I was 16 and I wanted a job. I remember I was sitting at Norm’s restaurant and somebody told me I would love working there, like, “You would be really good as a waitress.” I was 16, working at Target, did not like it, and then kind of wiggled my way in to Norm’s that was right down the street. It was a 24-hour one and I was able to start out as a host. I liked being a host, but I wanted to serve. I was determined to make that cash money! I thankfully was only a host for six months and then started serving, so maybe I think I was closer to 18 when I became a server. I fell in love with it. There’s a super addicting weird high that I get when I’m in the weeds and really busy. I love having to do like 13 little things all at once because I think it helps me feel like I’m checking off a list. And I was 18 years old and having money in my pocket every single day, which was really rad.
I think I lasted at Norm’s for a few years. I was ready to move on and my mom found a restaurant called Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour. It’s pretty intense. It’s like Disneyland in restaurant form. I got a job there and to this day I feel like that has been my favorite job. I was there for four years. I started as a server on the opening crew and worked my way up to a shift lead; there’s a position called “Announcer” which is kind of like the golden position. All you did when you would clock in, you would play with tables. You would go around, see why they’re there, what they’re celebrating for, hang out with them, learn the kids’ names, take photos, play jokes, and it was the best. I worked my way up from that to management and then up to opening team for the other restaurants in Riverside and Buena Park and other locations. That was my favorite time. It sounds kind of silly but it was so much fun. That job specifically… I came out during that time so I felt like I was finally being myself in so many different ways. Farrell’s gave me so much independence and confidence, like, “This is me.”
There was a restaurant in Whittier called Four Bricks that was opening, and this is where I got into bartending. We were in server training and the bartenders were working; I had never bartended at all. It was trying to be fine dining in downtown Whittier, so really nice small batch artisan spirits. They did not carry Jack and Coke, they did not carry Tito’s. Everything was freshly juiced; really nice well-balanced craft cocktails. I was looking at the bartenders and I was like, “Hey! That looks good. What are you doing?” He told me what he was making and I was like “Cool,” and then I walked away. At the end of that training shift… I have no idea what I did, I have no idea what I said, they were like, “Do you want to be a bartender?” And I was like, “Yes! Take me out of serving, let me bartend!”
That was a huge learning experience and challenge, because I wasn’t really looking to bartend but I also was stepping into craft cocktailing. I’ve learned there’s so many different roles of bartending: you have your dive bars, you have your breakfast/brunch places, you have your craft cocktails, and then you have your club scene. Craft cocktails take so much more time, so much more effort. Even to this day, I haven’t been at a place where I’m just pouring Jack and Coke and vodka crans. I don’t know what that world is. The cocktails I walked into were five, six step cocktails; I’m learning about how to properly open an egg to get the egg white to make the foam for your whiskey sour. Things like that. Working at Four Bricks, I felt like it opened up a whole new territory and a whole new passion for the hospitality industry. But I actually didn’t even stay there that long! I think I was only there for a few months and ended up bartending somewhere else, managed a Starbucks for a few years… not a fan. It’s terrible; I mean, it is a great company. Who can be 19, start a 401(k), with benefits? Nobody, right? It’s great. But they pound you into working like a dog there, and I’m so much more mom-and-pop place.
So I was only at Four Bricks for a couple months, then I was looking for some other work. I was trying to pay off debt, so I was like, “Let me just work, work, work.” My friend helped me get a restaurant job serving in Orange County at the Filling Station. And that is also one of my other top favorite places to work; I was there for four years. That was turn-and-burn. You go in, you serve like 25 tables really quick and then you leave. Everyone’s getting the same thing: coffee, bacon and eggs, pancake breakfast, French toast, omelets, whatever. It’s really quick. When I was managing at The Filling Station, there were so many different people that I would always say good morning to, and to be like, “How was it visiting your mom? How was your kid’s graduation?” And that was why I loved working there. I honestly don’t even know why I left; I probably just got tired of the place! You get burnt out so quickly that you’re constantly like, “Ok, I need somewhere new.”
Then I started bartending at a distillery, and that is totally different. Blinking Owl was really cool. That, I would say, has been the most knowledge I’ve gained from bartending. At a distillery, Alcohol Beverage Control, ABC, does not allow you to bring in any other spirits. So when you go to a bar and you see vodka, gin, bourbon, scotch, all those things, you also see liqueurs like Aperol, Compari, whatever it may be. Because it’s a distillery, you’re not allowed to bring those in. We had to build cocktail menus without any of those. You’re trying to make a house-made vermouth, a house-made falernum, all your syrups are made in-house. That was very challenging and helped me use my brain to be really creative and think out of the box but also produce really really fresh, clean, well-balanced cocktails. And that was crazy because it was new and it wasn’t busy so I would spend four hours prior to opening prepping — just prepping — and then I would work and I would serve like three people. That was the most frustrating. You’d come in and be like, “Everybody, where are you? I have all this fresh juice that I just squeezed!” I feel like sometimes people don’t think about when you’re juicing four quarts of lemon and lime, do you know how much pulp that is that you have to drain? Cleaning those tools was the most frustrating part! We had a cocktail that had carrot so we had to juice carrot, so many random little things, that you’re like, “You better enjoy that. Because it took me… You better enjoy that!”
