Motor Supply Company Bistro owner Eddie Wales didn’t expect to find his new bar manager so smoothly.
“I was expecting to have a long regional search for a new barman, and I wasn’t sure when I would bring him in because of the COVID restrictions,” he tells Free Times.
In the end, though, Wales interviewed only one candidate — Jake Smith, the former bar lead at Columbia's Tazza Kitchen. After Smith ran the bar for about two weeks, Motor Supply publicly announced the hire on July 28.
Smith is stepping into one of the city’s most well-regarded restaurants and filling the shoes of former bar manager Josh Streetman, a pioneer of Columbia’s cocktail scene and one of the city's most well-regarded bartenders, It's not an opportunity he takes lightly.
“When I started getting into cocktailing naturally I looked up to [Streetman and other standouts],” Smith tells Free Times. “It was surreal. To think that the work that I had done at Tazza was able to be transitioned to a great place like Motor Supply that has a standing history in the community is humbling.”
Motor Supply will debut its new cocktail list crafted by Smith on July 30. It will feature about eight cocktails, two of which that will be permanent.
“[It] will be a fairly large range … something heavier, refreshing, tropical,” Smith details.
Smith’s ascent to Motor is relatively abrupt. Prior to heading Tazza’s bar for two and a half years, he was a regional manager for hamburger chain Five Guys, a more-than-five-year stint that left him feeling drained.
His move to Tazza wasn’t met with any long term aspirations, but after working briefly as a server, he moved to the bar and found the new atmosphere compelling and quickly learned more about cocktails.
“That adrenaline rush when you’re 20 tickets deep on a Friday night and you’re just kind of screaming to your coworkers and you’re helping each other out,” he exudes. “That rhythm and adrenaline is something I’ve always felt good about.”
Smith says he hopes to open his own cocktail bar or restaurant eventually, and considered it before COVID hit. But the pandemic made the move financially untenable, so he began to look into moving away from Tazza. He feels the position at Motor will only help him advance his bartending aspirations.
Tazza, the Richmond-based wood-fire-cooking and craft drink chain, already has its new bar lead in place, operating partner Dave Desseyn details to Free Times. New lead Jake Cooper had been working at the restaurant and was being groomed to fill the position in case Smith left.
Desseyn doesn’t expect there to be many changes in Tazza’s bar program right away.
“Jake [Cooper] has some ideas with his own flavors … that’s going to have a bent from Jake Smith, because he taught him.” Desseyin details.
Smith details that his cocktailing style has evolved through his career, progressing from overstuffing drinks ingredients to now attempting to highlight unique and specific flavors in a drink, without overshadowing the rest. He often enjoys incorporating cooking techniques — he points to a tomatillo cocktail he made at Tazza that involved roasting the fruits.
Smith’s two permanent cocktails incorporate the restaurant’s house Wild Turkey whiskey in classic mixes with personal twists. One, a riff on a whiskey sour, involves burning oranges on the restaurant’s grill and making a cordial from them. The other he calls an “old fashioned with bubbles”; it incorporates house bitters and flavored ice.
Over time, he hopes to collaborate with head chef Wes Fulmer to craft his libations. Smith explains that the two have already worked together on a tequila cocktail that ended up including harissa, a recommendation from Fulmer, to better balance it.
Wales says the bar's transition to Smith has gone well so far and he’s looking forward to a non-COVID world when the restaurant’s small bar can be full again.
“Our first impressions are fantastic,” Wales says. “His enthusiasm and passion for the craft is great. His knowledge of the craft is something else.”