Paul Campbell | Mister Bartender, Owner
Five Minutes with Paul Campbell | Mister Bartender:
“I’m passionate about what I’m doing: I deliver articulate beverage service. There’s a method to creating drinks, you have to be educated in how ingredients mix and balance. You have to understand your demographic, what they prefer, and the price points they tolerate.“
My first career choice was in the Air Force, where I got my degree in finance, and I traveled all over the country. When I left the Air Force, I joined an investment bank. It was “corporate America,” and I thought, all right, I’ll do this. My career took off. I was only 27 years old. Years into it, I got caught up in a downsizing. My wife encouraged me to go back into a traditional career, but I couldn’t do it.
Right before I moved here in 2008, I was introduced to a maitre d’ at the Ritz on Long Island, where they do huge celebrity weddings, balls, and service is in white tuxedos. Everything is first class. I was blown away… that’s where it started. Just on a part-time basis, learning about the bartending world, and working with people who were really enjoying themselves. Just having fun. It was totally different from the world I had been in. I also got involved in an entertainment business. I did it, very part time, and we started booking bartenders – as well as deejays and staff – for local events and parties. We built a great following through internet radio advertising. I learned to network and experienced that industry, and it set the foundation for what I did next.
From NYC to Leland with a new focus
We had two daughters, and the opportunity to move here to be close to family opened up. I knew I wouldn’t miss the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. When my wife and I were planning our move to Leland, I did several job interviews, from Raleigh to the Triangle, and got offers, and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go back to that corporate lifestyle. So I did everything I needed to in order to stay in the entertainment business: serving, prepping… gathering information, doing market research, preparing budgets. I used my business background to plan how I could be really good in the private event business. I really understand running a business, the P&Ls… it’s not just tending bar. I got into catering first, while I was working on the business plan for Mister Bartender. I was working with a local chef, doing $100 per person parties. We made everything, local, fresh and organic. The salad dressing, for example, was local honey, pure olive oil, fresh ginger, fresh garlic, and soy sauce, and even though we would have three other courses, and wine service, the guests always raved about the salad dressing. All the events we did, all the guests continued to talk about was the dressing!
We got to the point where we had a partnership opportunity, with an investment, and we decide to bottle the dressing. At that time, we had no idea how it was done: nutrition labels, logos, graphic design… and then you change it ten times… so with six months of R&D, and then going to all the trade shows, for a total of two years, we developed a product that is a dressing, and a marinade, and a cooking sauce. We connected with a producer, and a distributor, and got the GotToBeNC gourmet product on the shelves. It’s in specialty grocery stores. It took a huge amount of work and money to get it done.
Building Mister Bartender
I learned a lot. Again, the contacts I made from that venture, I wanted to combine with growing my bartender business. So, I contacted the owners of a North Carolina vodka company, to have a conversation about turning their vodka into a salad dressing type product. At this same time, people were contacting me directly about doing private parties, and I saw an opportunity to turn Mister Bartender into a mobile, premier, bartender service. I wanted to present specialty vodkas, and other fine products, and take it to another level.
We decided to incorporate local restaurants as partners, and offered wine pairings, sake pairings, and cocktail flights. I do a flight of three hand-picked cocktails that are specifically developed with an understanding of the chemistry of the ingredients. Whether I’m using gin, or coconut flavors, or different garnishes for a martini glass, I aim for pure ingredients. For example, instead of using simple syrup on the rim of a glass for the garnish, for a coconut flavor cocktail, I use coconut cream. A lot of the way I approach bartending is in the way you present a cocktail, the way you talk about it. I love doing private parties and specialty drink events, like a designer martini tasting.
I do everything, from bartending and creating cocktails, to consulting on a bar build-out.
Beyond mixing a drink
So much of bartending is in the feel – it’s not just the ingredients. You can have the same drink made by two different bartenders, and one is just off. If you are good at it, you just have the touch. Something about how you mix, how many times you stir or shake, and the angle you mix the drink at, and how you break the alcohol with the ice. It’s the art and the passion you put into it. For me, it’s not the pour, it’s not really things you can teach. First you have to understand the chemistry, then you have to feel what you are doing. A lot of it is timing, too.
Flare bartending looks good – I wouldn’t take anything away from it. But the most important part of mixology, to me, is the finish. It’s presenting a cocktail with the highest quality ingredients to give you the best taste of the product. It’s more than spinning the bottles. You can teach anybody to mix cocktails. To be good at bartending, you have to understand personalities, you have to listen, you have to want to create something that people will enjoy.
What’s on trend
Moscow mules are the hottest thing right now, that’s the trend. When they are done right, with a quality ginger beer, it’s delicious. You have to have the right amount of spice. It’s like using the right vodka, or using the right lime – not one that’s been sitting out for an hour. I’m often contacted by liquor brands to work with their product. One, in Virginia, is a moonshine, with lots of different flavors, and I have fun developing cocktails with them, because it’s very hot right now, too – all the moonshine products.
I go back to my roots, in Guyana, South America, for my drink of choice. I like the flavors of ginger, and other spices. I have a sweeter palate. I don’t particularly like tart. My taste is very simple. Three ingredients is usually what I prefer – and I learned this from a master chef – you don’t need too many flavors on your plate… or in your drink. I keep it simple, so you can appreciate the components.
Connect with Paul at Mister Bartender