By Staff, November 2017 Issue. Meet the rest of the Class of 2017 here.
From bake sales and doggie adoptions to ballroom competitions and pajama parties, one local bar has set itself apart when it comes to giving back to the LGBTQ community. And, while he maintains it’s his staff that has been the secret ingredient, it’s Jeffery Perales who has been at the helm of Kobalt from the very beginning.
Perales, who became part owner of the bar in 2010, runs the day-to-day operations and his business partner, Robert Mancuso, keeps his finger on the pulse of the business and works behind the scenes.
“We will be celebrating 12 years in business in 2018,” Perales said. “A big part of our staying power is my staff. Whereas several bars have a high rate of turnover, most of my bar staff have been here five years or more. We have all become friends and take care of each other. Like most families we have our ups and downs but in the end, we have a common goal: to succeed. The work culture we’ve created here extends to our patrons. We do our best to be welcoming and empathetic. In return, our customers keep coming back. We take care of them and they take care of us.”
At a time when gay and lesbian bars are closing at an alarming rate, Perales said he’s accepting that change is constant and exhibiting a willingness to evolve is key.
“In the age of the dwindling gays bar I have found it more important than ever to be welcoming and inclusive to all,” he said. “More gay people are comfortable going to straight bars because the environment and culture has shifted … I think for [our] bars to remain relevant and competitive we must accept the fact that a gay bar can still cater to the LGBTQ community and be welcoming to our straight neighbors, friends and allies.
Despite landing in the top two many times, Kobalt had never brought home the Dancing for one•n•ten (formerly Dancing With The Bars) trophy – until this year. Not only did Stella Prince and Freddie Maese’s performance win the People’s Choice Award, but they also raised a record-breaking $22,373 in their quest for the trophy.
“The win was truly a team effort,” Perales said. “I was continually blown away by the generosity of our patrons and the buy in from my staff and Stella’s dance partner, Freddie Maese. The win was truly a team effort. We raised the money by putting on many small events and reaching out to close friends and colleagues in the community. We never gave up and kept raising money until the deadline. The cause, one•n•ten, was our biggest motivator. In the end we raised almost double the amount that the first-place team managed to raise last year.”
Almost any weekend there are fundraising events for one cause or another being hosted at Kobalt.
“The community has given a lot to us,” he said. “Winning isn’t the goal when it comes to fundraising for me. It feels good to do it and it is truly meant to give back to our community. We are all vested here so this is a motivator for others to follow. If a small bar like Kobalt can achieve fundraising successes like we have, then the much bigger establishments can achieve comparable results as well.”
Being so connected to various organizations – and customers – throughout the LGBTQ community has had an unexpected outcome side effect for Perales: A community voice via several mainstream platforms.
“Being a voice for the community is something I’ve never sought out, but when approached I never turn away,” he said, referring to his television interviews, including talking safety protocols following the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando. “For far too long the voices of the LGBTQ community have failed to reach the mainstream audience. As a result, the issues that are important to us have fallen on deaf ears. If an opportunity presents itself and I feel I can lend my voice in a meaningful way then I will do what I can to help make a difference.”
It’s Perales’ voice, in fact, that has opened up another facet of the community to him. While he’s been singing for as long as he can remember, it’s his involvement with the Phoenix Metropolitan Men’s Chorus for the past 13 years that has added another dimension to what it means to be part of the LGBTQ community.
“I personally believe that involvement in local community organizations, joining a board of directors for a local nonprofit, joining subcommittees or simply supporting LGBTQ friendly businesses enrich and help diversify what it means to be LGBTQ,” he said, adding that his experience with the chorus helped him become more outgoing and less shy.
“Running a bar requires interacting with people from all walks of life [and] often feels like I’m putting myself on a different stage of sorts,” he said. “[With the chorus], I tried out for solos and put myself out there on purpose to help alleviate my fear of being in front of people.”
Whether you’re considering becoming involved in fundraising, joining a group or a sports league, dedicating you time to an organization by serving on a board or even just singing karaoke, Perales believes it’s all essential to the maintaining the balance, diversity and necessary evolution within our community (and beyond).
“When you dedicate your time to a cause, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons,” he said. “Do only what you can with the time you have. Passion can sometimes lead to over-committing ourselves without considering the other responsibilities we have. A balance between work, volunteerism and just having fun is what has worked for me.”
And when asked what’s his next endeavor will be, his answer was perfectly Perales, “I’m currently working on big changes at Kobalt that will be unfolding in the coming months.”
Web-Exclusive Q&A with Jeffery Perales
Echo: You’re originally from Castroville, Texas; what was it that brought you here? And what year was that?
Perales: I moved to Phoenix in 2001 after finishing my studies in Houston. I accepted a graphic design position at a game development company here in the Valley. I moved here not knowing anyone so I had to build my social network from the ground up.
