Written by Leah Kitagawa

I met Joan many years ago when I was new to the restaurant industry with a lot to learn. Over the years she’s offered many words of encouragement with a few bits of unsolicited advice too. 

Joan has worked in the craft beer industry for 30 years and is truly one of the OG badass women in beer. She’s kind, compassionate, the queen of quippy banter and a cryptic crossword master. Over the years she has played an instrumental role in cultivating a warm, welcoming and inclusive environment at C’est What. So without further ado, meet the legendary JOAN!

How/when did you get your start in the craft beer industry?

I started selling craft beer at C’est What in January, 1991.  The industry at that time was relatively new and I knew very little about it.  I had sold Creemore at a couple of bars in the mid-eighties but so did everyone else who’s old enough to remember!  George had a vision of what this bar would look like and I was inadvertently along for what turned out to be quite a ride. The interest in micro-brews grew rapidly and it was great to be a part of it.

What was the beer industry like when you started?

Back then it wasn’t always easy to sell these fine beers.  For many customers even Sleeman Lager was too exotic, so it certainly wasn’t without its challenges.  There was a loyal following of beer lovers at the time but they were definitely in the minority. I remember a couple of instances where there were people that actually left because they couldn’t get a Blue or a Canadian.  Secretly I was glad to see them go and sometimes not so secretly at all.

What’s the secret to C’est What’s long-term success as a craft beer bar?

I am sure there are many reasons for the success that C’est What has enjoyed over the years.  The quality of what goes across the bar or out of the kitchen has always been a priority.  This sentiment has continually manifested itself among the staff.  It instilled a sense of pride and loyalty that created an environment where customers have felt comfortably at home time after time.  We have always felt like family and this is apparent in our relationships with not only customers but delivery people, sales reps and anyone else who walks down those stairs.

Any sage advice for customers (read: how to avoid Joan’s pet peeves)?

I have a lot of advice for customers as they well know – sometimes they listen, other times they do not.  I’ve known a few of them for half of my life. Some of them I see every other day, others religiously once a year and a few I actually see far too often.  Truth be told I miss them all right now. I’m sure they’re having a nice little break. Hopefully it won’t be for too much longer.

What’s your favourite beer or brewery (past or present)?

I’ve had a few favourite beers over the years.  Connors Bitter, Hart Amber Ale, Dragons Breath, Mild Brown Ale and King Pilsner to name a few.  As a few people might know, once I find one that I like I tend to stick with it until it’s not available anymore.  It gives me something valid to complain about at the very least. The breweries have always been represented to me by the people who work for them.  My relationship with these people has even become more important than the product itself at times.  It has been my pleasure and a lot of fun to help them flog their beer.  So, there are no favourite breweries.  There are just favourite people.