Brooks Reitz may not be a familiar name to foodies today, but don’t expect things to stay that way for long. As the GM of Charleston’s 2013 James Beard nominated finalist for best new restaurant, The Ordinary, Reitz has already garnered comparisons to a young Danny Meyer; critical acclaim, like his recent nomination for Eater‘s 2013 Young Guns award, certainly helps. In his fleeting spare time, he’s also the founder of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co., which specializes in upscale, handcrafted mixers with a distinctly Southern flair. We recently sat down with the Kentucky gent to talk business, booze and life in our latest edition of 30 Minutes With.
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Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
A. How to speak confidently, clearly and respectfully to people from all walks of life.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Personally: being a part of raising a son. There is no guidebook, only intuition and love to light the way.
Professionally: Opening a high-profile restaurant and training a fresh staff while balancing the duties of my own small company.
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. We are continuing to spread the word about our existing products, our Small Batch Tonic and Grenadine, and that is our major focus. In the down time, we are finalizing the recipe for our next product, a Small Batch Lime Cordial; this stuff makes a Gimlet that will bowl you over. And then, quietly, we are working on a very cool project with a California winemaker. More on that down the line…
I can rap fairly well, and was once part of a hip-hop collective called “Ninja Law Firm”.
Q. Name one thing you can’t live without.
A. Freshly ground peanut butter and bananas to accompany it.
Q: Who or what influences you?
A: My main source of inspiration comes from my friends — young people hustling, chasing their dreams and starting their own ventures with nothing but grit and determination. Outside of that, I stay inspired by reading about entrepreneurs in all sectors: food, fashion, film, music, technology. I love to soak up as much information as I can about the people that inspire me, and I am a voracious reader of magazines and blogs to stay informed and inspired.
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. The Art of the Restaurateur by Nicholas Lander, Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann, and I am making my way through my new issues of Bon Appetit, Fast Company, ACQ Taste, and Fire & Knives.
Q. Name one thing no one knows about you.
A. I really enjoy reading about style and fashion, though I wear very normal clothing. The creativity in that world is very inspiring. Also, I can rap fairly well, and was once part of a hip-hop collective called “Ninja Law Firm”.
Q. It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
A. Ice-cold pilsner and a roasted chicken with a massive salad.
Q. If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
A. Don’t ever feel stupid for being passionate about something. Passion is sexy, and infectious.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. As a fair, hard-working, driven entrepreneur and a great dad.
Q. What inspired you to create Jack Rudy?
A. Despite being a Kentucky gentleman, I am a lover of gin. Because I was a Gin & Tonic drinker in the summer, I wanted to create my own tonic, because the stuff that was available to me was shit. That was really the only inspiration I needed at the time: to drink better. Once people began to respond to what I had made — and then seek it out instead of the other tonic they were used to — I knew I had something worth developing. The company started very, very small, and grew as more and more people embraced what we were trying to do. Along the way, I realized that people want more than just craft spirits; they want to latch onto delicious, carefully made mixers, as well. We very much try to identify what mixers have been overlooked for so long, and reinterpret them in a fun, delicious, accessible way for today’s imbiber.
Q. Any terrible drinking experiences we should know about?
A. Too many to name, really, and none that stand out over any others. One of recent memory would involve an all-day long R&D restaurant trip in NYC that was capped at a hidden karaoke lounge, soaked in Sapporo and shots of Jameson — all at around 3 or 4 a.m. The next day was one of the worst days of my life.
Q. What’s the most interesting concoction you’ve seen made with Jack Rudy Mixers?
A. My all time favorite, to this day, was created by Ryan Casey, who used to work for me at FIG Restaurant. It’s called “Jack and the Beanstalk” and includes Bluecoat Gin, Aperol, Grapefruit, Jack Rudy Tonic Syrup, and a flamed orange peel. So delicious, bright and complex. Another favorite is the Gin & Tonic variations they’ve prepared at Matteo Tapas in Durham, NC.
Q. What’s your ideal cocktail moment?
A. Sun fading gently on a Charleston spring day as I sit on a heavily shaded patio, touched by the breeze and warmed by a Negroni.
Q. What do you think about the booming Mixology trend these days? Why do you think it’s happening?
A. Of course I love the boom of “mixology” because I can get a pretty decent drink in towns of all sizes now. I can get a Negroni, or a Manhattan, or a few other classics that have hopefully become widespread. I love the dialogue it has created with the guest, and I love the pride it has introduced for many bartenders. On the flip side, there have been some negative elements associated with this “boom”, mostly a rise in pretense at some bars. I don’t think it’s a widespread issue, but I’ve witnessed drink snobbery first hand.
As to why it’s happening — I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer. I think there has been a growing awareness of the public of what they are eating and drinking, coupled with an emphasis on food and drink culture in the press. The restaurant world is a culture that is attracting very smart, driven, creative people, and those people are being given incredible platforms to practice an art form. We are very lucky that we have — most of the time — a very receptive public.
Q. Is there any drinking trend right now you think is over rated or would like to see go away?
A. Any trend is great in my eyes because I think they speak to different people and continue to engage people in a dialogue about what they like to drink or what drink they like to make. All the trends, even the ones I might personally find “silly”, might resonate in a very important way for someone else. For me, rather than identifying a trend I don’t like, I’ll say this: I love simple, three- or four-ingredient cocktails, and I’m drawn to bright, crisp, low alcohol drinks over rich, stirred, boozy concoctions. I’ve had my moment with them all, and in the end, an easy drinking Aperitif will be just fine by me every time.