In today’s episode, we speak with our guest Bryan Dayton, founder of Half Eaten Cookie Hospitality. Bryan is also an award-winning mixologist, beverage director, decorated ultramarathoner, and trail runner.
From starting as a dishwasher at a mom-and-pop shop, then transitioning up the ranks through various bartending roles, Bryan shares his entrepreneurial journey and how he built an elite restaurant group in Colorado.
Listen as Bryan talks about his commitment to hospitality, how sports and restaurant life intersect, and the major cocktail trends you need to know.
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Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. Today, I’m speaking with Bryan Dayton, founder of Half Eaten Cookie Hospitality, an elite restaurant group based right here in Colorado. But it doesn’t stop there. Bryan is also an award-winning mixologist, beverage director, decorated ultra-marathoner, and trail runner.
As a restaurateur, Bryan’s portfolio includes award-winning restaurants Oak at Fourteenth, Corrida, Acorn, and BriDer, which are applauded by Bon Appetite, Food & Wine, and Esquire, just to name a few.
Prior to owning restaurants, Bryan spent time with Colorado’s acclaimed Frasca Food and Wine, and managed his own cocktail catering services called Sweet and Sour Cocktails.
So join me today as I chat with Bryan about tapping into his passion for beverages, building a restaurant group from the ground up, and how sports and restaurant life intersect.
And there he is! Good morning. How are you?
Bryan Dayton: Good morning. Thanks for having me. I’m doing well. How about you?
Kirk Bachmann: I’m doing great. Doing great. I’m in the office here. You probably can’t see everything, but as I look around, I’ve got Marco Pierre White back here. I’ve got Escoffier up at the wall. I’m looking at Farmer Lee’s cookbook. I’m looking at Eric Ripert’s cookbook. The Bocuse d’Or. And I’m thinking to myself: I know how busy those folks are, and I know how busy you are. So for you to take a little bit of time, this is the best part of my day. Perhaps my week. Quite honestly, probably my month. Just to take a little bit of time to chat with us and our growing audience. We really appreciate it.
Where are you? It looks familiar to me.
Bryan Dayton: Absolutely. I’m at Corrida restaurant right now. I’m sitting at the bar. I’m looking at all this booze and some wine glasses. It’s a little bit early, so I’ll leave them empty for the time being.
Kirk Bachmann: No, it’s a good place to be at 9:30, right? I love it.
Always a pleasure to chat with the guests that we have on the show. You’re a local celebrity, very well known, super, super busy. This is exciting to me.
Before we dive into all of your endeavors: we’re both so fortunate to live in such an amazing area of the country. My family is on the western slope. Has been since the 70s. But I spent a lot of time in Chicago, got back here to the Boulder area about eight years ago. So, so, so thankful.
You and I will understand what I’m about to say and many others might not. The family and I skied at Ski Cooper up in Leadville last week. We hung out in Leadville a little bit. I was thinking about the Leadville 100, and then I started thinking about you and our chat.
I wonder – not to put you on the spot. Colorado is beautiful: 54 fourteeners, countless ski areas. Just to kick it off: What do you do? You’re busy, busy, busy. You’ve got the restaurants, all these employees that you’ve got to be thoughtful and considerate of. Is there a podium? Is there a stacked ranking of favorite watering holes, favorite runs or ski areas? What’s the go-to for Bryan?
Bryan Dayton: You’re right. We are super fortunate, super spoiled. I’ve been in Colorado since 1991 of and on. My first job here, I was actually working as a busboy up in Mary Jane Cafeteria at Winter Park. The mountains have been a part of my life since an early age. I was 18, and here I still am. I go look at the Flatirons right now. Super fortunate with that. Anything around the state is something that I really enjoy.
Favorite watering holes, I have to say in Boulder, if I get the chance, would have to be the Sundown Saloon. I like to keep it basic. I’ve known the owners forever. Great people. It’s a good place to play a game of pool and relax and not think too much about it.
As far as skiing goes, skiing has evolved from the days at Mary Jane at Winter Park. I was doing that to anywhere across the state. I have to admit, I love Silverton. I’m pretty addicted to being down there as much as we can. I definitely try to hit that place up at least a time or two a year. There’s a lot there.
