I thought this interview was going to be all about bars and bartending. But it turned into so much more. This interview is with Tobin Ellis. Tobin is a legend in the bartending world. After I interviewed Tobin I was in a sweet new bar in Minneapolis. The bartender serving us seemed to know what he was doing. I asked if he knew Tobin. He did. Legend.
Tobin started as a bartender, an obsessive one, learning about every cocktail there is. He then worked with TGI Friday’s (when they were the hottest thing) opening up their bars across the nation. Then Tobin started designing bars. Nothing was handed to him. Now he consults with some of the biggest hospitality and retail brands in the world including Ceasars, Ritz Carlton, MGM/Mirage, Starbucks and many others.
-How long did it take before you made $100 in tips in one night?
-What was your favorite drink to make? Hear how he made it.
-What did you learn while working at TGI Friday’s, opening up bars, training?
-When someone asks you to design a bar, what’s your process? The first step is surprising, admirable.
-Tell us about the first few bars you designed?
-Can you tell us about the Perlick Station? How are sales?
David Kruse: Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of Flyover Labs and today we are lucky enough to have Tobin Ellis with us. And Tobin is a world renowned bar and space consultant where he consults around bar design, cocktail development training, bar opening services and a number of other services. So his clients include Caesars, Ritz-Carlton, MGM, Mirage, Starbucks and many others. So I’m pumped to have Tobin on the show, bars at least me for me provide a break and it’s nice from the real world and good bars definitely provide a nice energy. So I’m curious how Tobin thinks about bar design and development and he also has developed a product for the bar industry that I’m curious to hear more about. So Tobin, thanks for coming on the show today.
Tobin Ellis: Absolutely Dave. Pleasure to be here.
David Kruse: Great, so let’s – before we get into what you are doing in now, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into eventually bar design?
Tobin Ellis: Yeah sure. You know I mean the short version is I started in college, the dishwasher in the college catering department and always wanted to bartend after going to bars under age, to see much fun the bartenders were having. I just knew it was something that I wanted to do. So I just kind of climbed my way up, but I guess I mean – in fact I think applied to something like 30 bars in my college town of New York and got rejected and one of them actually locked me out of the door, because I had no experience and I looked like I was about 12 when I was 18. I always looked a little young. But I just kept at it and kind of bar backed, as waiter and a trainer and then finally got some catering gigs and then I got some real gigs and I went on to work for a couple of larger companies TGI Friday’s way back. I mean 20 years ago when they were one of the most probably revered companies for their systems and their training approach and I opened a lot of restaurants for them around the country and travelled and just kept always wanting to learn more, do more and ended up in bartending in DC, Manhattan and then out to Vegas to be the head bartender at Caesars Palace and kind of just started getting asked quite a bit if I could help these business in other ways when they see things I do on my own. So I would do promotional flyers and create weird nights to bring guests in and I would make up cocktails or drinks that just because I wanted people to have more choices and did a pretty good job of putting money in the register, so I kept getting tapped like ‘hey, can you just teach us how to do this’ and realized I could charge people for it and that’s kind of how I sort of fell backwards into consulting.
David Kruse: Interesting. Yeah and I’ve always had a fascination of bartending, but I never took the dive, but yes it does look like a pretty fun job for the most part.
Tobin Ellis: Well, I mean and you’re right. One of the things that I found so appealing about it is like it’s the equalizer. It puts you, it true social equality. As the bartender you get to talk to every single human in that room and every single person in that room typically is going to treat you with a lot of respect in a way that allows you to get to know them and have fun, whereas if you are on the other side of the bar, those same people might not give you the time or day. So those were really appealing to me, to be able to just be able to strike up a conversation with almost literally anyone that walks in the room.
David Kruse: So I had a couple of questions on your early years. I’ve always wonder this, as a bartender how do you get to know how to make all the drinks, not all, but you know how do you even start the process?
Tobin Ellis: Well, I think there is two main processes bartenders use and I think the first that most use is they completely bullshit and I don’t know if I can say that on your podcast, but I did…
David Kruse: Yeah, that’s fine.
