03 My Story: College Dropout – > Bartender – > Business Owner

Automated Transcript:

Let me tell you my story. Maybe some of it will sound familiar. When I was a kid, my mom told me that I would be a great bartender or a great shrink. I was not that into school, but I was a huge fan of learning. This led to me dropping out of San Diego State after almost two years of pushing a rock uphill on academic probation. From there are worked odd jobs and generally kept things pretty simple. I’ve literally lived in a car bombing around San Diego. I moved to LA for a couple of years working your promotions for Red Bull and K Big and Coast, the radio stations there, and then I got a call to join a friend’s band on tour as the merch guy. I later became the tour manager, and two and 1/2 years later I had been to almost every state in the United States and every little Podunk town in between. This was all before Google Maps and WiFi.  I was pretty rare, but even then I was figuring out how to connect my cell phone and a laptop to occasionally get things done that eventually ended and I didn’t have a lot of prospects, and I had very little money saved. I was back in San Diego and I didn’t know what was next. I was around 22 years old and I got a job as a bus, sir, at a Little East County restaurant and I was living with my parents after living in a car for two and 1/2 years with some teenagers. This wasn’t very glamorous.

I knew I had to start somewhere, but it was always my goal and intention to be a bartender. There s O after awhile, busing tables and washing dishes. I eventually became a server waiting in line to get behind the bar. That day would never come, so I took a job as a day bartender at a complete dive, but I got a lot of valuable experience there, too. I even worked through some of the cocktails and the Mister Boston Guide, which was the only book that the bar had. I remember making some truly unforgivable drinks and accepting money for them. Most of the time, the folks there slapped out a $20 bill drink but heavies until there were only a couple quarters left on the bar on. That would be my tip. Later, I would move to New York on that was supposed to be temporary for only for three months to record an album. I needed a job because I went there with 175 bucks, that drum set. So I started walking dogs around Lower Manhattan and and that was really great, cause I got a really great feel for the city. So for months and months and months, I slept on couches. I moved to a couch with a dog walker friend, and that’s when I got my first bargaining in the city. I was at this Thai restaurant, which I think is still there on university by NYU.

My job was the head bartender, I guess on I was making 50 bucks a week plus tips to manage the bar. Also, some unforgivable drinks went over that bar s so I had no idea what I was doing. So that job led me to hear about an opportunity at a music venue in Times Square. And I remember representing my experience very creatively to get into that door. So But that’s when I got really fast behind the bar. And because that’s the only way that you keep a job like that is you just have to be crushing fast. I was later fired from that job because of the management is crazy on. I was a bit too green to know what was going on. So again, I was out of a job that led to a fondue restaurant where I met more people like me. The fondue bar led me to a scene that was happening on Elizabeth Street called the Randolph, which is where I really got my start. In the beginning, it was only open three days a week, and the bar didn’t open until nine-ish. It was a party. One of the DJs there ended up starting a little band that you may have heard of called the Chainsmokers. That iteration of that bar was pretty short-lived because we were pissing off the neighbors and the owners made a decision that would forever change the trajectory of my career. They partnered with the late, great Mr. Sasha Petraske to train us and show us what a proper drink tastes like and how that’s made. This experience was absolutely pivotal for me, and I still remember the feeling of knowing I was in the presence of a master. The training was ongoing because down the street was one of the cornerstones of the craft cocktail movement. Milk and honey.

We were open late, so their bartenders would come by and ask me for cocktails I’ve never heard of. This was one of the times that I gained the most knowledge in the shortest amount of time. I mean, they were asking me for, like, view craze and queens parks, whistles and, you know, Ramos fizzes. And, like I was like, I didn’t know what these drinks were. That’s when I got a, um, a lot more in my repertoire. From there I was given the absolute opportunity of a lifetime to work at Death & Co. where I stayed for two and 1/2 years. This is another massively pivotal time for me. I mean, the entire complexion of how cocktails were built was a completely new structure, and everything was new to me. I felt like I was just starting out my first job when I started there. I trained for a good six weeks before ever had a shift by myself. Um, that’s also, incidentally, where I got pretty fast because there weren’t always two bartenders on Sundays. And so I would open the bar by myself with a server on.  You know, sometimes we would get 55 people in it the same time. And so you just had to do it.

