After circling the block on foot, showing my complete ineptitude in navigating Charlotte’s Uptown, I finally began following my gut as opposed to my GPS and landed at the obtrusive wooden doors of Loft & Cellar.
Sitting at the end of a long bar lined with a uniform row of house-made syrups from Grassroots Beverage was Yashira Mejia, or Yoshi as she’s more popularly known, drilling away at her computer and preparing her bar for the weekend while tying up loose ends for the many projects she’s currently got her hands in. As we got to talking, Mejia answered my questions with a pervasive honesty often missing in Southern hospitality-industry conversations.
Mejia got her start in bartending when she lived in Washington, D.C. There, she had little trouble getting into the field as an Afro-Latina woman. Her experience in Charlotte, however, has been quite different.
Mejia’s experiences in Charlotte have led her to feel devalued, even dehumanized. At one establishment, she was always placed on the rooftop bar, even in the dead of winter.
“That’s where we were — me and the only two other people of color,” Mejia recalled. “But people of color are in the background here. I just want to work and do what I love.”
Our conversation was thoughtful and complex, much like the beverages she carefully concocted for me. In the first of Queen City Nerve’s new Behind the Stick series showcasing local bartenders and mixologists, Mejia gave an inside look at what is happening behind the scene.
Queen City Nerve: Have you found that race or gender have played a part in your journey to where you are, locally?
Yoshi Mejia: Absolutely! Despite my many years of experience prior in D.C. nightlife, working for many reputable companies and individuals that could’ve been contacted per my references, an opportunity was never presented. I would be lied to, to my face with the saddest excuses, but yet I would return another day and sure enough, an inexperienced girl that looked like the rest of the staff was given the shot.
There are politics in everything, I just never understand why. The people in authority play favorites. When I was placed into a position, because of my experience, staff members — mostly males — would complain. Managers love to play the “We want to do what’s fair” game. What’s fair is telling your employees the truth. “Yoshi can handle it, you can’t.” End of discussion.
Managers don’t manage, they just let these young girls manipulate them instead of putting the business first. It’s easy to get picked on when there’s only about three people of color in the front of the house. I always felt targeted because of race and insecure people. This is the tea but this is real. It’s 2019 and this is what we deal with.
How have you overcome it?
When all the doors close, you build your own. People say things are “equal opportunity” and then they don’t stand by it. We have to charge less for things others don’t have to. But we want everyone to join in and want our community to be a part of this. I’ve been in Charlotte six years and only now feel comfortable. I have the best intentions for everyone. You’ve got to pay it forward.
What are your plans moving forward?
I am currently focusing on creating events where people of color can feel comfortable in our own element — culturally conscious experiences to welcome others to partake on different happenings in the city. I have the honor of creating cocktails for Durag Fest on June 15th in Camp North End. This is a huge event in recognition of Juneteenth that was caught on national-known TV outlets such as ESPN, Revolt and more.
I have an ongoing monthly event called Champagne and Chicken held at BlkMrkt. It’s brunch made simply. Families and children come together. There’s music, dancing, eating and just good vibes; people enjoying the company of others.
For the future, I want to continue encouraging and supporting small and minority-owned businesses; creating the understanding that it’s okay to support what is different. There’s a stigma of not supporting what’s not “cool” or “poppin’” … you don’t always have to follow a crowd.
How has Loft & Cellar assisted in the development of your brand?
By simply giving me the opportunity. I took the jump into working for myself. I have assisted with training staff. That has brought me so much joy to know I am making a difference. What I need to be doing for my own community has become even more clear. The brand is still evolving along with me in this journey, but one thing is certain and clear: I am going to make change.
Opportunities were not given to me out of straight ignorance, so I will create the platform to assist more individuals that have faced the same adversities I have to obtain opportunities to win. Whether it’s personally training them, placing into jobs or hiring them for my own events. Everyone deserves the opportunity to showcase their skill set, to take pride in their work and to make an honest living.
Considering your past experiences, what’s it like now working in a black-owned space?[Former Loft & Cellar executive chef] Greg Collier is the person behind the menu creation, and Stephen Marshall is behind our bar menu and Grassroots Beverage. I was given this experience by another black woman in a black-owned space. I’d rather be here than anywhere else.