As far as running goes, you nailed it. Leadville. I’ve done so many races up there in the snow and in the summertime. In the Leadville 100, and I love those trails up there and access to the fourteeners. That’s definitely, when I have my free time, I’m either with my two children, or I’m trail running or skiing, and then back to the grind, for sure.
Kirk Bachmann: One thing that struck me: you forget. I grew up in the Gunnison/Crested Butte area, so I was pretty familiar with high altitude. Leadville, 11,500 [feet]. Maybe that’s the ski area. So many people can’t appreciate the beauty. No matter what, our kids are flipping from skiing to snowboarding, so we put them up there because they have the greatest ski school in the state. Any time I’m up there, there’s no one there. Why? Why have people not discovered Ski Cooper? It’s a little secret.
Bryan Dayton: It’s fortunate to be just enough off the I-70 corridor, nobody thinks about it. It’s small enough that nobody thinks about it, too. I’ve had some good laps up there, for sure, over the years. And I’ve done some overnight skinning in there. We did a hut up there a few years ago, too. I can’t remember what the name of the hut was, but just outside of there, it was absolutely amazing. Super beautiful.
Kirk Bachmann: So here’s probably the easiest question. It sounds like your passion for the restaurant world and hospitality in general started at a young age. What’s that transition like? Everybody talks about it differently, but from busser to waiter – I did it, too. I went the kitchen route. Eventually to bar manager and so on and so forth. Was there a pivotal moment where you’re like, “I really like this. This is what I want to do”? Was there a mentor? Was there a moment that just triggered your passion for this industry?
Bryan Dayton: Kind of the same route, the classic story with all of us that are in the business. Traditionally, you start off as a dishwasher. I started washing dishes in a small mom and pop restaurant in my hometown, a little Italian joint, scrubbing lasagna pans. I remember that. Then went on and actually worked at a barbecue restaurant for a couple years. I grew up in middle Tennessee. That space is always kind of fond of big barbecue. I worked at a barbecue restaurant for the last two years of high school. I love the business. I don’t know. There was something about being around food. There was something about being around the excitement of the social atmosphere of it.
I got that bug, and I knew in college. I bounced around to some different jobs. I worked at a small cattle ranch in southeast Idaho. In all those transitions, I always came back to hospitality and restaurants. I knew at 20 I wanted to be a bartender and open my own restaurant some day.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I love it. Perfect transition. We’ll talk a little bit more about the beverage world. We’re starting to see that term – mixology – again and again and again. I’m talking about it a lot even from a literacy and an education perspective. You’ve been in the industry for a while. What’s changed? What’s better? What’s worse? And is mixology a trend or is it here to stay? Is it going to continue to escalate?
Bryan Dayton: During my career, I was very fortunate to be right on the transition of that from bartending to what we talk about mixology today. My crew, we all went through that same time frame. We always refer to ourselves as bartenders. Mixology, I do think, is here to stay. Which is great. It’s great that you can go into many different cocktail bars, go to the airport, be able to go even to a baseball or basketball game and get some sort of a cocktail now, other than just a vodka soda or Jack and Coke. That’s great, and I love that trend. I think it will keep evolving the way that it has. I don’t think that you’ll see quite the trajectory that we saw in the mid-2000s, where we were all wearing the driving caps and the vests, and everything else. Thank goodness we’ve evolved past that. It’s a good trend.
On that same parallel path of culinary, it’s hard to push the envelope after a certain amount of time in anything. Not even just the culinary world, just the world, unless you’re really driving the force in tech. I think with mixology and in the culinary world, it’s about harnessing your craft and getting better with it, and really pushing forward and taking those old techniques and keeping it fresh and new. Using classic spirits, but also things that are coming out nowadays. I think it’s a great trend, and I think it’s a great experience for the guest: things that are new, and things that you can extend where the guest doesn’t necessarily have to come see us. They can make it at their house now. I think all those things are really positive.
A very fortunate time in my life that really helped my career was the mixology trend. That’s why I’m sitting here right now. It really helped me.