Tobin Ellis: You can delete it. But there is a lot of that. It’s a weird industry where there is not a lot of formal training like there is in the culinary arts, where there is vocabulary and processes and Microsoft, things that everybody knows and you can’t really fake our way through it. Unfortunately, you can do that on the bar or at least you used to be able to. And the other way I think is you just, you’ve be a very curious person who is super, probably OCD and passionate as well and that’s probably the category where I fell into where I actually wanted to learn how to make every single drink there was, but there was an episode of an old show that I don’t know how many people listening to this will know called Cheers about a bar in Boston and there is one episode where they brought in this corporate bartender and who knew every drink ever made and the main character Sam Malone is like, ‘what about Serendipity?’ He is like ‘neat or on the rocks?’ Moonbeam and he just goes – and those aren’t real drinks by the way. And he just knew them and as much as that guy was sort of the antagonist I looked at it like, yeah I don’t want to be stumped. I want to always be able to make every drink. So I just covered book stores for books and learned every recipe I could and talked to people and studied and I mean I had recipes taped to the walls of my house when I walked through to stop and quiz myself and all that kind of stuff. I was a dork, massive, massive bar dork.
David Kruse: Back then what was your favorite drinks to make or if you had one.
Tobin Ellis: Honestly it was fun to make Long Island Iced Teas because it allowed you to demonstrate a four bottle grab and do a four bottle pour. Basically if you can make a Long Island Iced Tea, a very well crafted one and believe it or not there is a way to make a very well crafted Long Island Iced Tea and do so extremely fast, it was a very, you were a commodity at that time in the early 80s early 90s, but people still drink them, but it’s not a – no one cares if you can make LIITs fast any more.
David Kruse: No, but we might need a video of that. So, no I’m just kidding. That sounds pretty serious, I don’t know how you do that, but…
Tobin Ellis: I don’t know if we had a video back then. I don’t remember.
David Kruse: Well I think there is a video now. But no…
Tobin Ellis: You might need a charcoal drawing.
David Kruse: Yeah, that’s right. Well man, all right. So one more question from back in your day. So do you remember, I’m curious about tips. Do you remember the night, when the most tips you made in the night.
Tobin Ellis: Yeah, there are some pretty spectacular nights, but actually what I remember more than that was how long it took before I ever made more than – made $100 in a shift and I think that was a really important kind of path to have. I worked also five years in bartending and didn’t make $100 in tips. I worked in a college town in the late 80s early 90s in the state school where everybody was broke. We were couch surfacing for coins. If you had a $20 bill, I mean you were a God and I worked at a bar that drinks were $1.95 called the Patty Shack and I can’t tell you how many times people picked that nickel up and put it back in their pocket, when they gave us $2 for a drink. So the first time I made a $100 bucks I guess I was beside myself and that was probably really – well, that was bread that way, because fast-forward about $15 years and I’m working at one of the busiest and best night clubs in Las Vegas and I working with the staff that people would have their first bartending job and they are pulling down $500 bucks a night and after about six months we start marking – our Thursday night starts dropping to $300 and they are complaining and you now it’s the perspective. I look at it like, do you realize you just made more money in one night with almost no experience or qualifications than most Americans make in a week and you’re complaining. Like this is one of the best jobs, if not the best job in the world and I just always, I had respect for the work ethic and the rewards that came with it. I never took it for granted and I never felt tied down so.
David Kruse: And for, your years at TGI Friday’s, was there one of two key takeaways that you know – because you helped them open a lot of restaurants and bars. What was their processing?
Tobin Ellis: Oh man, do you want to go down that rabbit hole. Yeah, there were a ton of – I would say, I will put it on record, probably the only reason I have a successful consulting business is because of what I learned at TGI Friday’s and there are, I can off the top of my head think of a half dozen men an woman around the world who are leading experts and authorities in the cocktail community today that cut their teeth at TGI Friday’s as well. They figured out how to systemize and scale vibe energy out in the street drinks, hospitality, training, construction, lighting design, all of it 50 or 60 years before anyone ever thought of it and yet somehow not lose that X factor of being the cool spot and I know to some people listening, they are young and that’s like, ‘dude, your old’ like Friday is lame. I know it’s not necessarily what it was, but there was a day when TGI Friday’s was the busiest bar in any city in America. So they were, they really knew what they were doing and they took a lot of pride and passion, pride and the passion that their people had to always take this insanely detailed approach to things and yet they kept it fun and weird and relevant to the times they were in.