Every cocktail is the base of a classic cocktail. So think about your gimlet, which is very classic, and it’s just either gin (or some people get it with vodka), lime, and simple syrup. That’s your gimlet. And there are all these other cocktails that fall underneath it, where you’re changing the specs. I would say the way to have a balanced cocktail is two, one, one, which means two of the spirit, one of the citrus, and one of the sweet. A really great cocktail that we serve at the restaurant I work at now is the Votre Santé. And it looks confusing, but really what it is, it’s a gimlet, but instead of lime we do half lime half elderflower and then you throw in mint and cucumber. Boom.
Once you build classic cocktails in a family tree in your head, I think that makes it easier. That’s what helped me with learning spirits, was that family tree of whiskey and under whiskey you have your branches of bourbon, you have your branches of scotch, you have your branches of four grain bourbon, of rye, and as you break all those down, you’re like, “Oh, it totally makes sense.” Margaritas are the simplest drink you can make and you can have so much fun with switching things out: adding pineapple, adding a chili liqueur, or you can do grapefruit or you could do blood orange… and it’s all the same specs. At Blinking Owl, they were like, “Have at it. Do whatever you want. If you want to try to make a juice or make a syrup, do it.” I made Jalapeño Business. It used a jalapeño hibiscus shrub, gin, lemon... I don’t even remember to be honest. But I liked it a lot, I thought it was good.
If they’re craft cocktails, it might be a 20-minute ticket time. Because all of our drinks take five, six steps, and you’re also helping other people. Where I’m at right now, the real popular cocktails, they have them all kegged, which is really cool. That cuts the ticket time like crazy. When I say five or six steps, I’m only talking about the ingredients. So you get your tin set up or your mixing glass, whichever it is. You’re adding in a simple syrup, maybe you’re adding in a shrub, maybe you’re muddling something or maybe adding egg white to it. Or you’re splitting the spirits or adding different liqueurs. Those are five, six step cocktails. Or some of them, you have to shake real quick, and then you can add the ice, and then build the cocktail. Another part about it is garnishing. Sometimes garnishing can take a long time, depending on what the garnish is. Peeling is pretty quick, but if it’s a lemon zest on top, or if you’re hand-picking edible flowers. When I worked at Blinking Owl, we would garnish the hell out of those which is great, I think they looked beautiful, but it took time.
For people who are trying to make cocktails at home, a lot of recipes say the spirit and then work down, but the way we read them is from the bottom up. The reason why is you start with your least expensive ingredients so in case you mess up, you’re not losing your alcohol. A lot of people don’t think about it that way, and they’re going to add the bourbon first, and then you’re like, “Wait, what if you just messed up? Now you gotta toss that!” I learned that working with egg whites. If you got a shell in it, your cocktail’s fucked.
There’s two ways that you can now froth a cocktail, any time you want that frothiness. You can do just an egg white. I never knew egg whites were used this way. You keep them refrigerated and you crack it and just teeter totter the yolk, letting the egg whites drop. Then you either whip it with or without an ice cube because you need that froth to build — you’re shaking it in the tin. I usually like to whip it without it and then I’ll add ice to chill the actual cocktail and then pour it. The thing with egg whites, though, is that it takes so much more time. Which is totally fine, you’re whipping for a long time, your arm is getting really tired, and then once your arm is tired… you have to go a little bit more. But one thing I love is aquafaba, which is the juice from garbanzo beans. It works exactly the same way as an egg white. I think it’s safer and easier because for one, you don’t have a smell of egg, which if you’re drinking a Pisco Sour, a lot of times you can smell the egg and I don’t like that. And then two, you don’t have to keep it refrigerated. So it lasts much longer and it’s vegan. I’m a big fan of a classic egg white cocktail. But I kind of like the aquafaba more because there’s no taste so you get way more of the actual cocktail flavor, in my opinion.