Kirk Bachmann: Well said. Closer to the beginning of the year, I was fortunate enough to grab a reservation at one of the globes that’s over your shoulder there, on the roof tops. Our viewers know where Bryan is sitting right now is on the second floor over on Walnut Street of his Spanish-themed Corrida, which is an absolutely stunning and beautiful restaurant.
But one thing that really stood out for me that aligns with what you just said is that myself and my party came in. We were sitting right where you are right now. It was 20, 25 minutes of a show. We were sat down. We were greeted beautifully. We chatted a little bit with the team. We just started talking about drinks. It wasn’t like you say, “I’ll have a vodka seven, I’ll have this. I’ll have that.” It was like, “Here’s what we’re featuring tonight. Let me talk about them a little bit.” It was like a show. High five to all of the folks. There were some friends of mine around the bar. It felt like, “Wow! This is a different experience.” I imagine people are looking for that today. We spent a half hour, 45 minutes, just there enjoying that experience before we actually went to dine. I felt like it was two-for-one that night.
Is that the goal, really? Come to the bar, maybe have some snacks, and we’re going to put on a show for you right here. This is no longer an also-ran. This is part of the [show]. Maybe it’s the show-stopper. Maybe it’s the headliner.
Bryan Dayton: Right. I think I’m very fortunate. All the team members are cranking, no matter if they’re behind the bar or on the floor, in the kitchen, and everywhere. One team, one dream. I do think the team is very passionate and very excited about what they’re doing and what we have to offer. That just makes it that much better for the guest experience. To really have everybody pushing, “Hey, this is what we have to offer. These are our different things.”
And it is different. When you come to Corrida, we’re a Spanish-inspired chophouse. Not only is the food so vastly different, but also is anything that you imbibe with. The drinks from the Iberian peninsula are vast. You obviously have the wine culture, you have the vermouth culture, you have the gin and tonic culture, you have the sherry culture, you have the cider culture. Then obviously, everybody’s drinking beer all the time as well. It’s always this thing. It lays out on an easier path for us to say, “Hey, there are so many options. This is what we have.” And really look at it.
To really get into that side, whether it is the show or the hospitality, and really bring people into the fold and make people feel what I call the “warm blanket of hospitality.” We want people to feel warm and cozy. They may not remember what they drank. They may not remember what they ate that night after a couple of weeks, but they’re always going to remember how they felt. I also say if we can leave each guest with the subliminal warm blanket of hospitality, they’re going to remember the cozy warm feeling, and they’re going to want to come back for more.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that. Such poignant and beautiful words. The students that will listen to this will be very appreciative. The theme goes from restaurant to restaurant. Our listeners are going to think all I do is go to the bar of Bryan’s restaurants, but we went to go see-
Bryan Dayton: We’ve got to keep the lights on somehow.
Kirk Bachmann: We do. I love being a part of that. We went to go see “The Big Lebowski” the other night with a couple of friends. We got lucky. We just walked into Oak, and we got the seat at the bar. It’s exactly what you said. We had a lovely bartender who told stories, a recent grad of CU, so we ended up talking about Dion. Again, it was just a really nice experience. The chef came over and said hello. I love the “warm blanket of hospitality.” It’s beautifully said.
So, Bryan, on top of being a certified sommelier, you graduated from the Beverage Alcohol Resource Program with honors. You also started the Colorado chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild. First and foremost, what propelled you? You’re having a good time. You like the industry. You like what you’re doing. I love the connection to education. I love that you’re escalating yourself. What propelled you to enroll in a program like that and pursue higher education?
Bryan Dayton: There were several different transition periods in my career, obviously. Like I said earlier, I knew at age 20 I wanted to open my own restaurant. I knew I wanted to be bartender. I wasn’t even 21 yet. I went on to become a bartender. I eventually opened up Oak at the age of 37, so it took 17 years to get there. Mind you, a slow learner.
When in my late 20s, I made that decision, like a lot of people do: “Is this going to become a career, or do you need to do something else with your life?” And I knew I loved hospitality. I still wanted to open my own restaurant one day. I knew that I wanted to be the best bartender I could be and really excel at that. From my running to other things in life, I’m a fairly competitive person. At that point of my life, my late 20s going into early 30s, knowing I really needed to take this serious and transition from being a normal bartender or restaurant person to that next level.
