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Industry Innovators 2023: Matthew Landes

The founder and creative director of Cocktail Academy approaches cocktail catering with an experiential lens.

Event Innovators 2023: Matthew Landes
"We believe that every spirit on the back bar is like a book on a shelf waiting to be opened and have its unique story told," says Landes. (Pictured: Cocktail Academy's Memorial Day 2022 offerings; see more.)
Photos: Scott Clark/Cocktail Academy

Industry Innovators 2023: Matthew LandesCocktail Academy founder and creative director Matthew LandesPhoto: Courtesy of Cocktail AcademyMatthew Landes is the founder and creative director of Cocktail Academy, a full-service beverage agency in Los Angeles that specializes in experiential events.

How he got his start: Landes says he's always had a passion for entertainment—along with an adventurous palate and some innate culinary skills—which led him to study hospitality at the University of Denver.

"After graduation, I built my resume in the world of luxury hotels, fine dining, and swanky members clubs," he remembers. "In 2013, I had enough of making other people's dreams come true and decided I wanted to do my own thing and launched my first venture called Apartment A, a Jumanji-style 'secret garden' speakeasy in the heart of LA’s Arts District where spirits came alive through curated events told through incredible cocktails."

The venture was a quick success, and caught the eye of national brands, who reached out to Landes to create unique experiences for their own customers. From there, Cocktail Academy was born. Landes describes it as "a new concept where educating consumers and imagining innovative cocktail experiences for brands and high-end clients became the blueprint for success. Today part agency, part luxury cocktail caterer, Cocktail Academy has paved the way for a new hybrid model where the cocktail experience reigns supreme."

What sets his company apart: To Landes, it's all about emphasizing education and storytelling. "We believe that every spirit on the back bar is like a book on a shelf waiting to be opened and have its unique story told," he says. "The job of each cocktail is to introduce people to spirits so they can learn to enjoy and appreciate them on their own."

What innovation means to him: Landes refers to Cocktail Academy's culture and approach to innovation as "a spicy margarita." He explains: "One of our main ingredients or core values is 'jalapeño,' which states that we have a burning desire to do things differently and better the next time. We are always pushing ourselves and our clients to take chances and create experiences and product designs that no one else has seen."

Landes also sees innovation as a way of expressing who he is. "As an adult with ADD, my brain works differently, and I’m naturally more comfortable standing out than conforming to the norm," he says. "And as our founder and creative director, it's crucial that I inspire and lead our agency to constantly push boundaries and stay ahead of culinary, cocktail, and cultural trends." Industry Innovators 2023: Matthew Landes"I love few things more than an immersive evening, and even more so a tasting dinner," says Landes.Photo: Courtesy of Cocktail Academy

Industry Innovators 2023: Matthew LandesThe Art Basel event featured custom Cocktail Academy creations paired with each course.Photo: Courtesy of Cocktail AcademyMemorable moments: "I love few things more than an immersive evening, and even more so a tasting dinner," says Landes. "At [ 2022] Art Basel Miami, we had the honor of collaborating with high-fidelity audio equipment artist Devon Turnbull and Tequila Don Julio on the unveiling of the limited drop Don Julio 1942 x OJAS Artbook Shelf Speakers, [described as] 'a speaker system built for the love of sipping and listening.'"

"The evening celebration included records played by world-famous DJs, incredible food from chef Paul Qui—and most importantly, original Cocktail Academy 1942 tasting rituals paired with each course," says Landes of the Art Basel event.

His all-time favorite cocktail: "When starting Cocktail Academy, I was exposed to a variety of innovative cocktails, and the most memorable was the Jungle Bird," he says. "The Jungle Bird had all the fun of a tiki drink with the style and sophisticated taste of Campari." His current obsession? "An M&M (mezcal and meletti amaro) with a slice of grapefruit!"

His biggest hope for the F&B industry: Landes hopes the industry will stay focused on the details—and not shy away from hard work. "Even if it takes longer," he says, "the process is what separates an OK experience from an amazing one."

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