David Kruse: Interesting. And bartending and/or leading bars out in Vegas, was the clientele a lot pickier out there as far as your drinks.
Tobin Ellis: You haven’t been to Vegas have you? I love Vegas, but let’s be honest. This is the Vodka and RedBull capital of the world and its always going to be. This is where people come to blow a bunch of money and be crazy and drink Yard Plastic Margarita’s made with high fructose corns, its neon green. I mean we have done a lot for cocktail culture and obviously for the culinary world, but this where the world and especially a lot of the Americans come just to kind of cut loose and it’s not very – it’s not a place you go because you have discerning tastes in cocktails, as much as you would go to Manhattan and London or Sydney or even Austin or Portland, etc. So, no, people are not pickier here. They just drink a hell of a lot more. Vegas does volume line no other city on earth and when people come here in my industry and see it, they are blown away. Like I mean the numbers that we do are just – they are hard to wrap your head around sometimes.
David Kruse: Really. You probably, do you remember those numbers or do you have any ideas…
Tobin Ellis: Yeah, I mean its New Years Eve every night here. Well the numbers aren’t fair market to market because we charge so much more. But as an example you will hear bartenders talk about even just a few years ago ‘hey man I had a $2500 ring last night or I had a $3500 ring and you will even hear them saying in major markets where the drinks are twice as expensive you know that they had these $6,000, $7,000, $8,000 rings and out here you’ll hear about $8,000, $10,000 rings often. I mean I remember I had a $32,000 ring one night and now granted I was the service bar tender at a night club and we had bottle service. So every time I grab a bottle of vodka and put it up on the bar up for the waiters to deliver, that’s $600, so it’s not like real bar tending believe me, but the point is that the volume of alcohol that we sell and serve seven nights a week, it’s just astounding and the number of places that do that. I mean we’ve got somewhere between on a bad year between 25 million and 50 million. On a good year tourists coming into town, it’s a good 0.5 million to 1 million people a week that are here and the majority of them are going to go out and drink.
David Kruse: Oh yeah. All right, well so let’s talk about what you do now and I think it’s appropriate because you know we’re in Madison, Wisconsin, so of course Wisconsin is home for the highest you know number of bars per capita I think. I think we are one of the drunker cities, so I think this is a – of course well those bars are not very – they are not designed by you let’s just say, they are not very nice, but…
Tobin Ellis: You know what – no, I mean I’ve been to Wisconsin. I love Wisconsin. I mean I’ve worked very closely, which I’m sure we talked about the company based in Milwaukee and I’ve been to Chippewa Falls and I know Wisconsin.
David Kruse: Wow! That’s cool.
Tobin Ellis: Yeah, I love my cheese curds. I love my squeaky cheese curds.
David Kruse: That’s right, they are a bit squeaky. All right, so how – well you kind of started how you got into the business. You know you have this deep background in bar tending and opening up bars and then so people started asking you for help. Like what was kind of your first project that you worked on and who was that for?
Tobin Ellis: You know it’s funny because I saw this question and I was thinking back to who I considered my first client, also one of my early mentors and I had made a post on Facebook about this and he is a friend on Facebook and he kind of laughed and made a comment like, ‘First Client? Okay, if you say so’ because he viewed me as an employee and I think that speaks to sort of the culture of the accidental entrepreneur or the outlier sort of with the job and view of things, which I think I have, which is Steve Jobs had this reality distortion field where he sort of bent reality around him and the things he did and I think in a less, in a far less significant way I think that’s how I’ve always been or I didn’t see things the way other people did for the good and the bad. So I think my first client was a place in Syracuse. My first real full big client that I did something I was super proud of I think was a place called The Stoop in Syracuse, New York, but I was a paid employee, but I never kind of liked that. I was – I had a contract, like separate from an employment contract, I had a contract with him and I looked at it and like this is a consulting job, because I knew that it wasn’t going to be a place I was probably going to be at very long and I took it on as that style, but I was already consulting for about two or three years. I honestly don’t remember the first job, because my early work was a lot of weird little, very poorly paid. I mean I got paid – I’ve been paid several times in my first year for like – I got comp dinner and they reimbursed my gas money to come out there, but I did weird things. Like I didn’t necessarily do menu development. I did little private special bar tending events and shows and demonstrations and that’s kind of how it started. I was a competitive bar tender and then that gave me the platform to start explaining how I was able to perform in those shows and events and competitions, because of the systems and the trainings and the theories that I had and that sort of correlated to the consulting. But yeah, my little second floor beer and wine spot in Armory Square, Syracuse in the late 90’s that I was brought in to bring in a full liquor program with cocktails and spirits and we were doing some like solid classic cocktails and a few of our own cocktails across cocktails. You know a couple of years before the first major peak seasons of New York even opened up, by no means were we doing at nearly this well as any of those bars. I have the utmost respect for Saso Petrovski and Milk and honey and these places, but we were going down that same road without any guidance, so that was probably my first, what I consider to be one of my first big projects.
