Embattled New Orleans conference sold; to be nonprofit event
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A New Orleans bar and spirits conference whose founders were criticized for racial insensitivity is being sold.
News media report that two New Orleans business owners recently signed a letter of intent to buy Tales of the Cocktail and say they plan to turn the conference into a nonprofit event to benefit the city and industry.
Controversy arose in March, after conference founder Ann Tuennerman posted video of herself in blackface as part of an African-American group that parades in blackface on Mardi Gras, with a comment by her husband that many found racially insulting.
Ann Tuennerman had apologized, Paul Tuennerman had resigned and apologized, the organization created a diversity council, and the controversy seemed to have calmed. But it reignited in September, after Ann Tuennerman reappointed her husband to his old job at Tales of the Cocktail.
Days later, both Tuennermans said they were leaving the event and would sell MOJO91 LLC, the private company that runs the conference.
News media report that the prospective buyers are Gary Solomon Jr., who runs an entertainment and event production company that has worked with the conference in past years, and Neal Bodenheimer, co-owner of a cocktail bar and a restaurant.
“I’ve been working really hard to find a buyer for this thing,” Bodenheimer told Nola.com ′ The Times-Picayune. “If Tales went under, the effect on the city would be devastating. When I found out the Solomons were interested, I was over the moon.”
The partners cite a University of New Orleans report that the conference, which grew from a walking tour of New Orleans bars, has nearly a $19 million impact on New Orleans.
“I think a lot of New Orleanians don’t understand that Tales is not a weeklong party about cocktails,” Solomon told The New Orleans Advocate. “It’s the cocktail industry’s main destination annually for sharing information and developing their craft.”
In an email to The New York Times, Ann Tuennerman said nearly two dozen parties had asked about taking over the event. “We did not accept the highest offer,” she wrote. “There were other factors that were more important. Paul and I believe that Solomon and Bodenheimer will be the best stewards of the brands and share the same values as us.”
Solomon said the partners have not decided which causes the nonprofit event should support. Addiction, education and diversity are hot topics in the business, he noted.