Meet Blake. If you know him, there’s a chance he’s your favorite bartender, coworker, or friend. We celebrated him this week as he hit the road to pursue his dreams in Seattle. Although he isn’t gone forever the hospitality industry in our city has experienced a significant loss with his departure, so let this stand as a eulogy from Phoenix; memorializing his contribution and reflecting on the void that he has left us all to fill:
When I started behind the bar at Culinary Dropout, to put it eloquently...it sucked. The hardest season of my personal life collided with tirelessly learning a whole new standard of drink-making, busssy shifts, and some strong personalities. And then there was Blake. In the beginning he was mostly quiet, always kind, and never stopped moving. He would literally run circles around me in a shift, but only seemed to care that I succeeded.
We opened at 11am, Blake arrived at 6am on Friday mornings. The prep and liquor order were big those mornings, and so was his heart for making our bar a great place to work on the one side and rest on the other. It made me believe in what we did. Like our work mattered- because it clearly mattered to him. This was a far cry from the restaurant I worked at before where everyone was on the do-as-little-as-possible train. His faithful service and commitment transformed the way I saw our industry.
When a guest was willing to trust Blake’s creativity, he would light up as he crafted one of his tried and true recipes, like the balanced and smooth, “Frank” stirred up with Cardamaro, Bulleit Rye, Liquor 43 and Carpano Antica sweet vermouth…Or (pictured below) the pleasantly easy-drinking “Phoenix Sour” shaken with Cappelletti, Woodford Reserve, Benedictine, 3-bitter blend and of course, an egg white.
He was always ready to experiment to customize a drink to a guest’s taste or try to strike gold with a new inspiration. My personal favorite was a cherry-walnut foam that he concocted to top off and jazz up a traditional Manhattan. He served each drink with the pride that is naturally derived from prepping, juicing, and infusing fresh ingredients daily. Working with Blake meant being challenged to work harder, have more fun and be more creative than I could have dreamt I was capable of -especially all at the same time. The boundaries of my self-perceived potential were stretched much wider, for a lifetime.
And don’t think for a second that Blake stopped serving others when he took off the hipster suspenders. On his days off, he would build things, plant things, and plan things for others. When Reese and I moved into our new place, most friends generously offered their undivided attention as I shared about our new journey. Blake, as he is known to do, took it a step further and shared in our excitement by building an upright garden and bench for our backyard. When one of our favorite managers pursued a new opportunity, he intricately planned the best farewell I’d ever been a part of.
Reminiscing on the good times and peering into the future, Blake and I had the chance to talk inspiration, memories, and next steps. Here’s some of what he shared:
When pressed to consider what aspects of our culture he seeks to redeem through his work, he suggested that “common courtesy” is a good place to start. Daily human interactions in our society can be cold and dry in accordance with our worship of efficiency. Blake intentionally sees his work as an opportunity to care and connect with guests in a very human way. He shared a story with me that shaped his vision for his vocation early on. A woman had just had all of life’s blows thrown her way, and fortunately for her, ended up sitting at his bar. Rather than avoiding the potentially uncomfortable or time-consuming conversation he simply asked her if she was ok. That opened up a door for him to offer powerful encouragement that provided rich hope when she didn’t seem to have anything else to grasp onto. Smiling, she strolled into the bar a year later with a new business and outlook on life, thanking him for caring in the way that he did. It was an honor for Blake to be able to play a part in her radical transformation.
This type of commitment to exceptional hospitality continued into his years at Culinary Dropout. As he spoke about his multi-year journey, his inflections divulged the depth of his appreciation for creative and talented mentors, such as Mat Snapp (the company’s beverage director) and the countless coworkers he partnered with and learned from. Blake took these partnerships seriously and would always show up early to his shift to fuel his body and settle his mind for whatever laid ahead. He was also known to bring fresh herbs from his garden or pick up an interesting ingredient to stimulate and encourage creativity with our bar staff.
I could go on and on, but I’m sure you're curious to hear about his plans on the Pacific.
So where is he now? After an eventful road trip, he just arrived at his destination! His big brother and future business partner has been anticipating his arrival and the next leg of life that they are embarking on together. What is it exactly that they are venturing to do? Well, as these things tend to go, details will change and develop as the final funding and permits come through to make it all a reality. But these two have collaborated from afar to envision opening a space where their passions and heart for the community and hospitality converge. We’re talking, speakeasy style charm, amazing cocktails (of course), gourmet grilled cheeses, and space for genuine relationships to flourish. And here’s where my heart hits its happiness threshold: they have even looked into the possibility of creating a non-profit business model that pours profit right back into the community in which they are a part. For real estate, they have had their eye on a church that could be repurposed into a new type of gathering space, but with a mission that overlaps. There wouldn’t be a choir or pulpit, but it would be preserved as a place for people to rejoice together, mourn together, and collaborate for the common good. A space that contributes to justice and flourishing for those around them.
Blake is a creator of drinks, community, and memorable experiences. There are many things that he would excel at in this big world but he found in his craft a way to do what he loves: serve- in a way that makes him come fully alive, honors creation, and offers rest and enjoyment to those around him. And he’s working tirelessly to love and redeem the industry that has welcomed him in. Let Blake inspire you today to love your craft and to envision the opportunities it provides to serve in a way that only you uniquely can.