David Kruse: Interesting. And when did you start getting in to like bar design as well, because it seems like a big jump or you know maybe it’s not me, maybe that the integrated process for it all makes sense.
Tobin Ellis: Well and there is Dingo, I mean and that’s what I sort of stumbled on finally as time went on as you know. First I was designing drinks and then the bar tenders that I designed the drinks for couldn’t make them or didn’t want to make them, so they wouldn’t work. So then I realized I had to train the bar tenders, but then the bar tenders can make the drinks, but the managers wouldn’t support it or buy the ingredients or change the ingredients. So then I realized I had to help them buy the ingredients and train the managers and it just kept mushrooming into this gigantic view from 30,000 feet that ‘Gosh, I’ve got to do everything if I want just the specifics of that one little drink to work,’ right. So I kind of sort of pretty much just kind of begged every job like ‘please let me design your bar,’ because anyone listening to this, if every stepped foot behind a bar, a bar tender for more than four hours knows it’s an exercise and pain and futility and inefficiency. So the first bar I actually ever designed for a client was in 2003 and it was in – I had to go all the way to Nepal, Kathmandu, Nepal to do it.
David Kruse: No way.
Tobin Ellis: Yeah, yeah. And half way through the job I had to for the only time my in 27 year career invoke the force measure cause of every contract where it says in case of acts of war, etcetera, war actually broke out in Nepal, the Maoist rebelled against the government and were pulling cops out of their cars and beating them to death. So I had to not go back there, so I never got to build that far, but that’s where I stated and then I just kept getting little small breaks, doing jobs in like New York and Winston, South of North Carolina. I mean the little tiny towns I have consulted in are as many as the major markets for the big used names and as time went on larger and larger companies kind of, I got on their raider and they started calling me in and so I think this first big giant design job was in, actually not that long ago, 2007 at the Green resort, 230 some year old result in West Virginia five diamond, five starts and we designed nine outlets, three from the ground up and I designed all of the bar equipment for those and that was a pretty big job.
David Kruse: Yeah, that sounds huge. And to that point can you – I’m really curious kind of how you think, because if somebody is like, ‘hey can you design a bar and do the drink development?’ Like I had no idea where to start and it would be a disaster, but – or I would call you I guess. But so how do you, like for that project or can you take a fake project or another project like from the. How do you think through the whole process, when someone is like, ‘hey, we want you to redesign our bar.’ Like how do you even know where to begin, because there is lots of moving parts it seems like.
David Kruse: Yeah, I mean, I made a lot of mistakes and you learn the hard way and I think as in any industry if you really want to get past the stigma of being a consultant and end of the fair stigma I should say, you need to – or I always felt like it was important to take a sort of a partner approach, like I’m not going to take this on as or I don’t can, well it doesn’t matter if they succeed or not, I just want my consulting fee. I always looked at it like, I can’t get the next job if I don’t hit it out of the park with this job. I’m going to treat this money in this project like it was my own and be that dog it about it and so you learn things like… What’s probably most important is actually qualifying the clients and taking the right jobs and I made that mistake a lot where I took jobs. There was no way these humans were going to succeed in business not matter what they did. They just weren’t equipped for or prepared to do it, but I was always like, but I can do this, the bulldozer approach or the donkey OT fighting windmill approach of, ‘You know I’m smart enough and I’m talented enough and I’ll work hard enough’ and I think that is probably where it starts now, is having really long conversations going out to the market, meeting with the partners or the owners, finding out where they are or what they are – not just what their business plan is, what are they like as people, what are their values, how are they are visionaries or leaders, how will they be able to execute this plan and not just to decide whether or not to take them on as a client, which is actually a big part of it, but also what to present to them.
