The best Zoom meeting of the past year? The surprise call that went out to the first three individuals who will be going to the Seychelles, as part of Takamaka’s Send A Friend To The Seychelles campaign, no question. One minute the worthy recipients were having a good but we’re sure they won’t mind us saying this, fairly average day. The next they found out they’d be going on a holiday to one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
And they didn’t even have to make a snazzy cocktail or perform an Oscar-worthy presentation to qualify. In fact, they didn’t have to do a thing. Well, that’s not strictly true. To be in the running for the dream trip they had to have made an impact during the past year. It might have been that they’d gone above and beyond to support their colleagues or the wider community; they could have done something to bring a smile to people’s faces, or perhaps they’d had a particularly rough time during Covid and needed something to look forward to once the travel restrictions are lifted. Whatever the reason, it was down to a friend or colleague to share that story, giving reasons why they believed their nominated person deserved a holiday of a lifetime.
“We believe small things can make a big difference and so we want to offer some respite on our beautiful island to a few people who in their own way, have made a difference to others,” the team at Takamaka rum said when they launched the initiative earlier this year. “We will book two tickets to our home in the Seychelles from anywhere in the world for the winning nominee to stay five nights in our self-catering Takamaka Home. They’ll be welcome to visit us at the distillery but will be left to enjoy their holiday as they choose.” Now if that isn’t the epitome of hospitality, we don’t know what is.
We can’t tell you how thrilled we were to be on the judging panel for this one. Who wouldn’t want to be part of something that spreads so much joy? Joining us in the sharing of the Takamaka love were some our favourite people in the biz, Hannah Sharman-Cox and Siobhan Payne from HandS PR in London, Patrick Pistolesi from Drink Kong in Rome, Timothée Prange from Little Red Door in Paris and Colin Hutton, founder of Umami Comms in Dubai. Who made the cut? Three very different but no less deserving people, that’s who.
The nominators found out first. Then, once they’d calmed down and processed the info, they had to figure out a sneaky way to get the nominees on a Zoom call for the team at LX-PR to announce the news. Needless to say, there were three very surprised, extremely happy faces at the end of line. Adonis Cruje from Dubai, Anna Sebastian and Simmone McKenzie, both from London, found out that they’d been selected to head off to the tropical island paradise, with its mesmerising aquamarine waters and white sandy beaches. And let’s just say that they’re chomping at the bit until they get the green light to travel. All three are looking forward to putting the past year behind them while basking in the beautiful sunshine and sipping on some delicious Seychellois rum. And you could nominate someone to join them. Would you like to Send A Friend To The Seychelles? Find out more below. But first, let’s hear it for the first lucky beneficiaries of the scheme. Learn why they were nominated and read their stories below…
Raven Rudolph, Beverage Manager at Waldorf Astoria Dubai International Financial District nominated Adonis Cruje, his bar back, now bartender
We were celebrating my birthday when I received a message from my sister telling me that mum had been rushed to hospital,” he recalls, the emotion understandably still wavering in his voice. “From that moment, everything felt really heavy. I wanted to go home but I couldn’t, I had to remain in Dubai knowing that there was there was nothing I could do, I just had to wait for updates. Then 11 days later on May 8, the moment I was dreading came through, my sister messaged to say that mum had passed. It was 3am, I was alone in my room and I couldn’t stop crying.
“A few months later my uncle, my mother’s favourite brother passed away and shortly after that I lost another uncle. So in three months, three loved ones had gone, I was absolutely devastated. I spent a lot of time alone in my room, just staring into space and crying, I was really, really depressed. During the day I spent time with my colleagues, watching movies, playing games or the guitar but I knew that in the night, I’d be alone in my room and it would be very dark again, particularly as I heard that my father was getting weak and sick. But what can I do? I just had to push through.”
Despite the grief and feelings of helplessness, Adonis buckled down, working his way up from bar back to his dream job as bartender. He admits that it’s been the toughest period of his life but he’s using that as motivation, a reminder to make every day count.
“I miss my mum. I didn’t have a chance to talk to her or be with her before she died and that hurts. But it is what it is; this is the life and even though at times I have wanted to give up, I can’t. The reason that I’m able to push through is for my mum, my uncles and my dad. They know I’m striving to make a good life. I’m always thinking about them and if I’m thinking about them I know I can push forward with anything.”
Adonis on hearing about his win
“I had no idea about any of it. There have been a lot of downsides to this year but this is a real positive, I still can’t quite believe it. I was really touched that Raven put me forward. I didn’t cry on the video, I was so shocked but I felt really connected with him after I learned what he’d done, it made me realise just how much he cares – not just about me but all of the team. It also confirmed to me that he’s aware of how we’re feeling whether we think he notices or not.
When he interviewed me for the bar back position here I told him that I wanted to be a bartender. He said, ‘if you trust me, I will make a way for your great journey,’ and he hasn’t failed me. It may be too late for me to be with my family but their memory and Raven’s faith in me has planted the seeds for me to grow.”
