Bartender Miguel Salehi’s role with Santa Teresa Rum was a lifetime in the making, we caught up with him to learn the story of how he found his place with the brand.
Miguel Salehi started bartending for the first time while at college in South Carolina, but it wasn’t until he moved to New York City that bartending became a true career.
“I was actually working for a menswear company in the fashion industry in New York, and it wasn’t really for me. I just picked up a job bartending again, with zero money to pay my bills and stuff and re-fell in love with bartending in New York. This was at a time where there was really a renaissance going on in the cocktail scene.”
– Miguel Salehi
After about six months working in New York City, Salehi moved to San Francisco to be closer to family and began bartending with his twin brother.
One of the key factors to Salehi’s rapid growth behind the bar he credits to the sense of playful competition he had while working with his twin, “There’s a certain drive and ego that exists between my brother and me,” he shared.
“It’s not necessarily competitive against each other, but it’s like we both are proud of each other, and we expect the best of each other, and we expect to try to be the best at whatever we’re trying to do. That was a catalyst for really fast growth in terms of what we’re doing behind the bar. That coupled with the fact that there’s so many amazing bars and bartenders in San Francisco to draw from you know.”
With his career behind the bar on a fast track, Salehi got a job bartending at San Francisco’s Pacific Cocktail Haven (PCH) under the tutelage of Kevin Diedrich. It was during this time he entered his first cocktail competition – Woodford Reserve’s Manhattan Experience – and won. Salehi had already been in the eyes of Bacardi with his work at PCH, but the national win turned the spotlight on the young bartender.
When Santa Teresa first approached Salehi, he was caught up with his work at PCH and his videography business, fortunately, the brand persisted. “I went to Smugglers Cove, which is a really famous tiki bar here in San Francisco, and the bartenders there really know their stuff when it comes to rum. Not even just what it tastes like, but also the culture of rum, and what is good versus what is bad, and what is fake and what is real,” shared Salehi, who headed to the bar to try the rum for himself. Not only did the bar have Santa Teresa in stock, but bartender Dane Barca was familiar with the brand and its story and shared with Salehi that it was a really great and honest spirit.
At around this point, Salehi called his mom, who was born in Venezuela, only about a 15-minute drive from Santa Teresa’s estate. Not only did his mother have an old bottle of Santa Teresa on hand in the house that Salehi grew up in, but she shared that Santa Teresa was what you reached for when guests were over. In fact, the family had direct ties to the brand — Salehi’s great-uncle worked for Santa Teresa his entire life and was taken care of by the company until his dying day.
“It’s almost like a family heirloom heritage thing,” explained Salehi, “it’s such a big thing culturally in Venezuela… this (Santa Teresa) is like a piece of home.”
When Salehi took the roll, he started by making a few changes to how the brand was doing business locally. Rather than just working with whatever high-volume bar he could, Salehi started building up education about the brand and working with bartenders and bars that cared about craft. All of his hard work has helped bring the brand into the local spotlight in a way it hadn’t been before. “Because of my trade-focused advocacy, and telling the story of the company and also my reputation that delivers the brand, people see it in a good way.”
“This company, for me, is a part of my family history. It’s a continuation of Venezuelan culture that people don’t know about, it’s my mom, it’s my own ego and pride as well. I know I’ve been able to build this brand pretty successfully in San Francisco. It’s also knowing that the person who’s at the top of it (Santa Teresa) has a mission and has a huge heart, so that’s really what this company is for me. It’s all of those things, and that’s why I’ve been on for so long you know that Brand Ambassadors have a certain shelf-life, and I’ve surpassed it a little bit because I’m just so uniquely stated for this role because of all those reasons.”