Drink insider invites you behind the bar to get to know some of Little Rock’s biggest names in brewing, distilling, and bartending. We ask all the awkward questions you were always afraid to ask your favorite drink maker. This time up, we chat with Dillon Garcia of The Pizzeria and Arkansas Mixology Associates.
Where are you from, and how did you first get into making drinks?
I was born and raised in Jacksonville. I’ve always been fascinated by drinks, and when I was younger I used to beg my parents to let me make their refills. … Of course as I got older I got more into it, coming up with my own cocktails and making drinks for my friends.
What made you realize you wanted to be a bartender/mixologist?
I had always been passionate about the restaurant industry, and, at first I thought I wanted to be a chef. When I was 17 I did an internship at the Capital Hotel. I learned a lot there, obviously, but it kind of made me realize that the kitchen wasn’t really where I wanted to be … but since I loved making drinks so much, I thought, why don’t I get into bartending? The second I turned 21 the first thing I did was applied to the bartending school here in Little Rock.
How did you end up working at the Pizzeria?
Right after school I started working at Olive Garden, that was my first time actually working behind a bar. … I ended up calling the bartender school and telling them I was looking for something not quite so corporate. I wanted something local where I could actually express my full creativity and potential. It turns out that [owner Jeremy Pittman] had actually called them about an hour before I did, saying that they were on their last limb looking for a bartender and couldn’t find one. So I called them and set up an interview and here I am.
Talk to me about Arkansas Mixology Associates – where did the idea come from and what are your goals for the business?
Now the cocktail is starting to come back, and it’s coming back big. I want to give every bar in the state the opportunity to have a great cocktail menu and a great bartender. That’s why I started my company last fall. … I really want to get to the point where I have several bars on a year long contract to where I’m constantly updating their cocktail menus with seasonals and different specials like that … it would give me an opportunity to basically be the bar manager for several bars at a time without having to be there on a daily basis and tend bar.
How would a restaurant get in touch with you to chat about their cocktail needs?
I don’t have a website up yet, right now my main online source is going to be Facebook. I’ve got all my information set up there.
Are you planning on offering any other services?
I’m working on a one hour wine training class. I feel like there’s a lot of places that lack the proper wine service. … I’m going to train servers on different pairings and things like that. Studies have shown that those that drink wine with their dinner enjoy their meal more and they tip better. It’s a win-win for everybody, the restaurant increases their wine sales, the guests have better satisfaction, and the server makes a little more money.
What about yourself, what do you like to drink, personally?
Surprisingly I don’t drink that much and when I do drink it’s usually either red wine or a sapphire martini … If I’m on vacation or somewhere new, I do get a cocktail and see what the drinks are like.
Do you have a process with your drink making?
I do like using a lot of different bitters. They’re really a great way to add a whole other level to a cocktail without really changing the base of it too much. You can make a cocktail a little different with just a splash of the right bitters.
How do you like living in Little Rock?
I love it, I really do. … We get a really bad rep from the rest of the country, but I think Little Rock is not like the rest of Arkansas at all, there’s just so much life and diversity. There’s so many great restaurants, you can go to a new place everyday and not eat at the same place probably for a whole year. … just up and down Kavanaugh here there’s quite a few spectacular choices. … I feel like we’re moving in the right direction, and I imagine if we keep it up – Arkansas itself could be known as a foodie state.
If you could travel anywhere to try cocktails, where would you go?
Definitely the first two that pop into my mind are New Orleans and New York City. Really, I would like to get outside the U.S. and travel the world and just see what people are drinking in other countries.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I really like movies. … I also like reading, especially mystery novels things that keep me interested and make me not want to put the book down, I also have several cocktail related books.