I was fortunate enough at that time in my life to meet Bobby Stuckey, totally random, through a running event. He and I became good friends, and I ended up working for him for five years before we opened up Oak at Frasca Food and Wine. At that time, being in that arena really pushed the envelope on wine education, food education, everything along those lines, really made me want to become hungrier as well. Because I already had my chops and I’d learned a lot about wine, learned a lot about scotches, started to learn a little bit about Japanese whiskeys, herbal liqueurs, things like that.
At that time, the Beverage Alcohol Resource Program was created. Steve Olson, Andy Seymour, Dale DeGroff, really the heavy hitters that were in mixology and in the wine world, and I saw an opportunity to jump at that. “I want to learn as much as I can. Learn how to taste spirits, learn how to make cocktails better, learn how to work cleaner.” All those things to elevate my craft were very important to me because you can either stand still, or you can keep moving forward. One thing in life, it’s always going to evolve. It’s always going to change. In my opinion, if it’s going to evolve and change, we should be pushing the envelope to get better every day.
Kirk Bachmann: Great advice. That’s TikTok stuff right there, by the way. Totally going to jump all over that.
In addition to the relationships – Bobby and so many others – first of all, we’re really spoiled to have both you and Bobby in our little town of 120,000 people, or whatever it is. Are there other characteristics or memories or even skills that you learned as you obtained certification and more education that you find still inform and empower your decision making today, as an entrepreneur?
Bryan Dayton: I think it’s always evolving. The past few years in the restaurant business, there’s been a lot of evolving. Going through the Covid experience. Foundationally, to have that hunger, to have that want to really educate yourself to get better, that way you become a better person yourself, you become a better teacher when you’re talking to your teams. Just little things like that. As much as my life has changed now that we have five different restaurants, and I’m evolving, and I’m not as day-to-day as I would be on the floor normally, but I’m still able to talk to the teams about little foundational things. This, and this. Guide my management teams into thinking outside the box. How do they get better, and what does that look like for us?
Kirk Bachmann: I love that you’re a better teacher when you’re teaching. So very true. It’s really aligned with the culture of culinary education today. It used to be knowledge was kept in the toque, so you had to go to culinary school or you had to do an apprenticeship. You had to do something because you had to get that knowledge. This day and age, my guidance to our team here is to really try to be a great facilitator of knowledge because knowledge is everywhere. Our students have it in here. So I love that quote.
For someone, Bryan, who might be listening and might be really intrigued by the cocktail culture today, are there some important steps or missteps that are really critical to take?
Bryan Dayton: I think learning your base spirits, learning foundationally how to make a great old-fashioned, make a great margarita, making some of those classic cocktails and building off those theories of what a classic cocktail is. A spirit, a little bit of water, a little bit of the bitter, a little bit of the sugar, maybe some acid. Again, you’re building off of that and really thinking of spirits in the same way – in my opinion – as terroir based, just like you would wines and things along those lines. Thinking, “This is a rum-based spirit. Where does rum come from? It comes from warmer climates. It comes from where there is a lot of citrus. There are bananas, all kinds of soft things that are in there. A lot of herbs, a lot of vegetal ideas.” And building your cocktails around that.
I always say less is more. Really studying those, and that way you’re balancing everything out as you move forward in your career. Baby steps and small steps, as long as you’re moving up the hill, gets you to the top of the mountain as if you’re running and all out of breath. The results will be the same, and sometimes it’s a little bit easier just to take your time.
Kirk Bachmann: Great analogies. It reminded me as I was listening to you from a relationship perspective and a strategy perspective with Chef Samuel and the team: is it cocktail first? Is it beverage first? Is it food first and then you’re marrying it? Tough question. Or does it just kind of come together beautifully, almost serendipitously?
Bryan Dayton: I think for us, it’s all together. Especially in this environment at Corrida and at Oak. Oak’s foundational, which is our flagship restaurant. It was brought together with the name Oak. The reason that we brought Oak together and the name – my business partner and I, Steve – it is easy to spell, of course, so that made it easy. It was based around the wood-fired grill that we burn white oak in. Then it was also based around the spirit culture, the wine culture, the beverage culture that was always in oak barrels. From a very long time ago, whether it was beer, wine, gin, whatever, it was always aged in barrels because that was the transportation method in that point in history. Really, blending those two worlds has always been really important.