You know like everyone calls me and says we want to have the best cocktails or the coolest bars or whatever in blah, blah, blah city and yet I put this up, actually ripped it off from the guy that designed the job on ear piece. A very famous industrial designer who did a lot of Apples packaging, who got the same comment. Everyone that calls him says, we want to be the next Apple and he would always turn back and say, do you have the stones to the Apple. Do you know what it takes and most people that are getting into this, my industry, they really have no idea of what they don’t know, they don’t know what it takes to be top of market and how incredibly difficult it is. How hard the people top on the market work seven days a week, 18 hours a day for years to be that good. So that’s actually believe it or not, that’s the unsexy answer. As far as once you get into the design process, I would like to say that there is all these great metrics that I look at etcetera, but the reality again is that most of the time I’m called in unfortunately after a lot of decisions have been made. So really its reacting to the constrains that I’m given and figuring out how to try to get them the result they want within those constrains, whether it would be budget, the floors are already poured, the GM has been hired, they have already promoted the date of the opening and have locked into it even though there is no way they are going to finish the build out in time. All those kinds of criteria or parameters absolutely effect the decisions I can recommend, because I know that the pipeline to get you that customer fab equipment you want is 14 weeks/ but you say you need to open in nine, well then you can’t have that back bar blast freezer that you want as part of your program to serve your molecular cocktail program and owners don’t know all that, they don’t get that. They are like, I just want to do this and just get it done. So we have to kind of problem solve backwards a lot of the time I’d say is how the process really works.
David Kruse: Well, that makes sense. And no I like your – and I like the answer about being very discerning. That’s – I wasn’t expecting that, but I like it and because…
Tobin Ellis: More of my job is try to talk people out of opening bars than it is to help them do it. It’s a crazy business with an incredible failure rate and a ton of unqualified people that think it would be cool to open bar of how hard can it be or something like that or they are going to make a bunch of money. You don’t get into the bar business to make money, you get into the bar business because you have to, because you have no other choice because it’s in your blood and you want to do it and in the hospitality. And the people that get that are usually the ones that are the most successful, and the ones that don’t are the ones that have the most frustration and usually lose their shirt.
David Kruse: Do you ever become partners in any of these bars or do you want to build your own, and I mean you want to operate it necessarily, but.
Tobin Ellis: You know I’ve gone that down that road a few times and I guess at a very early age I realized that I did a lot of reading and realized that passive income was really the ticket to freedom in a capitalist society where you can kind of have the life you want when you want it and I always thought it was crazy that people were going to work there whole adult life when they are healthy and wait till their health starts failing to retire to one day be happy. I decided I was going to be start being happy as a kid and as a teenager and do something I love from the get go no matter what. So the problem with taking a piece of other peoples businesses, is that the only way that you can protect that and guarantee that it delivers is you got to always be working and involved. I don’t want to be 60 years old or I don’t even want to be 47 and be one of these guys or one of these woman that’s working seven days a week, 18 hours a day and just – and I’ve done that. I mean I did for years and I was a workaholic and I worked say about three years with like one week of vacation and didn’t – took work all weekends, seven days a week and I was miserable. So yeah, I don’t really usually get involved in a long term relationship as a consultant with on that aspect. But I am open to it and I have a lot of friends who have done it with great success, but I’m one of the rare bartenders, turned consultants, usually bartenders that my end game is not to own a bar. It’s not that I never would, but that’s not been the master plan. I’m kind of the working the master plan and it doesn’t involve owning any part of a bar.
David Kruse: Well, it’s easy up to you to help other people with their bars. If you had your own bar plus there is a lot of conflict of interest there, it’s like well how much time you are spending with your clients if you are really caring about your own bar. So I think that makes sense. So I’m curious, when you – and maybe you don’t do this, but when you walk into a bar how do you look at a bar differently do you think than from the rest of us. Are you looking at, what do you look at, maybe nothing, but.
