Keyatta Mincey-Parker’s affinity for fresh fruits and vegetables began long before she ever set foot behind the bar. Raised in her father’s native Liberia before relocating to suburban Atlanta as a teen, she savors memories of eating plums and guava from local street markets in West Africa and spending summers on her maternal grandparents’ farm in LaGrange, where the family grew pecans, plums, and blueberries.
In her early 20s, after waiting tables while juggling school and a modeling career, Mincey-Parker took her first bartending gig: a lunch shift at Copeland’s in Buckhead, which allowed her to spend evenings at home with her newborn daughter. Since then, she has established herself as one of the city’s top bartenders, with stints at the Glenn Hotel and 5 Church, a guest appearance mixing drinks at the celebrated James Beard House in New York City, and a top-three finish last year in Bombay Sapphire’s “Most Imaginative Bartender” competition.
A few years ago, feeling burned out on bartending and city living, she took her love for fresh produce one step further by signing up to work in a community garden in her West End neighborhood, where she and her husband grow tomatoes, turnips, and rainbow chard. “I found gardening a way to connect with the land and my past,” she says, “and it provides a great escape from the stressors of bartending.”
“This could be the last line of defense in fighting things like depression, fatigue, and even hunger.”
Now, with the hospitality industry in a state of emergency as a result of COVID-19 and her job behind the bar at Bon Ton on hold, she’s turning to the best source of hope and solace she knows: nature.
Weeks before the virus shut down Atlanta’s bar and restaurant scene—and unaware of the extent to which the coming pandemic would alter life as she knew it—Mincey-Parker launched A Sip of Paradise, a community garden in the heart of East Atlanta Village. Adjacent to the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market, the half-acre space on Stokeswood Avenue is open to all hospitality professionals and offers affordable plots at just $25 per growing season.
“These times are so uncomfortable and uncertain, so I have just leaned into being in the garden and building something to come back to,” she says. “It keeps me encouraged. And this could be the last line of defense [for people in the industry] in fighting things like depression, fatigue, and even hunger.”
Nearly 20 bartenders have committed to the project, including Rori Robinson, an avid gardener, bartender at Likewise and Painted Pin, and member of A Sip of Paradise’s board of directors.
“It’s nice to have a place to talk and vent with other bartenders outside of a bar,” she says, noting that the garden offers a “healthy alternative” to using alcohol to cope with stress. “This is a creative outlet anyone can participate in, whether you’re a novice or experienced gardener or just want to come sit outside to read, meditate, or enjoy nature.”
Another founding member, Empire State South’s Baylee Hopings, notes the garden’s potential impact not only on bartenders’ mental and physical health but on the environment as well.
“If you’re growing your own herbs, fruits, and vegetables, you can stop buying them from big, wasteful companies with a large carbon footprint,” she says. “Having your own garden also allows you to plant what you want to work with instead of being at the mercy of what you can obtain from stores.”
Mincey-Parker hopes Sip of Paradise will serve not only as a gathering spot for beverage professionals but, when the time is right, as a space to host community events. “It’s such a special place and labor of love,” says Emily Mitchell, assistant manager at Cold Beer and the garden’s director of programming. Mitchell hopes to host events for other members including community workdays and educational workshops, as well as yoga classes and film nights.
“This is not about growing food to sell,” Mincey-Parker explains of the garden. “This is about getting out of your house, putting down your phone, hanging out and meeting new people, and playing in the dirt with your friends.”
Eventually, Mincey-Parker plans to expand the garden concept to additional markets.
“I want to start a movement,” she says. “We [bartenders] are always putting other people first, and we need to start prioritizing our own health and well-being.”
Recipe: Eve’s Pot Liquor
The common thread in Mincey-Parker’s drinks? Seasonal, local ingredients rooted in her heritage.“Something I learned early on,” she says, “was that the fresher the ingredient, the better the cocktail.” Eve’s Pot Liquor—which derives its bright green hue and bold, vegetal flavor from juiced collard greens—is a nod to her roots in both Liberia and the American South.
1 ½ parts gin
½ parts Chareau aloe liqueur
¾ parts lemon juice
¾ parts simple syrup (1:1 water and sugar)
1 part green-apple juice (juice of a cored green apple, skin-on)
½ part collard-green juice (juice of whole, chopped collards)
2 drops saline solution (1:4 salt and water)
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice.
Shake hard and double-strain into a coupe.
Garnish with a homemade collard-green chip. (Rub a large section of leaf with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast at 250° F for 20 minutes.)
This article appears in our May 2020 issue.