The industry veteran expands influence beyond the bar

As a sales manager for Middle West Spirits, Christina Basham likens herself to a scavenger hunter. When working with a bar or restaurant, she's seeking answers to a series of questions: What in-house products do they want to utilize? What story do they want to tell their guests? Do they have the time to construct four-part cocktails? Can they make their own syrups?

“I'm there not to just push what I sell. … I really try to find the soul of the space,” Basham said during a late-May interview at the Middle West Spirits warehouse.

She also hopes her role continues to elevate the local cocktail scene. “I want to raise the bar for all the bars,” she said. “I'm very proud of where Columbus came from. … I think we're doing it at an incredibly high level, albeit maybe not as consistent as I would like it to be.”

With 14 years in the industry, Basham has had an up-close view of the Columbus landscape. She became aware of its limitations back in 2011, when she applied for a bartending position in Denver. Despite her previous experience, she didn't perform well on the drink-making exam.

Basham said she was told, we love you but we can't put you behind the bar. However, the employer offered her a server position and an opportunity to train.

A year later, she returned to Columbus just as the city was expanding its craft cocktail offerings. She sharpened her skills with positions at restaurants such as the Kitchen and Paulie Gee's in the Short North before helping to open Service Bar at Middle West. “I was definitely at a point where I was ready to get out from behind the bar,” Basham said of her decision to apply for her current sales position.

Basham is now part of a still-limited group of women holding management positions in the industry.

“What I like to think is that because we're small but mighty, we really want to kick ass at what we do,” she said.

While Basham was initially worried about missing customer engagement — “People say sales is where bartenders go to die,” she said — she is encouraged by the scope of her influence among the bars in the city.

“I have the opportunity … to really help curate their programs and fine-tune what they're doing,” she said. “So I feel like I'm actually being able to impact on a larger scale.”