The best part of our jobs is we throw dinner parties every night. A dinner party has great cocktails, has great food, has great wine, has great non-alcoholic options, which has always been part of our program. You see a lot of that today and getting a lot of press in the non-alcohol. Day One, twelve years ago, we had non-alcoholic options for mothers-to-be, for people that may be recovering, for designated drivers, people that want to be healthy and maybe are extreme athletes.
We always wanted to bring them into the fold to make them feel really good no matter what that experience was. Instead of just being able to get a cranberry and soda, it’s “Hey, here’s a beautiful cocktail.” You feel good, and all of a sudden your experience changes when you bring a cocktail that’s just as pretty, if not prettier, than the other cocktails that you bring to the table. Mind’s blown.
It’s been very important to us to really have both the culinary world and the beverage world to be very parallel. I’ve been very fortunate to have amazing chefs. My chef partners have kept me on my toes and pushed the envelope and really have a great experience.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. Such a great answer. More TikTok reels, there.
Bryan Dayton: I’ve got to download the app.
Kirk Bachmann: You do. “We throw a dinner party every night.” Brilliant.
I’m going to embarrass you a little bit. Back in 2011, you outdid dozens of mixologists around the world. I did not know that this was a thing, but you were the GQ Bombay Sapphire’s Most Inspired Bartender in the country. You’ve got to walk me through that. That’s absolutely spectacular.
Bryan Dayton: Absolutely. I think it was a lot of fun. Going into that time period and still today, mixology was really about how we get better with pushing the envelope. How do we get better with different cocktail competitions? Things along those lines. I had the opportunity to be part of the cocktail competitions. I won.
Basically how it worked was you got to compete at a local/state level. If you won that, you got to go to the national level. Once you went to the national level, if you won that, you got to go to the international level. I was fortunate enough to win the state, and then was fortunate enough to win – yes – the United States Most Inspired Bombay Sapphire Bartender of the Year. GQ magazine was amazing. I was a lot younger then. Hair was a little bit darker, but it was awesome. It was super fun. A great experience. Then we got to go to Morocco and compete later that next spring. That was a lot of fun as well.
Kirk Bachmann: That’s amazing. Congratulations. It probably introduced you to other people. Probably friends still to this day, right? That’s what I love about people who have a passion for a craft that come together. Competition is healthy. It’s important. Is this a competition that still occurs through GQ?
Bryan Dayton: It is. Actually, the state ones are going on right now. I just saw some competitions going on in the past week. I think there was one down in Miami last week. Yes, they still go on. There are all kinds of different competitions that go on all the time.
And you’re absolutely right. That was one thing that I was very fortunate at that time period was to make friends through the Beverage Alcohol Resource Program, through opening up the Bartender’s Guild here in Colorado, to the cocktail competitions. Some of my friends, I just had a lunch with a couple of them the other day. There’s a cocktail thing coming in a couple weeks from now up in the mountains. All from that time period. Very dear and true friends. We’ve known each other now going on almost 15 years, which is great. Super fun, super different.
Kirk Bachmann: That’s awesome.
So let’s talk a little bit about your restaurant group, Half Eaten Cookie Hospitality. I love it. Again, it’s easy for me to be the Monday morning quarterback, but man, it’s a simple website. It’s clean. That’s what I love. I’m obsessed with mission and vision. Obviously, we’ve got to have mission and vision in our business. I’m always looking for little nuggets for what fuel people.
I’d love to talk about what inspired you to open up a restaurant group in the first place. As you’re thinking about it, on your website – and my interpretation of your mission and vision, you say that your “team has strived [sic] to transcend boundaries, surpass expectations, and deliver excellence in hospitality.” I absolutely love it. It’s simple. It’s to the point. It’s intentional. It’s measured. Can you talk about not only what inspired you to open up a restaurant group, but can you also talk about transcending boundaries in the hospitality industry? It’s clear that guests expect more and explore more all the time, like we said earlier. How do you push boundaries without overextending and without risk? Or is there some risk?
