The school owner promotes bartending as an avenue to financial freedom

If someone told you there was a way to pay off your debt, buy a house and own a business that allows others to achieve financial freedom — within a determinate amount of time — you'd probably dismiss it as a pyramid scheme. But for Vanessa Long, a career in bartending was the means by which she achieved all of the above.

“I grew up in a lower-class [environment],” she said in an early-December interview at the Columbus Bartending School, which she now owns. “As soon as I was able to work at 16, I got into the service industry.”

The Licking County, Ohio, native started busing tables at the Buckeye Lake Country Club and eventually gained experience as a server and host.

“I enjoyed it but I always felt like I should do more,” she said.

So, at 21 years old, she obtained an associate's degree in paralegal studies. By then, her debt had ballooned to about $50,000, including credit cards, student loans and a car loan. She got a job at the Koenig & Long law firm, but had to work as a bartender to make ends meet.

“When I hired [Long] … her debt was so overwhelming I think it bothered her every single day,” said attorney Jim Owen. “She made more money working Friday nights and Saturday nights than she did the whole week working for me.”

By 2014, Long had paid off her debt, purchased a home in Pataskala, and advanced to become head paralegal at the law firm. She also purchased the Columbus Bartending School, located in the same building as the firm, when the previous owner, Terry Meinhardt, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.

“I worked closely with [Meinhardt],” Long said. “We wanted to help people. We've always thought [the school] was a great opportunity for everyone to create a better future.”

Today, Long helps over 200 enrollees each year, with students of all ages completing the 40-hour course.

“I've been seeing a lot of people that have worked in their career and they're not happy,” she said. “[And] people retire and they don't want to stop working. … It's for anyone that wants to learn something new and fun.”

And many people just need the extra income.

Upon graduation, students are assisted with job placement, and then added to a database for the school's “Hire a Bartender” service.

“People call me for weddings, corporate events, holiday parties, graduation parties — any type of event they're having,” Long said.

Long said she still gets requests to bartend at private parties and to work as a consultant for bars.

“You never stop learning in this industry,” she said. “The more knowledgeable you are the more of an asset you're going to become.”