This is my Food & Beverage backstory – how I got into working with food and drink. My Mom taught me the basics.
Start with Southern Cooking
My Mom (Charlene) taught me the basics of cooking in the Southern tradition. I grew up in a very small town in Kentucky. We are considered the top of the South. She is very close with her sister (Lil). Both are excellent cooks. They shared many recipes, so some of my favorites are actually Lil’s.
Lil’s (soon-to-be) husband was a college roommate with my Dad. That is how my Mom and Dad met. Lil had 3 girls that are roughly the same age as us three boys. So they are kind of like my sisters.
My Mom’s speciality was desserts. We ALWAYS had cakes, pies, cookies, etc for desserts – HOMEMADE! She also decorated cakes. Our family is known for their love of homemade ice cream – its genetic. 😉
In the South, every dish can be made better with more: butter, cheese, bacon – or chocolate. 🙂
My first job waiting tables was at La Rosa’s Family Pizzeria in Florence, KY. I was just okay, not great. I was in high school, making money, meeting girls… The girls were always nice to me. I remember one time I dropped a pizza right in front of their table. One of the girls took the blame and told my Manager it was her fault.
Spring Formal Chairman
I represented Grant County High School in the first (1983) Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program and was granted a full academic Pre-Med scholarship at the University of Louisville. I chose to pursue a career in the Arts instead. I decided I would rather be poor and happy vs rich and unhappy.
I was the Spring Formal Chairman for the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity for 2 years, but never served on the Board. My Theatre/Acting studies involved a lot of time commitment in my personal life/outside of the classroom. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to give enough to the demands of helping to run the fraternity. I learned how to drink (responsibly) and basic bartending skills.
My first real introduction into the Food & Beverage Industry was when I worked at Casa Grisanti (4 Star Italian restaurant) all thru college. My Mom taught me the basics, but Casa Grisanti’s is where I learned how to cook for a large group of people – where you can scrimp and where to concentrate your money for maximum effect.
I always made a lot of money at Derby time every year, so I chose to stay a little longer. I started in the Catering division, then moved into the main house. However, I preferred working Events and switched back.
Here is a great article about Casa Grisanti’s importance to the city of Louisville.
By the time I left, I was a Supervisor in the Catering Department. I look back on it and realize – that was a lot of responsibility for a young kid in college! However, the clients kept asking for me every year.
Casa Grisanti’s always did upscale, over the top, huge budget events. From them, I learned good food and good service. The famous Fasig-Tipton horse sale auctions was always a favorite. I learned you should never judge a person the way they are dressed. They may be in overalls and covered in dirt (because of working with the horses), but they could be worth millions of dollars.
Brown and Williamson
For the last 2 years in college, the Board of Directors for Brown and Williamson tobacco company requested me to serve them lunch every Friday in their spectacular world headquarters in downtown Louisville. I overheard many important conversations, but my favorite is the Bear story. A bunch of them went bear hunting and one got separated from the others and was chased by a bear. Every time he told it, the bear got bigger and closer! 🙂
One of the men requested me to supervise his family’s Derby parties. We ran out of clean glassware for drinks and had to serve in improper glasses. His wife was embarrassed at first, but after I explained the situation, she understood. The next year, she remembered and ordered extra glassware – and always reminded me everytime we met afterwards. 😉
If you saw the movie, The Insider with Russell Crowe and Al Pacino, the Director included footage of the Board testifying before Congress.
When I first moved to Miami, I waited tables at the famous News Cafe’. I was their 2nd highest ringing waiter. News Cafe’ is one of the anchor restaurants for Miami Beach. Gianni Versace use to have breakfast there every morning. I had just moved to LA when he was killed. So sad.
When living in Miami, I went to the National Bartenders Academy to learn how to properly mix drinks for the Food and Beverage Industry.
Most of the bars/nightclubs I worked at are closed now. Favorites include: Murphy’s Law Irish Pub in Coconut Grove (now in Hollywood, FL) and Circus. I helped open Prince’s Glam Slam Nightclub as a Production Assistant (PA), not bartender.
