You know a bar is badass when it's where the drinks industry get their fix, and that's exactly what goes down at Employees Only in NYC.
Dushan's gone from working the door at a seedy strip club to owning possibly the best bar in the Big Apple. We met him for a drink to quiz him on all things chicks, booze and chicken soup.
Did you know that it was sitting in Employees Only when the idea of BarChick was born?
No idea but it’s not surprising as there are a lot of chicks in that bar, so chicks and bar , BarChick’s, one drink, two drinks and all of a sudden things start to make sense. I’m glad that our walls of creativity could have been of assistance to you!
What do you think makes Employees Only such an iconic and all round kick ass bar?
It’s the staff, the staff are what makes any place. We wanted to make sure that our staff were trained in a way so that they understand why they’re there and why the guests are coming.
Where did the inspiration to set it up come from?
We wanted to open a bar that we wanted to hang out in after we finished our shifts. There was nothing like that in New York City at that time and we wanted to open up a place that would primarily host other restaurant and bar employees.
We've heard only 3 of your staff have moved on in ten years, what do you look for in an employee and why do you think they never leave?
What I look for is very simple! I look for people who always see the glass half full rather than half empty. Everything else I can teach you but if you don’t like people, if you’re not an optimistic person in your archetypal personality type, then it’s best you look for work somewhere else or another line of field all together. I think to be a hospitality professional you need to like people, this is the only requirement! You cannot be uncomfortable when you’re surrounded by people, you have to find a certain kind of pleasure or happiness when you are of service. I’m looking for people who understand that being of service is a privilege and understand the distinction between being of service and being a servant. They are so different. I’m looking for people who want to study the craft, master the craft and pass on the craft.
The other reason they never leave is because money is pretty good! They make a lot of money working there and we as owners create conditions that are hospitable for our employees. We’re happy that they don’t have to go anywhere else. I’d love them to go open their own places but if they’re happy staying there then than I’m happy too.
You serve free chicken soup at 3.30am, where did that idea from? It's genius.
Thank you very much! I stole that idea when I was bartending in Greece, around 1991 and I was a club bartender, a young man maybe 21/22 years old and on the way home from work in the early morning hours you would stop by these “tabernas”. They would be serving this rejuvenating soup, not a chicken soup more of a vegetable broth, but it was really delicious and I felt that it would be a really nice way to say goodnight and thank you to people who have stayed all night at the bar.
You're mates and business partners, what’s the secret to making that work?
There is no secret, you take responsibility for yourself and hopefully your partners do that in the same way. You partner up with people who can bring something to the joint goal that you have. You don’t partner up with someone just because they can do what you can do, that’s not a smart partnership. My partners all have different skill sets from me and can do all sorts of things that I either don’t want to do or cannot do, or don’t wish to learn. So because they have that, we share the workload and the responsibility and it’s not always good but most of the time it’s good. Everything I’ve ever done had partners, precisely because of the reason of being able to share the workload and because I’m not a micromanager. I hate micro management and think people who micromanage are limited to what else they can achieve and I hate being controlled and therefore I can’t control everything.
What's up next?
Who knows! If you had asked me ten years ago where I’d be today, I would not have the slightest idea that I’d be living in LA and running a company and doing everything I’m doing.
Favourite bar in the world?
I don’t necessarily have a favourite bar in the word, I go to bars where I feel welcome and approved of. I don’t just go to places where the drinks are good, obviously it’s an added plus but I’ll be happy with a beer and shot if the emotional experience is there. So there are different bars in different towns that I like to go to but I don’t have a favourite bar per se.
We're out drinking, what do you order me?
It depends on the time of the day and on the occasion and on the weather and the season! There are different drinks for different times and they all carry a different emotion. It’s difficult for me to say “Oh I’d order you a champagne cocktail” because I don’t know when we’ll be out drinking but once we are I’ll probably know.
Introduce us to someone in the industry you love?
I love a lot of people. I have to say I love my apprentices a lot, some people who you may not have heard of are Milos Zica one of the principal bartenders at Employees only. Also Bratislav Glisic, another one of the Serbian boys who works behind the bar at Employees Only, these are people who are less known but are the engines behind every night and make sure we do service to volume. They are in charge of us pushing all these cocktails and moving all these cases that the liquor companies love us for. These are people who you don’t know and who don’t step into the limelight too much but who are crucial for us being as successful as we are.
Why did you get involved with The 86 Co?
It was our idea, Simon Ford, Jay Kosmas and myself founded that idea years ago and The 86 Co was the name we gave to our company because we wanted to send a message that we are in the business of “86’ing marketing fluff” from the liquor business in general. We wanted to be the first liquor company in the world that services professionals specifically and creates cocktail components that are specifically designed to make better drinks. I wanted to help my fellow bartenders to have liquid tools that are versatile and dependable and can deliver any time they need them too.
Favourite bottle in the portfolio?
I can’t tell you! They’re all my kids and I love them all equally.
Why do you love BarChick?
I don’t think the emotion could be described as love. I definitely have respect and a lot of curiosity and I really am intrigues every time I read it and I’m always interested to see what you guys write about. Keep on doing what you’re doing, it’s always important to share our craft and make it accessible to as many people as possible!