Bryan Dayton: Yeah, there’s a lot of information there. I never set out to open up several restaurants. It just kind of evolved into that. I really enjoy the process of creating and opening up new businesses. I love hospitality, obviously. I love those creations, but really, to me, what I really enjoy is the new business prospects of things. Really opening up and looking at new visions, seeing what could do well in the marketplace and what trends are. We really look at our restaurants as restaurants, not concepts. That word gets thrown around a lot in our industry, which is great, I understand. There are a lot of people that are very successful with restaurant concepts. I look at restaurants because to me it has more authenticity to it. That’s just about, “Hey, we’re still home-grown. We’re still soulful, and we’re still thinking about what we want to do to grow our companies.”
I would say I’m very fortunate. I can’t do anything if I don’t have a strong team. My teams are all that matter. My management teams, my culinary teams, every person that is inside the restaurant is super valuable. I’m super thankful. I don’t get to tell them that as much. We have a lot of employees and I’m not around as much as I’d like to be. It’s just impossible. Those restaurants don’t exist if it wasn’t for them. That’s, to me, the heart and soul of our restaurant. Really fortunate to have the culinary management teams that really harness and bring in amazing teams to make everything work, so when we go to service every night, everything is there.
As far as pushing the boundaries, and is there risk: yeah, there’s risk all the time. One of my quotes is “Beware the cliff.” If you’re not thinking that the cliff’s right there in business or whatever it is, then you may not be paying attention to things as much as maybe you should. There is a lot of volatility in any kind of business, and there’s a lot of volatility in small business. There’s a lot of volatility in the restaurant business. You’ve really got to be sharpening your tools and getting better all the time to be nimble, and really able to push the envelope. Through the covid experience, that was something we learned a lot about. The word of the year: pivot, pivot, pivot. We’re all tired of that. I’m tired of it. How do we evolve to not pivot and really push the envelope?
Again, you really just have to be aware. You really have to be conscious. There have definitely been wins, and there have definitely been losses. You can’t go up the mountain and not come down the mountain. That’s just how it goes. I’m not risk averse, which is probably a good thing and a bad thing. I think that’s something that really helps me. Instead of me thinking about the potential negativity that can happen in any kind of business, but then I also see the upside and I can see the sunshine on the other side. That’s been a guiding light for me, for sure.
Talking about Corrida: we’re on the top floor of a building. We’re looking at the Flatirons. We’ve just got a beautiful space. We’re very fortunate to be here, but we’re also on the top floor of a building. We’re on Walnut Street, which is not the main thoroughfare. To get into the building, it’s quasi-speakeasy-ish, to be honest with you. For us, to really make this thing work was a stretch. I knew those were some big obstacles. You can’t drive by and see the restaurant. The restaurant is hidden. In order to make it work, we had a reputation with Oak and Acorn, at the time, but also it was still a huge risk. To see on the other side of that and to be successful in the space is something that’s there.
The biggest thing is not to take your success for granted. It can go away. You have to constantly be evolving, constantly be pushing, and constantly be thinking about it. Again, I’m very fortunate to have the teams that we do and the management meetings. I listen to them a lot more these days on what they need to do to be more successful in their jobs. I’m a lot less rigid than I’ve been in the past to evolve with them and let them drive the machines a little bit more these days. I can keep creating and keep doing things that I want to do as well.
Kirk Bachmann: You’ve said that each concept is unique and has been developed with intention – I love that – without pretension. Pays tribute to Colorado’s unmatched bounty, which I love. Is that important to you?
Bryan Dayton: Absolutely. I think if you look inside every one of our restaurants, it’s got a tie back to Colorado culture and what it is. From the American heritage of what we have in the state to where we can push the envelope and really work with local farmers, ranchers, and everything that we have here. It is a shorter growing season, but also we have a lot of outfits that are really working hard year-round to bring us fresh bounty. Obviously produce from across the state. That’s something that’s really important.
To work locally, whether that’s hyper-local or not, is something that is very important to us. The industry, it’s hard, too. Because it’s cool to get a lot of interesting spices from across the globe. We just have to be conscious about that. Our environmental footprint is something that is very important to me and very much into regenerative agriculture and regenerative ranching. it’s something that I’m always pushing the envelope on. It’s something I’m very passionate about.