Gabriele Sasnauskaite of Artesian bar, London, nominated Anna Sebastian, her bar manager
“In these situations, you have a choice, you can either sit at home and complain or you can ask yourself what you can do for someone else,” says Anna Sebastian. She’s talking about lockdown but it stands for her view on life in general. Even as a child she regularly set up lots of fundraisers like bake sales and the like. “My dad sits on the board of a lot of charities so its always been embedded in me,” she says. “That’s why it was really important for me to use this time to do something good.”
“I chose to volunteer with Under One Sky. That sense of community, of being able to grow along with the other volunteers was really special. We were out walking the streets from the very start of the pandemic when no one was around, apart from us and the homeless people – it brought home just how devastating the situation was, still is.
“People bond over tragic situations. We were doing everything from calling out ambulances and police, through to doing CPR. Situations like that really bring you close to people. We were out every single night – it became addictive, I couldn’t not go as I knew that people were expecting us.
“In a weird kind of way it’s similar to serving people in the bar. My service ethos didn’t change because I was on the street. People have good days and bad days, you know how they take their coffee, what sandwiches they like best, things like that, and I make a point of remembering their names. We were a bunch of strangers but we became incredibly close.
“It’s coming up to one year since I started working with the team and during this time, it’s made me realise just how close homelessness can be. People slip through the net. We think that it can’t happen to us because we have family and friends who would help if we needed it but there are many people who don’t have family or friends in the UK. The amount of people I met who had been working in hospitality but were living on the street because of Covid was staggering, it makes you realise how lucky we are.
“We bandy around words like ‘family’ in this industry but you don’t get to call yourself family in the good times if you don’t act like family in the bad times. This year has been a huge reality check for a lot of people, for the fortunate among us it’s made us grateful for having jobs, a roof over our heads and food on the table and through that struggle we’ve grown and are better adapted to life now.”
Anna on hearing about her win
“I did see details of the initiative posted on Instagram, I may have even tagged some people in it, thinking that it was a really cool thing but I honestly completely forgot all about it. So I was really shocked when I heard the news – it was such an amazing thing and totally unexpected. I feel incredibly lucky and very, very grateful to be recognised in this way. What makes it all the more special is that there are no strings attached – you just know that it’s going to be an amazing experience so you’ll naturally fall in love with the product and the people.
“What am I looking forward to? Absolutely everything! From the airport to being on the beach. I’ll be taking Gabby with me. It was so kind of her to nominate me, I’ll be eternally grateful that I get to go on an amazing holiday with one of my best friends. I can’t wait!”
Norah Luongo from The Little Orange Door nominated Simmone McKenzie, floor staff at Sophie’s Steakhouse, London
“I was hoping that the Black Lives Matter movement would help people understand that not all Black people are the same. We want equal rights, we want to be treated like our Caucasian counterparts and basically, we just want what’s fair,” says Simmone in her soft, very impassioned voice. “The truth is we’re an unfairly treated minority and we have our own struggles. Being Black and gay, I face many issues. Not just from the outside but with Black men and women as well.
“The events of last summer brought so many things home and seeing so many broken black and brown faces looking completely lost under a regime of keeping quiet, not telling other people their business, really affected me,” she continues. “It’s destroying generations of people because they’re keeping everything in. These things manifest in other ways – then people say ‘why is she so angry, why are they lashing out?’ This is definitely what Black Lives Matter brought to the forefront and into the bigger conversation. People put Black people into boxes but not every Black experience is the same.”
That’s why Simone made the decision to switch her studies from law and psychology to retrain as a therapist, specifically for people of colour. “For me therapy is something I’m shouting that everyone should have access to and to be able help my community, for me to help gay and trans people to access that help is so important to me. When I was looking for a therapist for myself, I couldn’t find one who looked like me or shared the same experiences. I know that when you want to tell your deepest, darkest feelings to someone, you need to be able to share with someone you feel comfortable with, someone who’s on your level. I’ve done the work trying to find the best person for me and luckily, I had the money and resolve to do so. Most people don’t. I want to be that person they can turn to.”
Simmone on hearing about her win
I’ve never won anything in my life, so it took a few days before it really sank in. After the year we’ve had, you wouldn’t think that something like this could ever happen, it was totally unexpected, really special and very nice for someone to acknowledge you and the things that you do.
Nora saw how upsetting last year was for me and how I felt at a loss because I couldn’t do anything. Your friends never tell you you’re doing great, so I guess this was her way of saying you deserve a pat on the back and I’m really grateful. I’ll be taking her with me, of course. I didn’t have to think twice about that.
Would you like to Send A Friend To The Seychelles
Do you know someone who deserves a special break? They might have had a particularly tough time like Adonis, volunteered their services like Anna, been inspired to change their calling like Simmone, or done something completely different. Whatever the reason you feel they deserve a five day holiday in the Seychelles, visit bartendersseychelles.com and let Takamaka know just how amazing your nominee is.