Tobin Ellis: Well I think after this long, almost three decades I try to turn it off and I’m pretty good at it, so that I can walk into a bar the same way you do and enjoy it as its meant to be enjoyed and but my geek radar still goes off, all for the good and the bad and I think simultaneously I’m a human being, so I react to positive and negative experiences as most humans would, but then at the exact same time my brain is splintering off and sort of being the third party observer that’s looking out from a distance and just empirically or just looking at it holistically and thinking that’s interesting, I wonder why that’s happening, what’s causing that, or that’s super cool, how did they do that, how can I learn that and incorporate that into my work. I’m not going to lie. I mean I’ve walked into many a bar with a big measure and you know discretely pulled out of my pocket and measured things and looked at their design and like this works and this doesn’t and made my notes, because we don’t have a formula. There is nowhere that I know of that you can go. There isn’t a book, there isn’t a website, there isn’t a seminar, there isn’t I mean a series of ongoing seminars where you can go to school and learn how to design a bar and so all this information is been something I’ve had to learn just picking up scraps and you know work figuring out doing it, making mistakes, practicing, studying, recording analyzing and that’s. So yeah, I mean I can walk into a bar and I can see a ton of things that an average person doesn’t see. I look for the first reflected surface of sound waves where they are going to bounce off and I know whether or not that place is going to have good acoustics. I look for and I can see just flow patterns of staff versus traffic and where the pinch points are and how I would – of course I’m redesigning spaces in my head all the time and figure out all the little tweaks I would make and to a lesser degree pretty much all bartenders that are passionate about cocktails for example, you know we can walk into a bar, we can look at the back bar and know whether or not you should order a cocktail at this bar or not and that’s something that I didn’t realize that I learnt through like friends and family that most people cannot do. They see a menu that has cocktails, that sound good and they want to order them and the rest of us are going out no, no, no don’t order a cocktail here, get a beer, because you don’t accidently build a bar that has all of the benchmarks of a great cocktail bar. You know it’s on purpose, and from the pour stuff that you may or may not use or the tools to the brands you carry to the way your bartenders touch their tools and do things, you can close your eyes and hear the sound of a good shake. So it’s kind of, yeah, I think we employ a lot of our senses as consultant and bartenders and see things and hear things that perhaps the average personal who walks in the bar doesn’t.
David Kruse: That’s pretty interesting. You should write a blog post on all the subtle things, what makes a good – because I was going to say, is there one thing that really for us amateurs that we could really see and be able to tell or is it just a lot of the little nuances that you have to be able to see.
Tobin Ellis: I think the easiest things, yeah there is the easiest one. If you walk into a bar look at the bottles on the back bar. This sounds weird, but if you recognized most of those bottles you probably can’t get a good cocktail there. If you see 30 flavored vodkas you’re probably not getting a life chaining Negroni or an authentic Sazerac or old fashion of whatever else. And look like you would in a kitchen, you know what do you see. Do you see lots of fresh ingredients, do you see a lot of tools that are on the bar or around the bar to make fresh ingredients or do you see a lot of things in packages like just the same way you go to a grocery store. Do this bar buy all there ingredients in the produce section or in the freezer section? That’s probably the quickest, easiest way, not just for bars, but for restaurants to be able to tell. Unfortunately with restaurants you don’t know what’s happening in the back of the house, but that’s the good news, on a bar it’s in the front house usually. You can see what they are making your drinks with. Here is another easy one, and there is a few people who are going to hate me for saying this, but when you walk into a cocktail bar if the, it’s the cocktail glasses are the “Martini” glasses are those triangular shaped bathtubs that are like 14 ounces, you are probably getting a pretty mediocre horrific drink. Look for a cocktail coop, the MaryAntonet sort of campaign rounded coops, that’s usually an indicator that they care about their beverage program a little bit, not always but often times.
David Kruse: That’s awesome, now I can’t wait to go out again. I’m going to use this, I’ll impress my friends. So I’m curious, you have done a lot of bar design and drink development and now you are building more equipment and you have the Perlick station. Can you tell us a little more about that and how did you come up with the idea and how is it better?
