Interview by Andy Ratcliff, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jackson Littlewood is one of the most talented people I have ever worked alongside. Back in the glory days of The Baxter Inn, Jackson commanded the bar with his incredibly speedy service, his obsession with perfect drinks and his down-to-earth country-boy smile. We’re talking to him today about his experience in the industry and his newest role as General Manager of Bare Bones Ice Co.
Q: Hi Jackson, you’ve come a long way from the pubs of your hometown in Parkes (NSW). Can you tell us what brought you to Sydney and a little about your first jobs in hospitality?
It’s a bit of a cliche—I followed a girl across the state, had a really average crack at studying, worked at some bog-standard pubs, and inevitably walked into a heaving Shady Pines Saloon one night in 2012. I was served by a pack of shirtless maniacs carrying on like one big homogenous master of ceremonies. I wanted in, so I immediately dropped everything and pursued a career in bartending, which I am sure made my parents very proud. I heard of a new bar opening, Earl’s Juke Joint on King Street in Newtown, I walked in during the build and harassed them to put me on as a barback, the rest is history.
I have extremely fond memories of working alongside you and one thing I admire about you is your formidable insistence for quality and your work ethic. Where did this come from and what advice would give to lazy sods out there that aren’t as motivated or passionate as yourself?
Persistence trumps talent. So many talent-touting schmucks with dirty stations all over this city. Please, for the love of Dale DeGroff, dry your fucking chopping board.
You’ve worked for some of the best managers in the industry like Pasan Wijesena and Stuart Morrow. What are some of the things you’ve picked up from them along the way?
Pasan and Chewy—and Anthony Moore, Kelly Egan and Stef Forte while I’m at it— went so far beyond teaching me the fundamental skills required to work behind a bar or in a restaurant. Managers like that share a philosophy about what it means to work in Hospitality, a deep understanding of how to blow a guest’s mind with humility and grace. They also taught me other things I won’t put in writing.
“Persistence trumps talent. So many talent-touting schmucks with dirty stations all over this city. Please, for the love of Dale DeGroff, dry your fucking chopping board.”
You’ve also managed Restaurant Hubert. It’s one of the fastest paced and highly regarded restaurants in the country. What did you learn from this and how have you applied it to your current role?
When you mix the busiest restaurant in the city with one hundred staff chomping at the bit to prove themselves, the only important thing is to make sure it’s a ripping environment to work in. Sometimes that feels like an impossible task but I’ll try to make that happen everywhere I go from here on out.
You’re now running Bare Bones Ice Co. What’s the service the company provides and how did you know you were best suited in the role?
We provide premium handcrafted cocktail ice, drop us a line at email@example.com! I grew up in my dad’s panel beating shop so I’ve always been drawn toward a workshop setting with dangerous tools and working with my hands.
Can you give us any more detail into what your average day looks like? What obstacles and challenges do you face in such a fast paced role?
Briefing is at 8am, the production team then gets in their Alaskan oil rig suits for a packaging session. During the next hour, I perch on a trestle table and reply to orders that rolled in overnight, organise the logistics, invoicing, and ice-cutting quota for that day. Then if I’m not on the road, I’m currently spending the rest of the day buried nose-deep in whatever project is a priority at that time. The whole thing is new to me so making it happen with precision is an obstacle in itself.
You were hired by owner and operator Damien Liot, another legend of the industry and a close friend. How do you maintain such a good working relationship along with a professional one? Do you need to wear different caps or do you work seamlessly together?
Damien and I have always shared a pile of interests, from Japanese design to classic cars, we kept in touch over the years mostly by showing each other cool shit we like. We also spent time in the trenches at Baxter and Hubert together so were already plenty aware of each other’s idiosyncrasies. We don’t always share the same opinion but we certainly always share respect.
Can you tell us a little about the expansion that the company is going through right now? How have you managed to grow so quickly and yet maintain such a positive experience for your customers?
We recently moved to a new world-class facility in Marrickville, please come check it out, it’s absolutely ridiculous. The vision is clear, the brand is strong and we maintain a focus on rock-solid products and service. The transition was particularly smooth due to the well-drilled production team and Damien’s relentless planning.
Now that clear ice is a lot more common in the industry, where do you see it evolving? Is it going to be available on a more consumer level, perhaps in local corner shops (as you see in Japan) and vending machines?
We are currently working with multiple big retailers including Dan Murphy’s and Woolworths. I’d love to see a Collins spear in my McDonald’s long black, maybe someday. For now, keep an eye out on our Mate Rates program, we will be dropping some very exciting stuff soon.
Thanks for your time Jacko! Best of luck in the role!
Bare Bones Ice Company is the producer of premium quality drinking ice, trusted by Sydney’s most loved and frequented bars and restaurants. Sydney only.