That was my first job in the industry, I fell in love with it. Fast-paced, hard work and just a fun environment. But, just like anything else in life, I wanted to be the best and I wanted to move up and bartend. I studied classics, I watched every move from the bartenders, I learned the menu, and they would occasionally let me make a few drinks. One day I came in and one of the bartenders called out, so it was just me and one other bartender, this was my shot to prove I could do it and I sure did. From there I started getting bar shifts, and soon enough I was starting to really build myself as a solid bartender.
MS: What made you want to be what you are now?
RD: It’s a fairly long story. I was in the corporate world for a while, and it just wasn’t for me. When I worked corporate I still worked in the restaurant industry, I started as a bar back at State Lounge and eventually worked my way up to being a bartender.
I fell in love the first time I made a drink that someone really enjoyed and that love made me want to spend more time focusing on that rather than selling myself for a company I didn’t even want to be at. So the journey began that day, and I’ve never looked back. So if I’m being honest, loving what I do is the reason I decided to do it. Watching people being so blown away by the cocktails I created is such an empowering feeling and I wanted to have that forever.
MS: What was your pivotal moment in life that made you take this direction?
RD: Kinda getting back to the last question, the pivotal moment was that reaction from a guest that tried my drinks for the first time. Also, feeling appreciated. In the corporate world I feel you just work and move up, but you aren’t ever actually appreciated, its just expected. I feel that alone was enough for me to switch career paths.
MS: What are your favorite parts about what you do?
RD: This is a tough one for me, I love all of it. I'd say the creating part is probably the most enjoyable part but with that being said, it always comes back to people’s reactions and their love for what I do. It's a humbling thing that’s for sure. The smiles, the disbelief (like, how the hell does this work and taste this good), and the support is just a special thing for me.
MS: What are your goals at the moment?
RD: I’d like to continue to open up bar programs, but my ultimate goal is to start my own food and beverage consulting company. I do really enjoy what I’m doing, but I can’t shake drinks my entire life, being a beverage director is great, but I'd like to do it on a higher scale. I enjoy helping others and I would love to travel and share my knowledge with bars and restaurants across the globe. Training, building, repairing restaurants that may just need a little guidance and just helping out in all ways.
MS: Do you have advice for people interested in the same field?
RD: Be ready to work. Being a beverage director isn’t the easiest job if you do it the right way. Lots of hours and lots of hard work. I create, manage and still work the bar 6 shifts a week. Another huge thing that I recommend is being different. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Change the game. So, work hard, be happy, be unique and have a blast.
MS: What is something you wish you knew in the beginning?
RD: Honestly, nothing. I really enjoy the path I've taken. I love learning, and I love figuring things out for myself, I believe it makes me a stronger person. I'd assume that most people wish to know it all at the beginning, but what is the fun in that?
MS: What are your biggest inspirations and why?
RD: I mean, everything inspires. It’s such an art, and there are so many talented people out there. When it comes to some of the best bartenders in the world I really enjoy reading their books and learning what I can from them, I can’t sit there and say they inspire me because I do believe I am my own person. When it comes to life, I’m inspired by music, good people and making a difference. I believe we meet everyone in life for a reason and that’s a very special thing. I am truly inspired by people, watching what each person in my life does is an amazing thing.
MS: What is your favorite food or drink-related memory?
RD: This is a tough question. I feel there are just so many. I don’t think I've ever just had one experience that was so mind-blowing I put it over every other one.
MS: What is your favorite quote and why?
RD: I’ve got a few of these but one that really has stuck with me for a while is a quote from John Lennon:
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down
'happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life. “
MS: What is your favorite meal or drink to share?
RD: What’s better than a good meal and a great bottle of wine? Believe it or not I don’t have an actual favorite meal, I love food and as long as I’m sharing it with people that feel the same, I’m a happy person.
MS: What is your ideal day in the work life?
RD: Depends on the day. All days vary. Earlier in the week days consist of a lot more prep but later in the week its more about grinding on the bar for 12-16 hours. Some days, you prep, grind and then prep again. In this industry it is so hard to be right all the time. You never really know what people are going to order or what you’ll need to prep more of, from my experience, it's always the stuff you don’t think you’ll need that you will need the most.
New menu weeks consist of trying to prep enough old to keep up but also create all the new for tastings and menu release dates. New menu weeks, I get 3 days of no sleep, I create, prep, work bar, prep more, taste, and finalize. Once released, I teach, create recipes, work bar and just hope all goes well. Sounds fun right? :)
Once new menus are created and mastered, it's just about training on prep and making sure all is getting done. But for me, there is never not a bar shift, so it's never a sit down and think, “hey, I did it”. Nope, you just continue to grind and keep up. Cheers.
MS: What is your ideal non-work day?
RD: Wait, what is that?? Ha Ha… No but seriously, in a position like mine, there are very few. Days off are tough, you get one, if you’re lucky. Mine normally are Monday’s. But, I still find myself doing paperwork and inventory and putting in orders for the upcoming week. “Off” referring to, “on the bar” sure, but my mind doesn’t stop. As unfortunate as it is, my days off are spent on just taking care of the adult things I have to do in life. I do try and always either make a nice meal, or go out for one. But, it doesn’t always work that way.