Tobin Ellis: Yeah, yeah sure. So yeah, that’s actually where I spend the majority of the time now is in industrial equipment design and/or operational design, which is the bar design piece. And the Perlick relationship kind of is – I was placing their equipment. Perlick is one of – is a 100 year next year, 99 year old American equipment manufacturer, one of the oldest family owned, right out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and I was using their equipment for 10 years, yeah almost 10 years before we ever had a phone call together, when I designed bars, because I felt it was some of the best equipment out there and I really, I liked it. There is only about five manufacturers or six big ones and they were big and reputable and they had great service etcetera. So I had always felt and I think every bartender can give me an Amen, halleluiah that bars were always designed by people that had no idea how to make drinks and they never stepped a foot behind the bar and they are – there is no agronomics, they are in efficient, and they are literally painful to work behind. Bartenders have like sores like the back of knees can hurt, your lower back, your elbow, all these places that shouldn’t hurt because you have to do all this crazy stretching and moving and banging against the equipment just to make a few drinks. So I was always trying to MacGyver when I designed bars and repurposed kitchen equipment and changed layouts to make them better for bartenders, because that’s how you make more money if you own a bar. It’s a factory and you make them more efficient assembly line. I mean that’s a sort of like a duh to me, but yet it’s one of the least looked at aspects of the design build process and even the bar owning processes. No one ever thinks twice. They order it once, they have some person who has never bartended till they layout and they buy it and install it and then its every bartender hates it. So I was always trying to design better equipment, but the equipment itself just didn’t do the job. So yeah I got a call from Perlick and they wanted me to go out and speak about how great their equipment was and I think as a small business owner after you struggled long enough and barely paid your bills long enough you realize there is sort of tipping points moments where you need to decide if you just want to kind of go along or you really want to try to go for the golden ring and I did and I told them I couldn’t speak on behalf of the company to say how great their equipment was for bartenders, because it wasn’t even though it was the best equipment I could find, nobody was designing equipment that bartenders loved and I expected the phone to hear a dial tone and instead they said, you want to fly out here and talk to us about it and I said, yeah. So we talked and it turns out they were already thinking about this for a long time, but they just really didn’t – hadn’t settled on what direction to take it. So I just sort of spit the hot fiery truth for longer than every of them probably cared for and shared with them my plans and designs and then we got to work and we spent about two years going over designs and prototypes and finally came out with it and we launched it last February at a big equipment show and I think last I asked them, I think we are 400% over projections for sales.
David Kruse: Oh my goodness.
Tobin Ellis: Bartenders are freaking out, they are calling it Bartender Porn and it’s doing really well and that makes me super happy, because I didn’t know like – I just designed something that I think is efficient in agronomic or are a lot of people going to be happy about this and so far it seems like we have kind of done a decent job of hitting those pain points and removing them from working behind a bar from an equipment standpoint anyway.
David Kruse: Interesting. You never know where life is going to take you when you first start up.
Tobin Ellis: Really, really don’t. Yeah, but yeah so and anyway people often are asking me, like what do you actually design, what do you mean equipment? So I design the big, big stuff that bartenders stand behind that holds the ice and the bottles and the sinks and the refrigeration and all that, their station to make all their cocktails, that’s what I’ve come out with. Its – I can’t even use my own name without wobbling, but it has my name on it, it’s called my name. Yeah Tobin blah, blah, blah signature cocktail station by Perlick. So they branded it with me, so yeah it’s a pretty…
David Kruse: That’s a big deal. I mean …
Tobin Ellis: Yeah, yeah.
David Kruse: You are going to be at the tip of every bartenders ton, when you walk in they are like wait you are Tobin Ellis.
Tobin Ellis: Oh! God, I hope not.
David Kruse: That’s going to be awesome.
Tobin Ellis: No, no. I’ve always wanted to have more of a profile kind of like a micro credit, like you know when it matters everyone know the name, but you can still have a life and fly over the radar and that’s much more my speed. So I actually fought the name. I didn’t want them to put my name on it, but I lost that battle. I wanted to call it Quantum, which they didn’t like, so…
David Kruse: Nice, all right well we are getting towards the end of the podcast unfortunately. I was curious, I think the Starbucks, one of your current clients right now or was?
Tobin Ellis: Yeah, yep. I spent about little over a year, 1.5 year half working with Starbucks and I’m NDAD up pretty thoroughly, that there is a lot of I can talk about, but I can speak in generality that I spent a lot of time with their – in their incubation lab and their innovation departments working on a lot of two basic. I designed equipment or gave them design ideas for equipment specific to every Starbucks in the world. I helped them work on future prototype store designs, and emerging concepts that will be in. They’ve already announced that will be in like Shanghai and New York and Paris and it’s a trend all over and then I spent a long time working on very interesting hospitality training that I think is a little new that actually applies to other fortune 100 and 500 companies that I’ve now started to talk with. That deals with the neuroscience of service and hospitality and things like service nurture loops and cognitive dissonance etcetera and how to apply these things in a high volume environment and make them work and culturize and scale them. So yeah, it’s pretty fun stuff..
