Photos by Katy Swendsen
Walk just off the beaten path in East Atlanta Village and you’ll notice a small garden patch. In a colder season it would be easy to miss it altogether or think it belongs to the neighboring house, but there’s more to this plot than meets the eye.
This is A Sip of Paradise Garden, a nonprofit community garden for bartenders. The garden’s mission is to provide horticultural therapy, employment resources, and health and wellness programs for bartenders and the greater hospitality community to recharge their minds, bodies, and spirits. They currently have 31 members and counting.
On a recent sunny afternoon, we met up with Keyatta Mincey Parker, A Sip of Paradise’s founder and executive director. The organization was having its first community planting of the year, and the garden’s denizens were bustling with activity—spreading soil, passing around seed packets, and, of course, sharing cocktails. But not just any cocktails. They were works of art, delicately garnished and properly served. It was like being in a high-end bar with dirt under your fingernails.
From the beginning Keyatta understood how much the community needed this. Right after Community Farmers Markets donated the land, COVID brought the city’s bars and restaurants to a standstill. Keyatta says the texts poured in.
“I got a lot of notes from people needing something to do,” she recalls. “Some way to stay busy. They were asking me when they could start planting.”
From there, the garden took off and has grown in both membership and programming over the last three years.
That programming, by the way, is pitch perfect. There are mindfulness workshops and yoga on most Mondays so members can decompress after their weekends of work. Later on during the week we visit, they’ll start a series of Wednesday workshops on personal finance, something that Keyatta says has created a lot of excitement. For people who spend their lives taking care of others, the simple idea of giving them a space for relaxation and togetherness is pretty revolutionary.
On this afternoon, we can feel the joy, the togetherness in the garden. It’s clear that this place means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Or, in Keyatta’s words:
“Putting your phone down, getting outside, getting together. That’s what this is all about.”
Tell us about how A Sip of Paradise got started.
I founded A Sip of Paradise Garden in January 2020. It was a part of a cocktail competition called Bombay Sapphire's Most Imaginative Bartender. There was a part of the competition called the Canvas Project where you had to present your creative outlet outside of bartending. For me, it was my culture as a Liberian woman and gardening—something I shared with both of my grandmothers, my American one and my Liberian one. It was something I enjoyed and wanted to share with my hospitality family. Now we are in season 4! I secretly call it a reality show.
Is being Executive Director your full time job? What’s the most fun part?
Being the Executive Director is my job. It’s scary because we’re not generating enough for me to actually pay myself a living wage, but I love this work so much. I feel like I am walking in my true purpose. For the longest time I thought it was being a mom to my kids Jaymes and Glenn, but Jaymes is in her second year of college and Glenn leaves for college in the fall. It’s time to pivot. I worked as a bartender for 20 years and loved every day of it, but I truly believe this is my next chapter. I still consult for brands, speak on panels, and host pop-ups, but the garden is my main focus.
The fun part of all of this is meeting new bartenders. They are so smart and eager. I love offering them opportunities and resources I didn’t have coming up. The garden helps me do that, also getting dirty outside, you would not believe how much of a stress reliever weeding out plots is!
Tell us about A Sip of Paradise’s events.
We are very intentional with our programming. We have Mindful Mondays where we have wellness activities like yoga, meditation, and pilates. We have Workshop Wednesdays where we have workshops on anything from gardening, to competing in cocktail competitions, to hospitality-focused financial literacy, spirits and wine education, and foraging walking tours. Thirsty Thursdays are when we set up next to the farmers market (our neighbor) and offer cocktails and mocktails for donations to the garden.
We are still a nonprofit, and every penny helps us keep our work going! It’s also an opportunity for our bartenders to showcase their cocktail creation skills. We’ve also hosted product launches, have celebrated two bartender baby showers and a bridal shower, we do volunteer days and down-and-dirty dance parties, too.
What’s the best way for our friends in the beverage community to get involved?
The best way to support us is to follow us on social media and volunteer. If you’re a bartender or have been one at some point in your life, consider joining us as a member or sponsor a bartender for membership. Or just donate funds to us!
Support the work of Paradise Gardens with a donation.