I would love if people understood that modifying a drink is such a slap in our face. When you’re like, “But can you make it with less of the sugar” or “Can you switch out that vodka for gin.” When guests say that, it’s saying, “I read what you created, I just don’t think it’s good enough, and I’m going to change it.” It’s like adding salt on a steak before you try it. That’s a messed up move, bro. The chef just slaved over that food for a reason. When people try to modify something, especially a cocktail, it irks me. Also, when guys say, “But can you give it to me in a manly glass” or “Not in a girly glass.” I’m sorry, is your manhood really based off of a glass? A little coupe? If it comes in a coupe, they don’t like it. It is a classic piece of glass, and yet people say that all the time. They’re not realizing that we read through books to figure out this cocktail menu. We practiced, and it took trial and error multiple times, and the prep behind it and the thought behind it and the love behind it and you’re over here and you want to be like, “Oh, but can you take that out?” Where I work now gives me the freedom to talk back, which is great. I’ve gotten to a place where I’m like, “No.”
It’s hard, too, because when people are like, “Well, what’s your favorite?” and then you tell them your favorite… like one of my favorite cocktails right now is Boats and Hoes; it has carrot in it. So you tell someone, “Yeah, this is my favorite,”… “Oh, carrot? No.” Then why did you ask me? Do not ask me my opinion if you’re not going to listen! The fact that you’re asking me what’s good and you’re taking zero time to look at the menu means you’re actually not going to like anything I suggest. You already have it set in your head you’re not going to like it.
That would sum it all up: my hopes of people recognizing that the same amount of care that goes into really nice dishes, goes into really nice cocktails. There’s a reason, so respect the recipe and the process. One of the cocktails at the restaurant is called Mahalo Bitches and it just says “Trust us.” You are not allowed to know what it is, any part of it, until it gets to your table and you try it. It’s funny, because a lot of people get bent out of shape, and a lot of people won’t get it. How stuck are you in your world? It’s just a cocktail!
The industry is kind of crazy. I’m eleven years in it now; I think I’m ready for a break. There’s no stopping. That’s what I’m realizing: there’s no mental breaks. The restaurant where I’m at now is very intense and we get very very busy. It’s more fine dining and I’m realizing now, I am so much more about smaller shops. I love hanging out with my guests and where I’m at now, it’s not very feasible.
Having my own place has been a talk for a very long time and I was going to school for business for it. But the downside of being in this industry is that you miss out on so many family things. Every weekend, you’re set in your schedule, you can’t just call in sick. I mean I could… but I really can’t to be honest. Because now everybody is going to have to pick up your slack. It’s not like where, “Oh, I can answer e-mails from home.” Which I wish I could do sometimes. So I might take a different career path because I’ve also taken business courses and accounting and you realize how much money it is to start a business. And in California — it’s huge. My ultimate dream would be a small farm-to-table vegan restaurant. But I can’t do it in California.
It’s interesting because I’ve been in this for eleven years and people are like, “Hannah, you’re made for this, you’re going to have a restaurant.” Is that just me letting people say that and that’s what I become, or is that really what I want? And I’ve never really explored anything else. Why not try other things? I’ve really figured out my priorities and what’s important in life and I want to be able to take trips with friends and family. Also, I want benefits. That’s a huge thing. I want to be able to provide for a family, and there’s no way to do that off of serving. I would like to have my own time for hobbies and things, and not be so tired every day. I also want to be able to go and do other things without feeling like I can’t. Sometimes what people don’t recognize is that when I miss a shift, that’s my pay. I don’t have sick time I can lean on, I don’t have vacation days. I take a week off, I’m losing $800. I could do it, but you realize you’re not making any profit for the first three years? And then how long is it before you find a manager that you actually trust and you can take time off? People say, “But it’s your own business, you can be closed whenever you want.” Oh really? I’m going to be closed on a Sunday? No. Do you know how much money you make on a Sunday?
I know work will never be perfect. That’s the thing about a career change — it could be better. I could have holidays off. Everybody that I love and adore has the weekends off. And people are like, “Are you going to change your life for them?” Yeah. Because they matter that much. Why not? I’m still going to be happy. I want to take my mom on trips. My best friend Julia and I have our yearly vacation, and I want to be able to worry about that and not worry about taking a week off.
It is a really hard environment. It’s really fun because everyone who works in a restaurant likes people. So that’s great. But you’re also working in very close confined spaces with these people and when shit hits the fan and you’re in the middle of your rush and in the weeds and you’re hungry and you’ve already been tired… a lot of us work other jobs. Either you’ve worked another job or you’ve been prepping all day or you’ve been in school all day, and then you find yourself running to tables or you find yourself shaking tin so much that your arms are tired. I used to wake up and have my hands be sore because my hands are smaller so when I grip a tin, I have to grip harder. It’s so much physical labor just to make a drink. But then it’s also super rewarding when people are like, “This is the best cocktail I’ve had.”