MS: What are some things that keep you going?
RD: Honestly, Life. Waking up every morning is the main thing that keeps my ass moving. My parents always told me, “no matter how bad you think your life is, there are always worse things happening to others.” I mean shit, I wake up in the morning every day, what’s better than that?
I’m allowed to grow, teach, continue to push, earn, create and be the best person I can be every day. Being the best each and every day is what keeps me going, making my parents happy and knowing I’m being the best I truly can be keeps me going. My passion and my heart, and my dedication; that’s what keeps me pushing. Smiles, inspiring, but also being inspired, that’s the shit that keeps me going. Living with a purpose, that’s life and that's what will continue to push me to the day I can’t push anymore.
MS: How do you approach a work/life balance?
RD: This is a tough one for me. I do really struggle with the work/life balance. Something I truly wish I was better at, but I do struggle with it on a daily basis. Shit, I believe most people that care and want to be the best also struggle. Sometimes you just want to be so good, so loyal, so dedicated to the process that you forget about your own process. If I’m being honest this is something that, not just myself, but everyone should work on. You’ve got to make time for yourself, especially the people like us. People with creative minds need to make sure they continue to create, but we need to be inspired, if we don’t have time off, it’s just foggy. I've been trying really hard to take even just my one day a week and do something that pushes me, inspires me and will help me stay focused and creative.
MS: What is something you wish people learned or knew more about in your industry?
RD: Work ethic. This is a tough subject. Our industry is filled with a bunch of different people. But, in my eyes just two types: career and college. You have people that truly believe this is what they want to do, and they show up and get better daily, and then you have the college kids. I’m not saying they all don’t have the drive, but they often use this industry for quick money. To me, it doesn’t matter if this is going to be something you do for the rest of you life, what matters to me is being a hard worker, no matter what I do, and for how long I do it. I work the hardest I possibly can. To me, everyone should work in this industry, I believe it teaches a lot, not just about food and beverage; but communication, money, business, work ethic, people skills and so much more. No matter what you do, be the best and work the hardest.
MS: What does supporting local mean to you?
RD: Supporting local is so important, not just for the state's economy but for so much more. To me, there is nothing more important than a good community. At the end of the day, yes there is such thing called“ competition” but never let that get in the way of support.
To me, I want to see everyone do well, I want to see all the bars be busy. I want to see all the farms selling product. I want to see everyone making money and being able to survive. Without support, it’s almost impossible. Being the best is great, but to me, making others better is even more important. Sourcing locally and showing love to those that surround you, that’s what we need in life.
MS: Do you have advice or encouragement for ways to support local?
RD: Just do it! To me there shouldn’t be a guide to support those who surround you. Fresh is the best anyways, so support a healthy lifestyle while supporting the people doing things that they believe in. The best part about supporting local, is normally, if you support a local establishment, that means you are probably supporting more than one. Say someone opens up a burger bar, that burger bar is supporting a local farm for his/her meat, and what ever other produce they carry. It’s a two for one. Just do it, it is so easy and such a great thing to do. These huge chain places have enough money, so let’s help each other grow, and continue to grow together.
MS: Is there anything you wish to add?
RD: Honestly, no. I think you knocked this out of the park. But, thank you for choosing me, and thank you for not just inspiring but being inspired by my art. I feel like we’ve both came a long way since our first shoot 4 years ago. It no longer feels like a job but something we just do because it's what we love. All the flames, the cocktails, the laughs, the shots, the pictures of the pictures, the growth, the retakes and just the experience itself has been an absolute fucking pleasure. Cheers to the old, cheers to the new and cheers to what hasn’t happened yet. My fucking homie and one of my best friends. Thank you for such a great opportunity, thank you for helping me grow as an artist, thank you for showing me that smiling doesn’t hurt that bad, and thank you for making every photoshoot an absolute memory.
BONUS QUESTIONS :
MS: If you could solve one problem in the world, what would it be and why?
RD: HUNGER!!! This is tough because I want to say so many things. But, when I think about kids being hungry it hurts me. There is too much money in this world for kids to be homeless and hungry. Charity is great and I truly appreciate it. It’s not enough. Let’s be honest, no one on the planet deserves to starve, especially the people that have no control over what happens in their life because they’re too young. I truly hate it. This is something so important and so serious to me that I’m working on starting my own charity. Yes, I would like to feed all the homeless, but realistically the kids matter to me so much more. They have absolutely no control, and I hate to say it this way, I really do. Kids don’t deserve to live that way, and it needs to be better. Let's make it fucking better!
MS: What is the most valuable advice you’ve received?
RD: I’ve received a lot of good advice over the years, to be honest, I’ve even given myself good advice. But something I live by is: “If Not Now Then When”. I can’t say this is advice, but it damn sure is a way of life.
