SLTN Award-winner Zach is a champion for Scotland’s bartenders

Zach Sapato

“I’ve seen some of the best bars in the world. I’ve seen some of the best bartenders in the world. I’ve seen some of the best hospitality in the world. And I would put Glasgow up against that any day of the week.”

SLTN Award-winning bartender, Zach Sapato, isn’t messing around when he talks about his adopted home city. 

“I think that there are Glasgow hospitality professionals that are passionate, that are working hard, that are skilled and creative and innovative enough to go toe-to-toe with the best in the world,” he told SLTN last month. 

It’s a statement he’s more than qualified to make. 

Zach, who was named the SLTN Hospitality Hero at the SLTN Awards in November, started his bartending career in his native Illinois, going on to win US-wide cocktail competitions for Amaro Montenegro and Angostura before first arriving in Glasgow in 2019 with partner Rebekah. 

“We both just really connected to the city, connected to how aggressively friendly it is,” said Zach. 

“Glasgow is aggressive in lots of different ways, and that includes aggressively nice, aggressively helpful and aggressively friendly.

“Being Greek Mexican I’m also very loud and honest and there’s not a lot of places you can be both of those things and be appreciated and Glasgow is one of those places.”

Working initially with the team at Glasgow speakeasy Wheesht, Zach went with them when they were recruited to open another Glasgow speakeasy, The Absent Ear. 

He then spent time curating drinks for Glasgow operator Dario Bernardi, owner of bars including Max’s, Mikaku, Room 2 and La Cheeta. 

But alongside his paid bar work, Zach was busying himself with another project. 

“I wasn’t aware of too many opportunities for bartenders to connect,” he explained.  

“And this also includes chefs and baristas and hotel professionals. 

“Everyone in hospitality has a lot of the same problems. We have a lot of the same successes. We deal with a lot of the same people and a lot of the same issues. And so we have that common ground to relate on. 

“But I didn’t see the spaces and the organisations that were helping us connect. And so I think it was important to me to create space and connection moments that people could come together more and learn and grow, but also just be pals.”

HospoHang was born of this desire to foster and grow the hospitality community in Glasgow. 

The initiative sees Zach organise various events and get-togethers – ranging from training sessions and masterclasses to dance classes and bowling. 

Events tend to take place towards the end of the month “so that in case people are skint we can get them a couple of cocktails, a good meal in their belly and some time with pals that they might not have been able to do if they don’t have enough margin in their bank account to go out for a couple of pints”.

The events – promoted via a dedicated HospoHang Instagram page – serve two connected purposes. The first is to encourage hospitality workers in Glasgow to connect with and support each other in what can be a stressful and demanding career. 

But there is a secondary goal: to help bartenders grow and develop their skills and ultimately encourage them to stay in Scotland instead of relocating elsewhere. 

Zach explained: “Some of the best bartenders in London are Scottish. And if we can keep that talent then we can just help Scotland grow and create a space that fosters younger bartenders because the advanced and ‘elite’ hospitality professionals aren’t just moving away. They’re staying and teaching.

“I’m a huge fan of the phrase ‘a rising tide raises all ships’. We just have to keep more ships in the Scottish water.”

Zach’s dedication to the cause impressed the judges of last year’s SLTN Awards, with Carmelina Murdaca of sponsor PayFacto saying: “Being in the hospitality industry, we know all too well the hectic pace at which staff in this industry work. 

“Zach has taken it upon himself to connect the hospitality community through monthly social events aimed at bringing everyone together through shared experiences.  

Zach (bottom right) founded HospoHang

“We are thrilled to have been part of this celebration highlighting his achievements.” 

Having hosted the first HospoHang events in 2022, the initiative is now well established in Glasgow, with each event well attended. 

And word is spreading, with Zach invited to host the first HospoHang event in Edinburgh late last year. Inverness is also on the cards, slated for 2024. 

But there’s a catch: the UK immigration system. As bar work is considered ‘unskilled’, Zach currently can’t be sponsored for a full visa. 

“As hospitality professionals we are considered unskilled workers,” said Zach. 

“And that’s bullshit.

“It’s an elitism thing. It’s a judgement on us as spirits professionals – that we are not considered skilled professionals. 

“We are not considered worthy of proper compensation, proper community spaces, proper respect in the workforce, and only higher-end corporate jobs are considered skilled. 

“For the UK to be one of the places where pubs and bars are one of the most numerous per-capita than anywhere in the world, it is absurd to think that’s not part of the culture and that the people who work there aren’t skilled. It’s really frustrating.”

SLTN can only agree.