The best piece of advice I have received was from Jim Meehan. He said you need to 'listen to the building.' What I think he meant that it's great to have an extremely thought out concept/idea/philosophy, but you have to be fluid in your thinking and adapt. Listen to what your guests are saying, what the room is telling you, and what the staff thinks.
Two places have impacted my career the most. My first job at The Hunting Lodge, a run-of-the-mill pub, collecting glasses and cleaning ashtrays gave me great discipline and structure in-terms of my focus. I have applied what I learned there to every job I have had since. The second place that made a serious impact on my career was The Merchant Hotel Cocktail Bar in Belfast working with my now partner, Sean Muldoon. When I was 18, I sat down with him and he showed me two pieces of ice, one cloudy and one that was perfectly clear. He said there are two types of people in the world; you can be someone that doesn't care, the imperfect ice, or someone who wants to be the very best version of themselves, the perfect ice cube. I left that meeting thinking - finally, someone that feels the same way as I do. He opened the door for my journey, and I went through them like a charging bull.
I knew this was the profession for me at The Connoisseur's Club in Belfast, a program that Sean ran. The Club attracted the likes of Dale De Groff, Sasha Petraske, Audrey Saunders, and Nick Strangeway. Hearing people of that caliber speaking, showed me that there was a career in this if you give it your all. I knew early on in my career that I could be great if I focused my energy. Thankfully, it paid off. Now, I'm focusing that energy on becoming the best operator that I can be.
The nightly atmosphere in the Back of the House is intense. Myself, my business partners, and our Management Team are always lurking in the background and checking in on the small details, ensuring the staff is delivering on our expectations.
I'm actually in a good place when it comes to my work/life balance. My old habits led to a breakdown, so I had to make changes. I work at the venues around 50-60 hours a week and from home quite a bit because there are no distractions there. I'm never in the bars generally past 9 or 10 pm, and I don't drink, I spot-taste. Outside of the venues, I have a girlfriend that I love, two dogs that I hang out with on the weekends and a rigorous training routine, I'm a marathoner. It's a balance that works for me. Balance is objective and different person-to-person.
I'm always looking for people who are hungry, humble, and disciplined. Hungry to continually learn and improve, humble to know when they can be better, and disciplined to deliver up to our expectations. I'm always assessing and looking for the human side of people. You can train experience, but you can't teach character.
The most important skill to have is discipline. You can be the nicest, smartest or most talented person in the room, but that means nothing when the rubber hits the road. You have to be committed, focused, and continuously fail forward.
Our whole philosophy is: "if it's not broken, we're going to fix it anyhow." I think that idea equally inspires and frustrates my team. We also place a heavy emphasis on our education program.
"You can always be better." Achieving perfection is impossible, and you're never the finished article, but it's that never-ending aspiration that inspires me to keep moving and excelling in this industry.
I find inspiration in other bars, operators, and bartenders. The industry continually moves, and I love the fluidity of it. Every day is different, and I've learned to enjoy the ride. I believe Irish Pubs have been pigeonholed as a commodity experience akin to TGI Friday's and my overarching goal is to bring the Irish Pub into the 21st century.
I'm always seeking new information, as I have a curious mind. I read a lot of CEO biographies, self-improvement books, and new books from bartenders. I'm also part of the Acceler8 program by Sean Finter which focuses on making operators better.
The one thing I couldn't do my job without is sobriety. Every day I wake up I'm focused. I'm present. Ready to go. That wasn't the same when I was drinking.
Irish Whiskey will always be exciting for me. We have the biggest collection in the U.S. and just released a book about the Pubs & Distilleries of Ireland - From Barley To Blarney, A Whiskey Lover's Guide To Ireland.
Here are my top six essential books:
A PROPER DRINK, ROBERT SIMONSEN - an excellent book about the modern cocktail movement.
IMBIBE, DAVID WONDRICH - focuses on foundational aspects of the bartending movement.
BARTENDER MANUAL, JIM MEEHAN - all encompassing book for bartenders and operators to understand everything from how to design a menu & bar station to understanding all spirit categories.
THE BAR BOOK, JEFFREY MORGENTHALER - an accessible and easy to digest book on bartending techniques.
SPIRITS, SUGAR, WATER, BITTERS, DEREK BROWN - a history of cocktails. It's essential to understand what happened yesterday so you can create tomorrow.
THE GREAT GOOD PLACE, RAY OLDENBURG - this book showcases why & how hospitality is essential.
START WITH WHY, SIMON SINEK - an inspirational book all about applying great principles from successful companies.