by Kristine Bocchino
Dushan Zaric, Co-Founder Employees Only New York, Los Angeles, Sydney and Macao Trading Co NYC
Place of Birth: Belgrade, Serbia
Date of Birth: March 21, 1970
Employees Only Sydney Bar Manager: Chris Garner Principal Bartender: Robert Krueger Head Bartender: Dula Lorenzohewa
November 23, 2018 marked the much-anticipated opening of Employees Only in Sydney, Australia. We sat down with co-founder and legendary cocktailer Dushan Zaric to get some insight into the EO Ethos, coaching styles and the recipe for a successful Cocktail program.
-There are so many cities around the globe with a robust and energetic cocktail bar scene. What was it about Sydney that attracted the EO team to make the city their next stop?
DZ: When choosing a new outpost for Employees Only, we initially look at whether the city is a large enough market to do the annual numbers we expect. Sydney fits that criteria and its affluent and educated gastronomic scene was also a big draw. The people of Sydney and their yearly visitors appreciate and understand the quality, service and type of hospitality Employees Only offers. The second and key goal is finding the right partners who are already integrated into the city and understand the local market. Without that, it wouldn’t make sense for us to open abroad.
-With the pedigree and history of Employees Only, you must get hundreds of applicants hoping for a spot on the team when a new location is announced. What makes someone stand out in the crowd so-to-speak when the EO team is hiring.
DZ: Becoming a bartender at Employees Only is an educational and creative process that begins with entering our apprenticeship program. We look for people who are attracted to the ethos of EO and have the ability to grow personally as well as professionally. They can take guidance and must submit to our strict guidelines. You work your way up through hard work and dedication and to get an understanding of our program and the different levels, you could look at it from a military standpoint. The Apprentices would be the Corporals and Sergeants, the Principal Bartender is a Captain and the Maître D’ Bar would be a Major.
-The classic EO Décor and core Cocktail Menu translate well across all locations. Having said that, are there things that the team does to incorporate indigenous ingredients, flavors and products from each location to tie the bar into the community?
DZ: Absolutely. EO at its conception was originally born out of the idea of creating a space that, above all else, had great energy. Without that energy, warmth and welcoming spirit it’s tough to sustain and expect people to come back time after time. Things like the specifications of the back bar and core menu items stay true across all locations, but in other areas there is room for individuality. There’s a general Art Deco theme running throughout, but each location has its own identity based on the targeted clientele. For example, using movies as a point of reference, the New York location is a bit more understated and we could refer to the movie ‘Once upon a Time in America’ when describing the feel. Sydney on the other hand is a bit more opulent and gilded using bolder colors and lots of brass, more along the lines of ‘The Great Gatsby’. As far as both our food and cocktail menus, we absolutely incorporate local ingredients into each of the programs.
-On occasion I’ve had the pleasure of seeing how you mentor your team and, in my experience, it’s really a special process. There’s no apprehension when they come to you with questions, thoughts and cocktails for you to taste. When you suggest a tweak on a cocktail, instead of heading back to the bar discouraged, they seem even more inspired. You ask questions that guide them to figure out the answers themselves, giving them confidence. Where does this style of coaching stem from?
DZ: It’s very important for me to support my team professionally and personally and to be present throughout the creative process. When a bartender presents an idea, I taste the drink but hold back my opinion initially. When coaching, I have them taste the drink. I ask them “What’s happening up front, in the midpalate (the body of the drink) and what’s happening on the finish?” If there’s not something interesting going on at each stage, then the cocktail is not complete. A successful cocktail must have a 3-dimentionality. No matter how good on paper, it must translate to the palate. Each ingredient plays a role in the final product. A strawberry puree, syrup or cordial can’t just be strawberries and sugar. For the strawberry puree used in the cocktail Fraise Savage, Tahitian vanilla beans and lemon zest are incorporated to add earthiness and brightness. This depth translates into the final product
-When you get behind the bar at EO Los Angeles, there’s a light in your eye that appears. Being the mentor now and not the student, do you sometimes miss the adrenalin rush of bartending a crazy busy shift. And if you were to work a guest bartending gig anywhere in the world today, with any other bartenders, where and with whom would it be?
DZ: I don’t dream about being that octopus behind the bar moving every direction at once. There is that rush that comes with being in the zone on a busy night, but now I prefer and appreciate a slower more interactive pace that enables me to connect more with the guests. If I were to work a bar shift somewhere, it would ideally be someplace with a fun, carefree and relaxed ambience. Having Igor (Hadzismajlovic) and Jay (Jason Kosmas) there, two of my original partners along with one of my mentors Dale DeGroff would make for a great night. I also think spending some time in a Japanese-style bar setting would be inspiring.