I say my first big mountain climb in hospitality has been the beverage world, and my second, now – I still haven’t mastered that, just to be clear. I’m always learning. I walk into the bar and say, “Oh, what is that spirit? Can I taste it? Tell me this.” I’m learning from my teams now, which is great.
But my second next big challenge is to really work toward more of a regenerative agriculture, regenerative ranching world, and really help change the world as much as we can, and have a footprint and a soapbox to talk about those changes here at the restaurants.
Kirk Bachmann: Well said. I should say thank you, too, because I know that you and your team are committed to giving back to the community as well. One example of that is the No Kid Hungry organization. Isn’t it interesting, Bryan, that when you think about charity and you think about giving back, not just in times of challenge, but our industry – the restaurant industry, the hospitality industry – they’re always the first responders? To charities, to catastrophes. I remember the Marshall fires. God bless, Andy was the first to call me – Andy from Moxie – and we were cranking lasagnas out by seven o’clock the next morning. God, I love this industry! And I love the people in it.
Bryan Dayton: It’s super inspiring. It’s super inspiring to see what José Andrés has done.
Kirk Bachmann: Unbelievable.
Bryan Dayton: It’s insane. Every time you see something go down, everything’s going on in Syria right now. He was there within 24 hours. It’s just mind-boggling. But you’re right. I think there’s something about our industry because we are such a human industry. We do work with so many different people and walks of life on a daily basis, whether it is from our employees to the people who come through the door. It does make us generally a little bit of a more caring world and understanding world.
I wouldn’t say I always have the best patience, but it’s definitely gotten better in my age. You learn and you understand and you know what it takes and what the world needs. Giving back to that is something I see across the board with all of our restaurant community, whether that’s locally or nationally or internationally, for sure. It’s pretty amazing.
Kirk Bachmann: Well said.
We have a little bit of time left. I’d really like to talk about common threads: sports and restaurants. Along with being so immersed in our industry, you’re a father, an ultra-marathoner, trail runner. You’ve trained for the Leadville 100. I don’t know if people really grasp the concept. Whether on a bike or running. It’s an elite trail run. It’s absolutely amazing. I was reading an interview, and you said, “Running is a sport.” I look at the restaurant business as being a sport as well. You’re on your feet, working super hard, looking in 20 different directions. You get the highs, you get the lows.
I’d like to cascade that into: I understand and appreciate that you keep a healthy lifestyle, which is so important in our business and really any business and in life. You do so by running, competing in marathons once a year or more. You’ve said that if you’re not taking care of yourself physically and mentally, you’re no good to anyone. I totally agree. Can you speak a little bit to how these two worlds really intertwine, in your opinion, in your life? Because there’s a lot of demand of you and life commitments. How’s the whole thing come together?
Bryan Dayton: The easiest way to think about it is cheap Prozac. It helps clear your mind, gets you a little bit softer. Gets you ready for the day. In the grand scheme of it as well, like you said in the quote, I very much parallel trail running, in particular running, or any kind of sport, the dips and valleys of what it is to be an athlete and to be strong and understand how you can have good times and have bad times. How that volleys and how that can volley through a whole race. In my world, if you run a trail marathon, you could have two or three different experiences where you’re feeling amazing and slaying it, and you can have two or three different experiences where you’re like, “What am I doing? I want to quit. This is awful. This is insane.”
I’d say the restaurant business is the same. I would say almost any kind of job, to be honest with you. It doesn’t matter what you do. We all have our amazing days. Even in that time period that you’re there for that day, amazing highs and amazing lows, because anything can be thrown at you.
I think in the restaurant in particular, the restaurant business is an extremely physical job. I think that’s one thing people don’t think about. It’s an extremely mental job. We’re not surgeons or anything along those lines, but at the end of the day, the teams work really hard. They’re on their feet eight hours a day. They’re mentally charged. It doesn’t matter what your position is. If you’re back working the line, working the grill station, you’re dealing with sharp knives. You’re dealing with fire. You’re dealing with hot oils. You’re dealing with ticket times, which is pressure. You want to talk about thirty seconds going down in an NBA game or NFL game or whatever it is; we do that a hundred times a night all the time. It’s insane. People don’t understand what it takes for the teams to pull that off on the back side of the line.
