t mean to create the Once Upon a Cocktail brand. I was just a girl with an idea. One day, I was so far up this brand of mountain that it was easier to climb to the top than fall into failure. I always have theme park dreams when they should be a traveling carnival!

These ideas are what I call the impossible-possible projects- that one person alone should never undertake. But I have this drive and tenacity that embodies the theme park grandeur with the flexibility and pivot of the portable circus. Most importantly, I pull it off. I feel “no” is a “yes” in disguise. The more pushback I get, the more I will dig under, go around, or just pole vault straight over.

Like all creatives from the beginning of time, money constraints make you an Olympic hurdler, and the project/brand is somehow better for it. If you have capital, you can solve most problems with money. When the budget is zero, you are thinking on your toes and outside the box. What I find interesting as an Imagineer (a person who thinks of an idea and makes it happen) is I must have hit my head a few times in the creative process and developed amnesia, as somehow halfway through the next project, it dawns on me I’ve strapped myself into a seat on another climb and there is no sky lift down. The perpetual cycle of a dreamer who just needs a slam-dunk, and maybe just maybe, Once Upon a Cocktail is that. 

Grit Daily: What was the process of creating the book and selecting brands and bars to work with?

Katie Brightside: The original pitch of the book started off super small, roughly 50 pages, much simpler, and I was going to use a print-on-demand service. We concluded with four times the number of pages, a coffee-table-sized book, and we printed 4000+ books as stock. I took so many risks here, even though I sold 70% of the inventory before the shipment arrived.

Everything in this book exploded to be more than both of us anticipated. Until Sarah joined the team, how was I supposed to know about recipe checks? This is where we tested every bartender’s build to make sure it tasted as the original creator intended, to check and write the instructional verbiage to keep consistency. Sarah had a huge task to make 54 voices sound like one, which brings credibility and trust from the reader as a recipe book. 

As for selecting the venues to work with, Sarah curated the cocktails, choosing what fit into the overall picture of the book from offerings at each establishment. There were three criteria:

  1. It had to be really good. Or a really good version of a simple classic.
  2. It had to fit in the context of the book, balanced with the other concoctions.
  3. It needed to accurately represent its venue.

I, of course, was there on this taste-test journey to lend a hand.

The brand connections followed, and I chased down funding based on Sarah’s libation selection and what liquors were in what recipes. I also liaised with all the bars for the logos and approvals and took all the original photographs of the cocktail and interiors. Then, I illustrated 850+ drawings, created all the maps, and did the books’ graphics and final book layouts. 

We did have a huge hands-on approach, like dividing the writing up. I wrote all the history nuggets. As I created the concept, I took the reign at the front of the book, introducing the reader to our brand. Sarah takes over after the BYO recipe to talk about tasting notes and glossaries. We both do the conclusion in a Q+A style. It was all rather a lot! So much was learned, and a strong friendship bond was formed.

Grit Daily: When did the book officially come out, and where can our readers order it?

Katie Brightside: We soft launched on October 26, 2023, with eleven activations to coincide with West Hollywood’s Eat + Drink Week. However, we are excited to announce the official launch is during Women’s History Month 2024, March 8, at Soulmate for International Women’s Day hosted by Rémy Cointreau. That afternoon, we toast the book’s launch and celebrate Naomi Schimek, an LA craft cocktail “mover and shaker” and Bar Director at Soulmate, whose cocktail in the book is in an elegant league of its own.

Our second event falls on National Cocktail Day, March 24, with a cocktail class at Fred Segal on Sunset Strip. In this class you will learn the art of mixing and discover the often-overlooked history of women in cocktail literature, this class is taught by Once Upon a Cocktail’s Sarah L.M. Mengoni. To purchase Once Upon a Cocktail in person you can pop into ARTBOOKS @ Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, Booksoup, Candle Delirium, Fred Segal, The Last Bookstore, or order directly from Amazon.

Grit Daily: What is the business model for the brand ongoing — how do you plan to grow?

Katie Brightside: I am working on a pitch for the Once Upon a Cocktail – West Hollywood TV show. The concept behind the show tells the story of how the book was created and the people we met along the way. An insight into the history of the city’s creation and the bars/bartenders that now shine within it. This blends nicely into a mixology competition, and we have started the talks with Tales of the Cocktail to partner with them.

We would love to do another book, as we want to build a series. The second one perhaps featuring Las Vegas or Hawaii, and the following third book featuring rival cities such as Melbourne vs. Sydney. That said, we’re open to any city that wants to put money into a book. We believe that all cities have stories to tell through their bars and restaurants, and we’d love to be the ones to tell them.

Grit Daily: What advice do you have for other female entrepreneurs?

Katie Brightside: My advice is to share the arena whenever you can and help your fellow sister up from the audience. I find the more you hop, jiggle, and leap with one another, the more meaningful success in your endeavors you will have.

By Brianna Ruelas Brianna Ruelas has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Brianna Ruelas is a Dallas-based account executive and news desk editor at Grit Daily. She is also a motivational speaker and singer, creative cultivator, and bestselling author. Reach her at [email protected].

Read more

More GD News