It was also during this time that I started to get more involved with the community and around. Then I was elected to be the second president of the New York chapter of the U. S. B. G s O. Things were starting to pick up. I got a Star Chefs Rising Star Award. I was most influential 40 under 40 for Wine Enthusiast magazine was getting a lot of sunshine, and in retrospect, I was actually pretty cocky about it. With this momentum, I started my first business as critical Mass Events LLC in the fall of 2010. I wanted to start an LLC because I needed a way to limit the liability on me individually, and I just really enjoyed making stuff. So why not make a business? So it’s important to note that contemporary cocktails was a huge inspiration for me. I didn’t know that an Events cocktail company was a thing until I saw what they were doing at events like the grammar game, mixology Summit and my first tales of the cocktail in 2009. At this point, I had no formal business training. I had no idea what I was doing. I have no idea how anything got done before the Internet. I made the decision, and I went to his filings dot com and just got my L C. Um, From there, I got a E i N and a business bank account. The whole thing costed around 350 bucks. If I remember correctly, I didn’t have a website until years after I started the company, and it was until years later that I was actually happy with my branding. I didn’t even care about branding. I was busy. I had a ton of inbound business because I was a known quantity and word got around that I could make your event happen if you called me. I didn’t even know how to use Excel when I started my business. But this is obviously the easiest and fastest way to scale matches. I’m a Google Drive person now, but back then was all Excel. So I learned how to use lots of different kinds of tools, and I started to accumulate equipment to be able to service larger and larger events. I bought a truck on the number one service I was beginning to provide was taking things off of people’s plates. So marketing directors, brand owners, PR companies, event producers, caterers. My number one product was peace of mind. The reason I’m telling you all this because I think you should consider using your skills to start a business if that’s what you want to d’oh! It’s not the only path to whatever it is that you want to do. I mean, most people are perfectly happy working a job and on growing within somebody else’s company, and that’s fine. That’s fine. But some of us have been fired from multiple jobs because of insubordination. We think we can do it better. That’s me. So what I’m saying is you don’t even need to know what your business does just yet. I didn’t I just figured it out. You don’t even have to quit your job. I would say Just make a business card and spread the word that you’re available to do stuff outside of your bar and restaurant. That’s it.

If that doesn’t work, then you can use the numerous resources is on the Internet, too. Find out how to promote your business to the people that actually make those decisions, and I’ll get more into that stuff in a later podcast. But, um but, yeah, step one, I would say. It’s just let people know that you’re available. The card itself doesn’t have to be fancy. I mean, honestly, text only is fine, but if you want to make a logo for yourself, I would say Don’t pay for it. Make it with something like Can Va is a product that you use all the time can vote dot com C N v A. But it doesn’t have to be fancy. Just focus on your product. If you are delivering solutions for people, people will call you. If you were taking things off their plate, they will call it nine years of hills and valleys. Later, I’m able to. I’m able to support my family and myself, working as an independent contractor slash nano agency on, and I haven’t had to fire myself yet. So I hope you’ve enjoyed this story, and I hope you can find some motivation from it. I think it’s an important step is to just make it official and just start your business. Do it. It doesn’t really cost a lot, but you have the feeling of building something and that you are planted to see that can grow. Ah, and I just kept grinding through the bad days. Um, and that’s why I still have a business. But oftentimes people’s 1st 2nd 3rd businesses don’t succeed, so don’t beat yourself up. Just keep trying. That being said, I want to keep the show super short dense. If you have any thoughts, questions or ideas, please reach out to me at Jason, Latrell on Twitter and Instagram, or search for Jason Littrell on Facebook and LinkedIn. If you got anything out of our time together, you can thank me by simply sharing this with another person. If you love the show, please leave a review on iTunes and leave a comment. That’s how people know I’m not completely full of shit.

About author

WHAT I DO: I help bars, craft spirits brands, hotels, and event managers to glorify their brands by providing high-end cocktail expertise, hospitality consulting, and winning operations management. Working in the space where craft meets commerce, I can put together creative, develop go-to-market strategies, promote your brand to bartenders, develop trade advocacy initiatives, and put together back end financials. I develop concept designs, effective marketing platforms, and turnaround strategies. HOW I DO IT: I am a craft cocktail personality and event planner with 10 years of experience bartending, training bartenders, writing menus, setting up cost-effective operations, communicating brand messages to trade, and leading the bartending community. WHO I WORK WITH: • Craft Spirit Marketing Directors and Brand Owners seeking fresh go-to-market strategies • Hospitality Executives and Owners for bars, restaurants, and hotels • Marketing and PR Agencies for Events and Targeted Marketing • Struggling bars seeking a turnaround specialist MY FAVORITE CALL: “Hi Jason, I’ve got this amazing spirit. I want bartenders to know what it is and how to use it.” WHY IT WORKS: I am uniquely positioned in the industry because of my work experience, industry connections, and leadership. I’ve got my ear to the ground, and as a nano-agency, I’m an agile specialist with expertise that bigger, more conservative agencies can’t match. WHY I’M DIFFERENT: As a bartender by trade, I’m a skilled organizer with great communication skills and attention to detail. I build delicious drinks, strong teams, and successful events and businesses. I can produce high-end cocktails en masse at a festival, make them for a photo shoot, train your staff to make them, or convert your struggling bar into a winning concept with a killer story and world-class drinks.
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