And then the same on the front side of the line because we’re going crazy making sure the wine glasses are down. Making sure the wine is being poured. Making sure the silverware is set. Making sure…it’s just an amazing symphony. An orchestra of getting all those together. You’re moving physically and mentally all the time. Really, to me, to be mentally and physically focused and taking care of yourself makes you a better human in general, in my opinion. It helps soften you up and gives you a little more breathing space so you can tackle those problems. Also, it trains you to be really great to where you can tackle some of these obstacles that come through in the restaurant business. I don’t take my team’s time and effort and energy for granted. It’s really a very demanding job. Full respect for anybody and everybody that’s in this business, for sure.
Kirk Bachmann: Really, really well said. So many guests have been restaurateurs of chefs, people close to the industry and there’s this crazy theme. It’s either motorcycles, music, or exercise, or all of the above. You’ve got the exercise. Motorcycles or music for you as well?
Bryan Dayton: I love music. I listen to music all the time. I do have a few motorcycles.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I love it. See?
Bryan Dayton: I like dirt bikes the best, to be honest with you. Obviously, I can’t stay out of the mountains and the trails. I like that experience. A bunch of bartenders and I have driven. There’s a big cocktail convention called Tales of the Cocktail every year in New Orleans. They do the Ride to Tales and drive from whatever part of the country to New Orleans on bikes. I’ve done that a couple of times with some of my bartender buddies, which is great and super fun. Great camaraderie. You do some pop-up bar shifts along the way. They’re doing it this year from New York to New Orleans. I won’t make it on this one. Super fun. It’s a thing.
Motorcycles are great. You’ve got to be careful, too.
Kirk Bachmann: I would have guessed it. I’ve got one, too, an Enduro. I just love it.
Bryan Dayton: I’ve got one of those. It’s my favorite.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh yeah. From a music perspective, from “High Fidelity,” top three bands of all time. Go.
Bryan Dayton: That’s a tough one. I’m so diverse on everything. I listen to a lot of Jay-Z. I listened to a decent amount of Sturgill Simpson. I listened to a lot of electronic music, too. Pretty all over the space with it. I like to go to Spain and spend time in Spain. There’s definitely a good electronic vibe there. I really enjoy that.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. U2 is at the top of my list all the time. A lot of variety underneath that.
Hey Bryan, the name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish. I always try to wrap it up with the hardest question of all. So in your mind – it could be a memory, or a real experience – in your mind, what is the ultimate dish?
Bryan Dayton: It’s so hard to say. I’ve been so spoiled and fortunate to eat at a lot of amazing places with a lot of amazing people. That’s locally. That’s with my children. That’s been around the globe. I love it. So it’s hard to say what was the one.
I have to say, one of my most memorable, amazing experiences was we were down in Sherry, down in Cadiz, and we were with Alberto Orte, who is a phenomenal wine maker, sherry maker, exports all over. We did basically a seven-course tasting menu for lunch. Sherry, they are the only wine you need to drink is sherry. So everybody thinks about sherry like the cream sherries in their grandma’s closet and everything. But sherries can be extremely dry to extremely sweet. My best friend, Diego, was with me. We’re sitting there with Alberto. There was this course, it was Langostino, or a soft potato with this chorizo broth. Really subtle, really small dish. We were drinking some Amontillado sherry with that. That experience, I will never forget looking at Diego and looking at Alberto and being like, “This pairing, this food, this thing is the most out-of-the-world experience I’ve ever had.” That was probably one of the most memorable times in the industry.
To be honest with you, if I can eat pho with my sons and have some laughs, that’s where I want to be all the time.
Kirk Bachmann: Perfect. I got chills. I got chills. A chorizo broth got me going there.
Bryan Dayton: So good.
Kirk Bachmann: Unbelievable. Bryan, thank you for being with us. Really appreciate it. Best of continued luck, and we’ll see you at the bar soon.
Bryan Dayton: I can’t wait. I appreciate all the support. Thank you for having me today. Really means a lot. Thank you.
Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely, Bryan.
And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.