This Drinks With featured in the January issue of Australian Bartender magazine.
Interview by Edward Washington
This month we take a little time out with one of the cocktail industry’s iconic operators, Mr Sasha Petraske. In 2000 Petraske opened Milk & Honey (New York) in what he says was a response to the decline in the city’s bar culture. Six years later he was named in the New York magazine as one of the city’s most influential people – high praise when you consider that Hillary Clinton (the current US Secretary of State) has also made the list.
Since then, he has also partnered with Jonathan Downey to open Milk & Honey (London), been part of the team that recently opened The Everleigh in Melbourne (with co-owners Lauren Schell and Michael Madrusan) and is also involved with our own Sam Ross in launching Attaboy – which will take over the current site of M&H, New York.
Safe to say he’s a busy man, so in the time it takes to stir down a Manhattan we hit him up about his past, present and the future.
Tell me a little bit about your businesses.
“We run bars for people who can manage to stay quiet and polite when they drink.”
How did you first get into the bar business?
“I was saving money to open my own café and I was getting nowhere so I decided to get a job in a bar to help. That was 15 years ago and the café is now a retirement plan.”
What’s the attraction of the bar business for you?
“Waking up at 1pm.”
Is it important for you to have a personal connection with your members?
“Without a doubt, but it is much more important to have a personal connection to one’s employees.”
What’s your proudest achievement in the bar industry thus far?
“Having such a dedicated staff, and retaining them for so long.”
What excites you about the London and New York bar scene?
“I feel that both cities are reaching a critical mass, where a good cocktail will soon be the rule, not the exception.”
Do you have any concerns for their future?
“Both cities are threatened by exorbitant rents and fees, and I’m currently working on a project in Texas.”
What cocktail trends are popular at the moment in your bars?
“Amari and exotic bitter ingredients are the order of the day.”
How have you evolved as a business operator over the years?
“I’ve learned that the layout of the room, bar and equipment is as important as anything. A well designed venue can give better service with fewer people, and it is important to remember that restaurants don’t close for lack of ability to pay the rent. It is always inability to make payroll that puts the nail in the coffin.”
What mistakes taught you the biggest lessons?
“Wow. Too many mistakes to list, but the biggest one was not being capitalised. I would advise the aspiring bar owner to wait an extra year or so, just to build a good credit rating.”
How do you continually develop your creative ideas?
“Reading and watching old movies.”
Do you have any exciting plans for the future?
“I am doing a line of menswear, off the rack suits with a 1930’s cut.”
What’s the best and worst thing about owning your own bar?
“You usually don’t have to get up in the morning. However, you do have to witness the occasional drunken bad scene.”
Are there any local or international bar operators that you admire? If so why?
“Peter Dorelli, Salvatore Calabrese and Dale Degroff. We are standing on the shoulders of giants.”
How important are staff in operating a successful business?
“You are a capitalist. In the service economy, the goodwill of your staff is your capital, just as much as your beer taps and air conditioner.”
What advice would you give young bartenders who want to open their own bar one day?
“27 years old might be a bit young.”
What are your Top 5 tips for running a successful bar business?
- Customers come first.
- Employees come second.
- Owners come last.
- People pay for quality and employees deserve top quality equipment.
- Give employees clear, consistent and objective quality standards.