Amber Jaeger McKenney of Tonic+Lime is a complete boss. When the pandemic began she quickly transitioned her business by building new plexiglass bars and creating drink kits for celebrations at home. She also hopped back behind the counter and began to help serve drinks to keep people in a celebratory mood. In the words of her nominator Autumn Tall, during these turbulent times,
"She has been and is always easy to work with and comes up with exactly what I need even before I realize I need it! She built new bars to have plexiglass and she created drink kits that could be dropped at your door with recipes and all the ingredients during quarantine. She also continuously scheduled Zoom meetings for all of us vendors to discuss pain points."
We spoke with Amber about how she stayed so focused, flexible, and continues to "Show the Love"!
What originally inspired you to start working within the weddings and events industry?
I love celebrating people and planning parties. Once I found an interest in bartending, event bartending made sense as the next logical step.
In what ways did you need to change or adjust your plans for your business due to the restrictions of the pandemic?
I got back behind the bar! In 2018 & 2019, I could rarely be found behind a bar during an event, I took on a more managerial role and let my well-trained teams execute. In 2020 I needed to be back behind the bar, both because some bartenders did not want the risk and it saved me money.
What was the hardest part of continuing with work during the pandemic?
Finding the balance between holding up my morals, what I thought was right to do ethically and safely, and still being able to serve my clients.
What was the most rewarding part of continuing with work the pandemic?
The amazing, intimate, and safe celebrations that we got to be a part of. The constant changes in regulations increased my communication with clients, which strengthened our relationship. By the time we actually reached their event, it felt like a feat to be celebrated by all!
How did you come up with the idea of building new bars with plexiglass dividers? At-home drink kits?
I knew that if we were going to be able to do our job I had to find ways to protect my staff, no matter what the guests were doing. Plexi became the obvious choice and it worked! The at-home drink kits were a fun, silly idea that came out of boredom. Profit margins were terrible, but I got out of the house and brought smiles to some faces, during stay-at-home orders, that was a win!
Why do you think it's important to continue celebrating in the midst of hard times, like during the pandemic?
Some of the best weddings I have seen were during the pandemic. It allowed us to get back to the basics and the real reasons we celebrate marriage with those closest.
What motivates you to keep going in your business?
I love being a business owner. I love being able to help couples bring their vision to life and make sure that anyone can have a fun and safe bar experience.
What part of your business are you most proud of?
I built this. I am a one-woman show, behind the scenes. I work hard and I know what I do so thoroughly. I’m proud to serve all walks of life and every budget. We do weddings with a keg of beer & solo cups, champagne towers, and 6 ingredient craft cocktails.
What encouraged you to hop on Zoom calls with fellow vendors and discuss business pain points?
We were all feeling the stress, disappointment, discouragement, and overwhelm. It was so helpful to many of us small business owners who were isolated in our homes trying to work through these things ourselves. Knowing that each of us was experiencing the same things was helpful to our minds and being a more united front in our policies and procedures was helpful too.
What collaborations/victories/etc. came out of those conversations?
Wow, so many things. I’ve bonded with event professionals that I would never see on-site. We lifted each other up and found the strength to stand up for what was right because we were all doing it together. I also collaborated with a vendor group to create the NoMi Collectif, a vendor group focusing on Elopement packages and intimate, curated weddings.
Can you name 3 people who inspire you to do the work that you do?
My besties, 3 women business owners who show up to do the hard work and support our community.
Other than a signature Tonic and Lime, what is your go-to drink of choice?
Funny story, I don’t like tonic. Shocking, I know! Gosh, tequila is my go-to, white wine, or a cosmo when sitting down for a fancy dinner.
What is your advice for business owners in developing or discovering a niche?
Pay attention to what your clients are constantly asking of you. Where are they asking you to go, or what packages/services are they looking for? Is there a need in the community that is not being met? How can you fill that need AND does it interest you?!
What is your advice for any budding entrepreneurs/business owners in general?
Buckle up. It is not for the faint of heart. I naturally do not shy away from conflict or challenges, but you have got to be able to figure it out when you don’t know.
What are you most looking forward to in this coming year?
Seeing the way that weddings have & are changing. I look forward to seeing people continue to celebrate but taking the challenges into consideration.
How do you feel that you and/or other wedding and event pros can ‘Show the Love’ during these times?
Showing up and supporting each other is key. Even when it’s not the way you would do it, even if it’s your “competitor”, lift each other up.
Hero image courtesy of Josh Hartman Photography