Burton, MI—Genesee County now has its only licensed bartending school thanks to Flint native Sheena Harrison.

Harrison opened the school Oct. 14 after building her business, Drinks of Essence, since 2015.

“Originally, the company started as mobile bartending and infused fruit,” said Harrison. “But over time it grew.” 

Harrison said that after people saw her set up at events, they began asking if she could train them to mix drinks too. 

The entrepreneur had worked in bars and at events for years—even attending bartending conferences in Las Vegas—but she said she still wasn’t sure if she was the right person for the job.

“At first I was really apprehensive,” Harrison said. “Like, what would this even consist of?”

But after a pep talk from her fiancé she decided to give it a go. Harrison began testing concepts, such as “Paint & Mixology” nights, out of her first space in the Diplomat Professional Building in 2019.

Finding success with her initial ideas, Harrison said she then wanted to take her classes to the next level by providing certification services, but she couldn’t do it from her old space.

“No one could actually see us in there unless they came into the building,” Harrison said. She wanted a storefront, big windows, and more room to train Genesee County’s future bartenders.

So in February Harrison moved to a new location, quickly finding the right fit in an old barber shop at 4549 S. Saginaw St. in Burton, Mich.

After new flooring, bathroom upgrades, and plenty of paint and decorating, Harrison opened Drinks of Essence Bartending School with a ribbon cutting ceremony and saxophonist.

Andrew Younger, Executive Director of the Flint & Genesee Chamber, attended as well, congratulating Harrison on opening the county’s only licensed bartending school.

“I think it was God,” Harrison said of finding the space, adding that it felt like “the perfect building, in the perfect spot, at the perfect time.” 

The exterior of Drinks of Essence Bartending School during its grand opening Oct. 14, 2021. (Kate Stockrahm | Flint Beat) Credit: Kate Stockrahm / Flint Beat

Harrison said her school will provide bartender training courses and job placement assistance, as well as ServSafe Alcohol Certification, a widely recognized certification administered by the National Restaurant Association. 

While a public information officer from Michigan’s Licensing and Regulatory Affairs confirmed bartenders in Michigan are not required to be licensed or certified to bartend in the state, Harrison said the training and certification process remains worthwhile because it gives new and seasoned bartenders an advantage.

“When you’re at a bar, you train for that bar,” she said, which limits a person’s knowledge about spirits and procedures across the wider bartending industry. “I would rather hire somebody that went to the school and has a little bit of education under their belt as opposed to somebody who has been working at a bar for a long time and is stuck in their ways.”

Drinks of Essence Bartending School currently provides three-day, 30-hour training courses that take place over weekends. Harrison said she’ll add more courses as necessary, continue her mixology classes, and expand event offerings as she settles into her new space.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....