In this week’s Employee Highlights, we introduce you to our creative Beverage Director, Brian, and one of our talented bartenders, Jason.
Brian Roberts—Beverage Director
Tell me about how you came to be the Beverage Director at Chef & the Farmer.
Well I was born in New York in 1976—ok, we can fast-forward a little bit—I started working at Chef & the Farmer just over three years ago. I was a wine salesman and the sales force I was working with had dissolved. My wife and I had eaten here at the restaurant and I thought “this is a place I’d really like to work.” So I chose not to go back into sales, because it wasn’t a good fit for me and decided it was a good opportunity to go back to school. I got a job here tending bar and it’s been a great experience. Later, little by little, we began implementing a new cocktail program trying to use some of the same ingredients from the kitchen in the bar, all in an effort to echo the philosophy of the restaurant through our beverages. It wasn’t an immediate process, but over time we’ve been able to incorporate new cocktails into the bar features and it’s been seemingly successful. With my wine background, about a year and a half ago, Jason and I took the Level 1 Introductory Sommelier Course and passed. Since then, we’ve had several others receive certification, which gives us 6 in-house sommeliers.
You mentioned using a lot of the ingredients from the kitchen preparation areas in the bar features. Do you think that gives you an opportunity to be creative and try new things here in the restaurant?
We have the ability to be as creative as we want. Ben and Vivian give us as much rope as we want—if there is something we want to try, they say “have at it” and if it works, that’s great. If it doesn’t—and we know immediately—we can come up with something new. We’ve used fresh Muscadine grapes, which is something you don’t really see in a lot of other areas. We’ve also used chamomile by adding it to gin, to add another layer of flavor, which was really cool. It’s fun to go through the walk-in and see what there is to use for the day or week. It gives you something to think about because we’ve been able to narrow the focus by working with seasonal ingredients.
Tell me about some of your favorite things—besides Chef & the Farmer of course.
I guess when the dog bites, when the bee stings, or if I’m feeling sad—just kidding. I hang out with my wife. She works traditional hours when she’s not traveling, so we typically only have one day a week together, and we have date night. That’s sort of what I look forward to, because you know, my wife is cool. Other than that, I play golf. I play a little guitar—well, I don’t really play guitar, I play for me—I only know about 8 chords, but it’s for fun. I enjoy playing and coaching volleyball, and I’m really digging the World Cup right now. I’m very sports-minded.
You mentioned being from New York, when did moving to Eastern North Carolina become an idea?
I was raised in New Jersey, on the Jersey shore. I needed a change of scenery and decided to move to Greenville in 2003 with the intention of going back to school. I was working for a buddy of mine who owned a restaurant. I don’t think I ever intended it to be an 11 year trip, but it has been. I met my wife while I was tending bar in Greenville and ended up staying. I remember the first thing she ever said was “I don’t date bartenders” and I knew she was the woman for me. I did eventually receive degrees in History and Philosophy which doesn’t apply specifically to what I do here, but there are definitely parallels.
What do you like the most about bartending?
Back in my 20’s, I probably would have said my favorite thing about tending bar was the pocketful of cash that I went home with every night in tips, but now that I have a mortgage and student loans, it is much better to get an actual paycheck and be a responsible adult. So I would have to say that my favorite thing about working behind the bar is the people you meet. Oftentimes, guests come to the bar to hang out with you, which is flattering, but I also mean the network of people you end up meeting and building relationships with while working in this industry. When I got married, there were several members of the wedding party that were people that I had worked with over the years in restaurants. I think that working this closely with like-minded people fosters lasting relationships.
You often play many roles here at Chef & the Farmer. Could you tell me a little about what you do and how you found your way here?
I do pretty much anything they ask me to do. I guess I’m officially a bartender, or the front of house “gopher,” you know, go-for-this, go-for-that. I spend most of my time tending bar, serving, being sommelier during service. Before I started here, I was living in Durham decided that I wanted to come back to school and thought that East Carolina was the best option. My mom knew Susan, who helped me get an interview, and 4 years later I’m still here. I started as a busser, and then worked as a runner and a server, spent some time in the wine shop, and finally ended up behind the bar. We are really excited about what we do here! This isn’t just a job for us, it’s a career and I hope everyone else is as enthusiastic as we are! We’re always doing new things to improve our guest experiences and expand our reach, such as the recent rollout of the Blue-Q sauce on retail shelves.
You mentioned moving back to Eastern North Carolina for school. What were you studying?
I wanted to be a teacher, but I left that program and ended up with two Bachelor Degrees, one in History and the other in Economics.
So what led to your interests in wine and beverage? Coming from a background in history, economics, and education, I find it interesting that you’ve developed a great deal of knowledge and enthusiasm about the products sold here.
Necessity, really—I have a high level of enthusiasm in regards to all aspects of my life, which makes it much easier to enjoy things.
Are you planning to continue your education further, perhaps in an area related to what you do at Chef & the Farmer?
No, not at all! I think I need more real world experience and education rather than in a formal education setting. I may pursue a Master’s Degree at some point, but right now I don’t see the point. I’d rather devote my time and effort to professional development in my position here.
I’ve believe you’ve had something rather exciting happen recently, would you mind sharing that?
Well, I am officially engaged as of last week—June 14th—I guess I should remember that date. We’ve been dating for about 6 months, which is seems short, but when you know, you know.
That is exciting! Are you all planning a large wedding?
No, not really. As far as I know, we’re planning on a small wedding—but it really depends on what she wants. If she wants a big wedding, then I guess we are planning on a big wedding.
Tell me about some of your favorite things.
My line used to be “politics, guns, and Jim Beam” but now, I think it’s best to try and avoid politics because life is more pleasant without politics. I guess I like wine, spirits, tequila, and bourbon. I like movies, but I’m also a big reader. Although it depends on my mood, I’d say my favorite book is Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. It’s the single-most influential book I’ve read and has really changed my whole life—it’s odd, because it’s just a little book, but I guess I would call it a “paradigm shift.”