David Kruse: That’s interesting. I know we are at the end but can you give an example of some of the things that you have worked on, you look around cognitive dissonance or something else.
Tobin Ellis: Yeah, we spend a lot of time, so studying about things that are in the hospitality industry that maybe should be reviewed. Like there is a belief that hospitality is this gene that you are born with or not, and while it’s true in everything that there are certain people that are more predispositioned to excel in certain areas, you absolute can train hospitality, we learn that and one of the ways you do that is by teaching people, giving them the tools to understand why they do or don’t do the things they do, because there is some massive cognitive differ that happens in hospitality where you know – isn’t it funny when you walk into a bar or restaurant you are so hyper critical of things like I can’t believe the bar is messy or roll their eyes at me or this is so rude, I waited for long and yet when you do it it’s okay, its fine. You know it’s the idea of the values that you hold are dissent from what you observe that you actually also support or you are against etcetera and that your brain tells you all these lies and stores to make you feel better about yourself. We kind of uncover that and we talk about like how is it okay for you to be upset at someone else giving those subtle queues, just that little look. You know what I’m talking about like, I’m annoyed with you look. Why is it okay, why is it wrong for them to do it, but you had a good excise while you did it and that starts the conversation of how to combat that and how to show, how to tap into empathy. So we keep something like the right super marginal gyres is a portion of the brain that controls the ability to have empathy and we’ve learnt through the plasticity model that you can actually grow that part of the brain, you can enhance its neuro plasticity to the point that you can, you actually can learn to be more empathetic. And when people hear that and they understand how it works, then they go oh my employees are a lost cause. I can actually invest in this and I can and you can flip the culture of an entire bar or restaurant or even a company over time if you just give them the tool to resource and the inspiration to want to change. And that’s one of the things that I spend a lot of time with Starbucks with, was how do you we take a company that was in essence and in reality was literally a retail company. I mean Starbucks stated with that store down in tight market was selling coffee beans, it wasn’t a coffee shop. They have learned hospitality along the way, but they have a very retail mentality in a lot of ways and so as one of their only consultants in the hospitality field and for a long period of time, I felt it was sort of important to try to give them the tools to just be better at actually hospitality, whether or not it had to do with a cup of coffee or not and that was a little divergent from a lot of their existing sort of message and what not, but it definitely falls within their corporate culture of, it’s a great company that actually really cares at the highest levels, that’s what I experienced anyway. And they are innovative and they want to be great at hospitality and everything else and really build communities and etcetera. So I just wanted to come in, to help them do that in a very tactile job specific way.
David Kruse: Interesting. Well, I think that’s a good place to end the podcast. I love how your career has transformed and changed over the years, that’s a – you should write a book some day, not yet.
Tobin Ellis: It’s been a wild ride.
David Kruse: Not done yet so, but yes, I
Tobin Ellis: I want to write science fiction though you know, I mean.
David Kruse: Well you could write both.
Tobin Ellis: Maybe some of my belief in my career is science fiction, who knows.
David Kruse: That’s right. That’s right, but between the stories and the just how, yeah what you are doing now is really interesting. I would not have expected that if I had talked to you 20 years ago. But I definitely Tobin appreciate your time and your thoughts and great to hear about your experience and what you are doing now. So I definitely enjoyed it.
Tobin Ellis: I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity to share you know these, this little journey I had and hopefully it inspires one person that listens or whatever it gives them some reassurance or hope that their outlier divergent path in their own attempts to kind of carve out their own future in the world isn’t necessarily so crazy or maybe it’s crazy, but it might be a good crazy that helps them be happier and kind of reach their dreams. That would be amazing.
David Kruse: That’s right. A good crazy, I like that. All right, well and thanks everyone for listening to another episode of Flyover Labs. As always I definitely appreciate it. So thanks Tobin and thanks everyone. We’ll see you next time. Bye.
Tobin Ellis: Thank you Dave.
David Kruse: Thanks.