I made the most money at Club Niva After Hours bar. I would make more money from 4am – 7am than I did from 10pm – 4am. But that is hard on your body and hard to be bright and sparkling for auditions the next day.
I worked at Mango’s Tropical Bar during the Marcareno dance craze. Whenever they played that song, we had to drop what we were doing, hop up on the bar and do the dance. The Latins were surprised that this white boy could dance so well. 😉
Hollywood Athletic Club (HAC) was built in 1924 as a place to “get away from the wife” for the male stars of the day. It has had many lives. When I was bartending there, it was a billiards bar and a huge dance club/live music venue. Maximum occupancy was 2000+. I taught myself how to use Microsoft Excel by recording my Tips, Date Worked, Location, etc.
Garden of Eden was at corner of Hollywood Blvd and La Brea Ave – another fabulous meet market dance club. I also opened Coco Pazzo, on top of The Mondrian Hotel (an Ian Schrager hotel), next to The Skybar.
The Food & Beverage Industry is huge in Las Vegas. They really get that if you treat the customer right, they will come back.
Las Vegas Review-Journal
A Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper article featured me as a guy who can cook.
I worked with Eventscapes quite a bit. Don Schmidt taught me a lot about how the Food & Beverage Industry works. Eventscapes creates big, huge, over the top events. I started as a Bartender for him and worked my way up to Beverage Manager. He said he liked working with me because even though I’m a creative type, if he gave me a task, he knew I would complete it. I would hire and train bartenders and help plan the cocktail menu for the events.
He used Fleming’s Steakhouse as his office away from the office. He would sneak me onto the expense account when possible. One of my favorite restaurants in the city. I’ve never had a bad meal there. Paul Fleming (owner) is the “F” in PF Chang’s.
Southern Wine & Spirits/Glazer’s
I often do demos and private tastings for Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. For years, the company was known as Southern Wine and Spirits, but Glazer’s recently bought them. They are THE 800 lb gorilla liquor distributor in Las Vegas.
Fun Things to Do in Las Vegas (for Non-Locals)
I do love going out for dinner and drinks. People often ask me where are my favorite places, so I wrote an entire page about it. These are places that I whole-heartedly recommend. Some are free, some are cheap, and some are very expensive.
A Clean Bar is a Happy Bar
I love the smell of bleach. I think it comes from swimming so much as a kid. When working, I’d much rather be doing something vs just standing around. I’m the one who is usually wiping things down. One of the first things I do when coming on the clock, is to stock the ice and wipe down the entire bar top.
I take cleanliness seriously, especially when you are working on set. The Crew get to set early, hump all that gear, lay all that cable, etc. It is a dirty job. So when they get a break, the last thing they think about are washing their hands.
When we break for Lunch, I always announce it and remind them to wash their hands before eating. I also always have hand sanitizer at the start of the food line. I had one Director tell me that is how he knew he could trust my food – because I had hand sanitizer prominently displayed at the beginning of the food line. “That’s all I need to know.”
My Dad (Eddie) was proud of my bartending accomplishments – and lived a little vicariously through me. In the Korean Conflict, he worked as the 2nd in Command at an NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer’s) Club. To hear him tell it, he was like Radar on M*A*S*H. Since his boss was never there, Dad ended up running it. He was always wheeling and dealing to get the best food and alcohol for the club.
Looking back on it, I realize he was always grilling during our family cookouts. He also helped with the food for various civics organizations, like The Lion’s Club, Kiwanis, etc.
My Dad passed away a few years ago. He told me he was proud of what I’ve done in the Entertainment Business. I’m sure he would approve of my Food & Beverage skills. As I’m getting older, I realize I’m becoming more and more like him. I like that. I like to think I got the best of both of my Mom and Dad.
For more examples of my Craft Services & Catering work in the Food & Beverage Industry, click here.