So many people push their everyday problems into the next day. “Ahh I’ll change that later.” ‘Ahh I'll go to the gym tomorrow.” This is not the way to do it. Do it now, not later, if you want change, change! We all struggle with this. I mean shit, I’ve got the tattoo on my wrist and I still have a tough time doing it.
Be strong, that is the best advice I’ve ever received. You only live once, make it memorable and fucking epic! Everyone struggles and deals with things, there is nothing we can do about our past and the things that alter our future. Be strong and be tough, and you will beat anything that comes your way. Don’t let a speed bump destroy your front end. Slow down, take a step back, and remember: you’ve got this. Also, never give up. It is NEVER time to give up. Don’t even think about it. I read a book called, “How to Make Shit Happen”. It was amazing. A short read, yes. It talks about the four cores of life: “POWER, PASSION, PURPOSE and PROGRESSION.” I've gotten advice about every single subject in life, but never about life in general, especially from a person (Sean Whalen) that had it all, lost it and regained control over life. The book was so real, there was no B.S. he hits you with facts. Happiness is the key to life. Once you find this with yourself, anything can happen!
MS: In your experience, how do you organize and prioritize your work load?
RD: Honestly, I just get it done. I take on a lot, sometimes a bit much. If I’m being honest I like to believe that I am an organized person but…I’m not. I kinda just go with it, I like to be different, I love making everything in house so in my eyes, I know it's going to be a lot of work all the time. One thing I can say I’ve gotten better with is teaching and letting others help prep. I used to be big on just doing it all myself, but I really love teaching. Also, what's the point of always just doing it on your own? Let others learn and help. So when it comes to new menu prep, I will usually do it all, write recipes and teach my staff how to do the same. It's actually a blast and in all honestly, they love doing it.
MS: What is your definition of success?
RD: MA I MADE IT! Nah, but seriously this is a good question. I feel like a lot of people would say MONEY. Ya money is great but at the end of the day, I just want to be happy and make others happy. To me, it’s not just killing it in your industry but also in life. Yes, do I want a James Beard Award? Of course, I do! Do I want to be the best? Of course, I do! All of that is great, and I know most people would call that being “successful”, however, I do not.
We are all here for a reason, so why not do the most and the best you can in this crazy thing we call life? Why stop at just being rich and famous? I joined the hospitality industry because of the people, because I have the chance to help, meet and make people happy. I’ll be honest, I’m not always the nicest person in the world, and I’m working on being better daily. But, one thing I will say is, my heart is bigger than me. I want to change the cocktail game, but I also want to end world hunger. I believe just because you are rich and made it, life still goes on. What else can you do to help and to be better and to help others be better? This is the stuff I think about. When I create my to-do list, I always make sure I add a good deed. So to keep it short and simple, killing it every day in all aspects of life, being great at what I do, but also finding the time to be a good person for society - that's success to me.
MS: Looking back on life, how have you or values shifted or refined?
RD: Growing up, I just wanted to be great. I didn’t know what it was yet, but I wanted to be the best! As I said in earlier questions, my goal isn’t just to “MAKE IT” my goal is to help others make it. I think growing up, I was just so hungry to succeed on my own and didn’t really think of anyone or anything else. That is the total opposite now. I know I’m going to kill it, so how can I help others do the same?
To me, people are so so so fucking important. Your circle, the people you meet in life and family are so important. I love seeing myself do good, of course, who wouldn’t? But again, I care so deeply for other people as well. My servers, my bartenders, my cooks and everyone I work with; all I want is to help them find what they want and be the best they can be.
A lot of people will say “live life alone, live for yourself”. I used to believe this, I really thought I had to struggle and do it all alone with no one. That is absolute B.S. We are all here together for a reason. To me, relationships are huge. I don’t care what anyone says, you can not build an empire alone. Life is a team effort! Learn, respect, love, teach, build and kill the game! The day I realized I had so many people, and that I would continue to build my circle, was the day I knew I'd be ok. The day I stopped living life alone was the day I realized, “hey, people fucking love you man. LET THEM IN!” Life is too fucking hard to do it alone.
MS: Last one! Say you were invited to a dinner party, what recipe you bring to the table and why?
RD: I mean, you know me lol. This is a tough one. What are we eating and also what’s the weather like? But also, let’s have some fun. Ready?
If I’m bringing food, you know I’m going Korean sooooo… Beef Bulgogi
Now for the cocktails. Here are two:
To go with Asian cuisine:
- Shiso and cucumber infused sake (Obviously some citrus zest and souvide)
- Grapefruit soju
- Caramelized pineapple
- Manzanilla sherry
- Hopped grapefruit bitters
Just for fun (and because its fall):
- Grilled pear and thyme calvados
- Wassail (hopped up cider)
- Cinnamon and fig cordial
- Oat milk
- Aged rum
- Egg white
- Rhubarb bitters
Bam! Let’s Drink
Monique, this was an absolute pleasure. Thank you so so so much for the opportunity! Cheers to you.