New Orleans-based Deniseea Head combines her love of cocktails and black history. Image credt: Deniseea Head

Deniseea Head, 34, despite her training in fashion, made a career serving up an unlikely menu at her place in New Orleans.

“I remember growing up, and my mother always had champagne. I had this fascination with it because even when you saw it in the movies, it’d be like the most elegant and the most extravagant drink.”

Now the proprietor of the New Orleans-based Chicken and Champagne, Head pairs her love for the bubbly with another unlikely partner, black history.

The combination seems strange but to Head, it made perfect sense. 

“At the time of the Renaissance, people were fleeing to France to get away from oppression. Back then, our art and everything was being celebrated in Paris while we were still marginalized here in the US. And, of course, France is the birthplace of champagne. So black history and champagne definitely made sense to me.”

Head’s Chicken and Champagne has been open for the past seven years and has become a haven not just for enjoying a cocktail or two, but also for learning a few things along the way.

“Picture you go into a class and you get a welcome cocktail and you’re like, ‘what is happening?’ You’re still learning something fun.”

“We would hold these virtual mixed out classes during the pandemic. During these classes, I teach how to make a cocktail, but then tell a small story. For example, the history behind the word cowboy and how most people associate cowboys with white men. But when you break the word down, it was referring to black men. The masters called black men ‘boys’. It was one of the first jobs we had as freedmen on the trail. It’s small facts like that that you can slip into a cocktail lesson where people are like, ‘oh, I didn’t know that.’” 

She continues, “Picture you go into a class and you get a welcome cocktail and you’re like, ‘what is happening?’”

Head’s path to mixology and creating Chicken and Champagne didn’t come without a bit of a detour. She first pursued studies at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in LA. Yet the beverage she had always been so fascinated by remained ever present. 

“I love fashion, but I really love cocktails and mixology.”

It took a move to New Orleans to finally give her that push she needed.

“Once I moved to New Orleans, that’s when I really got into it because in my opinion, this is one of America’s cocktail capitals. I was behind the bar for the first time. It took hard work. I realized that it was a real talent.” 

Eventually, Chicken and Champagne was born. The concept of a black woman naming her establishment partially after fried chicken may be seen as playing to a stereotype though, but for Head this unlikely combination was a way to reclaim her history and paying homage to black people’s first economic foray.

“I was moving from New York City to New Orleans, and my friends were going to throw me a big party in Harlem. They asked what they should bring. And I said, ‘Bring fried chicken and champagne! You know I love fried chicken and champagne!’ It was one of the most iconic parties. But for me, it really meant something to carry my name on like that.

“Yes, there is a stereotype that all black people love fried chicken. But you know what? The world loves fried chicken. The name was important to me because that was one of the first forms of black business. And when you think about champagne, you think of elegance. I put chicken and champagne together because fried chicken is just as exquisite as champagne, and they go very well together. I like to combine things that people try to create as stereotypes for us.”

The establishment has been a hotspot in New Orleans since it opened and Head is the proud face of the brand. Unfortunately, she still faces some adversities in the industry, especially as a woman of colour.

“Things have gotten better but the challenges haven’t gone away. People are just more careful with what they say to not get cancelled. Once they realize I own the business, sometimes they’re shocked. It’s like no matter what your accolades are and no matter how long that CV is, there’s still some sort of doubt that folks will have about you being a Black woman, being a woman, period.”

But that adversity encourages her to stand firm in her position. She says, “Especially being a Black woman, I felt I had to stay in this industry because I want to change certain things. I want to make this a place where you see more Black women in mixology with a high position. We aren’t just ‘the help’. When you see this beautiful Black woman behind the bar, she owns this space. She’s like Beyoncé. This is her stage and she’s rewriting our narrative in the process.”

Head is convinced that a simple night out at the bar has the power to change a person’s perspective. “I believe that the bar is a place where you can get strangers together and get to know each other. If someone comes to my bar, I feel happy knowing that they’ll leave with one piece of knowledge to go on and share with someone else.”