Monday, September 25, 2017

'Tales of the Cocktail' Does It Again



Here is my take on the whole Tales of the Cocktail controversy, as an interested but very much outside observer.

If you are unaware of this controversy, you might want to keep it that way. If not, Tara Fougner gives a good account of it on the 'Thirsty' blog.

The news that has the hospitality industry roiling is the announcement that Ann and Paul Tuennerman are 'stepping down' from their role in Tales, but no one seems to know what 'stepping down' means.

Although Tales is ostensibly produced by the not-for-profit New Orleans Culinary & Cultural Preservation Society (NOCCPS), the Tuennermans are sole owners of a for-profit entity, Mojo 911 LLC, that owns valuable intellectual property such as the names 'Tales of the Cocktail' and 'Spirited Awards,' without which Tales cannot be produced. Mojo 911 also is paid a large fee to run the event. Although the announcement said Melissa Young will become president of Mojo 911, it was silent about the entity's ownership. If the Tuennermans continue to have a large financial stake in Tales, it is hard to see how their 'stepping down' changes anything.

Although the NOCCPS is required by law to file an annual tax return, called a Form 990, which reveals some financial information related to Tales, and which is public, Mojo 911 is under no such obligation. The way Tales is actually funded and run, who benefits, and how much, is a closely guarded secret.

Whoever controls Mojo 911 controls Tales, regardless of titles. Everything else is smoke and mirrors.

This controversy stems from the notorious blackface incident from earlier this year. The behavior of the Tuennermans then was so tone-deaf it appeared that Tales might collapse, but Paul Tuennerman 'stepped down' and Tales created a 'Diversity Council,' moves that induced many people of good will to give them another chance.

The events of this past weekend look to many like the Tuennermans have been simply and clumsily engaged in cynical damage control intended to protect their personal financial interest in Tales, and these 'resignations' are more of the same.

Will there be a Tales 2018?

Should there be?

3 comments:

rarebird101 said...

Chuck, I came to your site this evening to research the glut era. But before my search could commence, I noticed this latest article. Maybe it's because I'm not an insider, or just too focused on my own projects, but I was completely unaware of all this. So, from desiring to learn more about the industry's (past) survival to ... well, this.

Money. It all comes down to money. And one thing I've noticed, when the money is flowing, the mistakes come with it. I don't know these folks. They may be very nice people - probably are - but mistakes were made. They admit it. Unfortunately, it appears to be more about saving face. It appears to be more about money. Tales may be a stellar event. I've never been - maybe one day, but for now I'm happy sipping my whiskey at home. Reading, writing, enjoying the heart of it all ... the whiskey.

Maybe in this bourbon boom some are losing their way? Yes, I'm preaching. I'm a no one in the grand scheme of things, but this is my two cents. It's very easy to lose sight of the importance of what you're doing if all you're focused on is profits. I'm worried the industry is forgetting how bad it was AND how bad it could be (and may very well be) one day in the future. Messages like the Tunnerman's have sent - intentional or not - are bad for the industry. In this case, it seems swept under the rug rather well. Time will tell.

Anonymous said...

Ann Tuennerman has operated Tales in an imperious manner for many years. She has taken the attitude that the week of Tales belongs to her, and anyone thinking of staging an event should pay tribute (cash) to her (Tales) for the privilege. A number of stern emails have been sent with explicit instructions on these matters.

Such behavior, as one might expect, tends to create enemies and ill will. When the Tuennerman's committed a minor faux pas, the knives had long been ready and waiting.

Was the particular behavior bad? Yes and no. Riders in Zulu, both black and white, wear blackface. Is this in bad taste? Some would certainly say so; but it's the Zulu tradition, like it or not. Was Paul Tuennerman's video in bad taste? Definitely. But did it merit banishment? That's debatable. Be that as it may, built-up enmity ensured a swift and furious backlash.

As to the financial picture, the Form 990s are revealing. The most recent one linked shows payments of $844,760 for "Director" and the same amount for "Executive Director." Only one guess allowed as to who these two individuals might be, who are each taking in nearly one million dollars. Meanwhile the "grants" section shows exactly one grant for some $26k.

Will there be a Tales 2018? Are you kidding me, Chuck? With that much money at stake the future of the event isn't in doubt. Agitation by a bunch of social justice warrior types (whether justified or not) isn't going to topple Tales. The giant sponsors will keep paying, because apparently it makes sense for them.

Anonymous said...

Just to throw a little barrel-proof liquid on the fire - those large companies and many little combines are already cooking up plans, individually as would be legal but also in a semi-open manner, to buy them out at a princely sum to walk away. Will they? Does anyone know Cajun for "golden goose?"