Echo: Was there a defining moment when you knew that this was YOUR home/community? And what was that like?
Perales: After my game development contract ended, my choices were to move back to Texas or go to California. I knew I wanted to stay in Phoenix because of the friends I had made and the great experiences I was having. Luckily, I was able to land another graphic design position that kept me in Phoenix. Several years later I met Robert, who is now my business partner at Kobalt. I was involved with Kobalt from the inception. I designed the logo for the bar and produced all the promotional artwork.
Echo: What advice do you have for other gay bar owners and operators out there, knowing that the odds of success are no longer what they once were?
Perales: Don’t be afraid to try new things. Get to know your fellow bar owners and competitors. They can be your best source of advice. There is a reason some have been around for so long. I recognize that my bar isn’t for everyone so I recommend other bars and clubs that might fit their needs more. Recommendations always seem to come back around. I believe when my friends are successful then I’m successful.
Echo: Speaking of, how do you define success?
Perales: My definition of success is hearing laughter filter into my office from the front of the house. If my customers are happy then I am happy.
Echo: You’ve won countless awards – “Best Gay Bar” (Phoenix New Times), Best Happy Hour (Echo Magazine), to name a few – in a nutshell, what sets Kobalt apart?
Perales: I truly believe I have the best staff in Phoenix. They are the face of the bar. They are the ones who are willing to take chances along with me and put on events that help raise the bar – no pun intended.
Echo: Rumor has it that you’re quite competitive. That quality of yours combined with your commitment to giving back to the community, has made for some incredible fundraising just this year alone. Why is giving back to the community so important to you?
Perales: The community has given a lot to us. Winning isn’t the goal when it comes to fundraising for me. It feels good to do it and it is truly meant to give back to our community. We are all vested here so this is a motivator for others to follow. If a small bar like Kobalt can achieve fundraising successes like we have then the much bigger establishments can achieve comparable results as well.
Echo: What are your favorite events to host and why?
Perales: My favorite annual event to host is our Adventures in Hangovers Party that happens every year on New Year’s Day. Although New Year’s Eve has traditionally been a favorite for most, we have monopolized the following day and made it our own. No other bar does anything quite like this event and it has become a tradition for many people.
Most recently, we organized an inaugural event called Doggies and Drag Show. We helped get 11 dogs adopted that day and raised money for the Arizona Animal Rescue Mission along with Maricopa Animal Care and Control. Kobalt and some of the Valleys most talented drag queens helped raise awareness of the homeless pet issue, [and] plans for the next are already in the works.
Echo: In your estimation, how do sub-communities within our bigger community – like the Phoenix metropolitan Men’s Chorus – enrichen and diversify what it means to be LGBTQ in Arizona?
Perales: At times, people get overwhelmed by current events that are taking place in the world and our country these days. This turbulence has made people feel resigned to the idea that they can affect change due to the sheer scale and number of events taking place that adversely affect the LGBTQ community. I personally believe that involvement in local community organizations, joining a board of directors for a local nonprofit, joining subcommittees or simply supporting LGBTQ friendly businesses enrichen and help diversify what it means to be LGBTQ. If we work at a grass roots level we can make a BIG difference.
Echo: Similarly, tell us about your kick team, the RouwdyRuff Boys. What has being involved with this group of guys meant to you? From your experience, why are LGBTQ sports leagues, and the fellowship that they foster, important to the bigger scope of the community?
Perales: LGBTQ sports leagues are incredibly important in our community. I avoided some team sports as a child because I always felt different and uncomfortable and feared being forced ‘out.’ I decided to join the Rowdy Ruff Boys Kickball team because they were all like me. All skill levels are welcome and the environment provides a safe space where we can finally be a part of that team we never felt comfortable in as a youth. The same goes for all LGBTQ sports leagues I’ve been a part of.
Echo: Who are some of your role models/inspirations and why?
Perales: My business partner, Robert Mancuso, is one of my greatest role models. He has taught me that kindness can and will win the day and that potential conflicts are best met with calmness and a steady hand. Like the adage says, “You get more with sugar than you do vinegar.” This has proven to be true with all our dealings.
Echo: Do you consider yourself a role model? Why/why not?
Perales: I am an extremely a shy person. Therefore, I’ve never really considered myself a role model. I’ve always tried to be the best version of myself and always put my best foot forward. Anything I try doing I always do my personal best. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes not. I am honored to be considered a role model but I’ve never sought or considered myself to be one.
Echo: Where do you see yourself five years from now? And where do you see PFLAG Phoenix five years from now?
Perales: In five years I see myself being more involved in our greater LGBTQ community. I can also see myself potentially joining a board for a local nonprofit, perhaps PFLAG.
Congratulations to the Class of 2017! Meet the rest of the inductees here.