Bodacious Beer Bar Owners is a terribly named weekly feature—and also a slightly misleading one; biweekly-ish is more likely—spotlighting the bodacious owners of Long Island's best spots (bars, restaurants, stores, etc.) for beer.
The format is simple: Each bodacious owner will bodaciously tackle the same four topics in relation to their spot(s), so we can better understand their bodaciousness.
Shelby Poole, Jackson's in Commack and Morrison's in Plainview
"ON STARTING OUT"
My parents went into the restaurant industry when I was only 8 years old. They opened Rigatoni, Etc. in Rockville Centre and Graffiti in Woodbury. So I was essentially bred into this being my career. I would work "doubles" by wearing a server uniform, plating desserts and doing my homework. I got paid $20 a day. Then I married a chef, so that solidified it. We opened Jackson’s in Commack almost 10 years ago, as a tavern-y restaurant that was essentially a gossip and food hub for Commackians. But I was more focused on menu fonts and the music being played than the beer and beverage program at that point. The turning point came during a dinner with friends at a wine bar. Talking about wine makes me feel uneducated. I always feel like I'm spewing bullshit. We followed up our bottle with a Chimay Red bottle, and I realized that the act of sharing the beer over the wine was so much more pleasant and laid back. Now I am obsessive over the beer program. We went from zero draft lines to three to 16 in the span of about 2 years. I spend an exorbitant amount of time making sure I'm choosing wisely for my customers. I also stopped carrying most mainstream liquors and have a predominantly Long Island wine list as well.
We opened Morrison’s two years ago in the spot where my parents had operated Red Fish for 12 years. The inspiration was this gastropub Harry and I found in Florida and fell in love with. We looked at each other and said "we can totally do this." We came home and I made a Spotify playlist as a proposal to change concepts. It was basically the song "Ho Hey" by the Lumineers on repeat. I said "Close your eyes. This is what the place needs to feel like." Our hiccup was that the craft scene in Plainview was pretty much the opposite of Patchogue, non-existent. I figured that I would meet a lot of resistance from customers about only having high-end, often-obscure beers available but they have been amazingly open to expanding their palates, and a lot of geeks have come out of the woodwork. We have regulars who have been totally turned on to the beer scene, and others who have taught us a ton.
For both restaurants it has been an uphill climb to bring my vision to fruition, and it really never ends; I know I'll never be "done" with either place. I think that like my family business, a concept has to constantly evolve to stay relevant but still be true to its original vision. I'm in my mid-thirties now and lately I've been pondering whether or not I've "peaked." I don't think I have, which is exciting. I wake up every day thinking of ways to make sure that doesn't happen to my businesses. I did a Seinfeld-themed beer dinner with Barrage Brewing and it was one of the most fun meals I've ever experienced. I want to always feel established, yet fresh. I believe that I'm accomplishing that.
"CHOOSING YOUR BEER MENU"
I’ve always wanted to be asked about how I choose my beer lineups, because I spend way too much time planning and analyzing them. At Morrison’s we work with eight lines, and Jackson’s has 16. I treat them both like stellar mixtapes. Here are my general mixtape rules:
1) Represent all genres. It’s important to have a range of styles and ABVs. You will always find at least one IPA, one imperial IPA, a wheat beer, a stout or porter, something seasonal, and something that I refer to as “a Marc beer," basically something easy to drink for the bar patron who never asked for craft in the first place. There is an actual Marc, by the way. He usually enjoys a kolsch or a pilsner.
2) Don’t have the same artist on twice at the same time. It makes me feel like I’ve failed at providing variety for my customers. Goose Island is my only exception, because I always pour Sofie or Matilda, and often have a Bourbon County variety as well.
3) Sometimes campy songs are refreshing. Especially during the summer, where we sell the crap out of shandies, which are half lemonade and half beer.
4) Support new artists and local garage bands. We pour Moustache Brewing, Barrage, Other Half, and Grimm. None of them have been one-hit wonders by any means, but you never know until you try.
5) Don’t forget the old favorites, because they're why you fell in love with it in the first place. This may be something like Ithaca Flower Power, Blue Point Toasted Lager or Shiner Bock.
6) What sounds good is not always what IS good. I’ll never stop learning this lesson, because I’m totally a sucker for some creative ingredients. Like so many songs on my old mixes ("Tubthumping"? What was I thinking?), some of the beers I put on get real old real fast.
7) Don’t put the same song on every mixtape you make. The craft industry is so expansive that I never have to pour the same brewery or beer twice in a row. But there are exceptions to this rule: Greenport, Great South Bay, Long Ireland and Port Jeff are some Long Island breweries always in the mix.
"PRICING YOUR BEER"
I try to price all Long Island beers at $7 regularly and $5 during Happy Hour. I don’t like to go over $9 a glass for any product, but occasionally it’s necessary. Some beers we get are extremely expensive, for example something barrel aged, or in a recent case, brewed with white truffles. The key to pricing the beer is using a variety of glassware sizes. It gives me flexibility to spend more on beer without taking it out on the customer or destroying my bottom line.
As the craft movement grows, it seems like it’s becoming more acceptable to charge an arm and a leg for a glass of beer. We sometimes have bottles that go for $40, and they sell quickly. It’s the winification of beer, and it’s suddenly the norm. I’m ok with it because I know there are people out there who are wanting to enjoy something special. But I’m not going to start charging $10 for a shot glass halfway filled with beer on the regular.
"OPERATING ON LONG ISLAND"
I think that now is a great time to be on Long Island, especially as a restaurateur. There’s an endless amount of potential for the indie food and drink scene to grow more substantial. Between the farms, wineries, breweries, distilleries, bars and restaurants, there are a whole lot of people who are facilitating the “go local” mentality. It's wonderful.
I think the key challenge for myself, and a lot of business owners in my position, is convincing the public that it’s super important to support independent operations. I'd love a Long Island world where we band together as small restaurants in solidarity, because ultimately were working for the same cause: to make a few bucks and some awesome food, and to serve some damn good drink. Our competition isn't each other, it's large companies with buying power that we aren't afforded because of our size. I’m on a mission to figure out a hashtag to unite all of us. Maybe we can start something like #strongisland, only not as awful. Chains are fine to have around, but it’s time to give offbeat ideas the ability to thrive. Fortunately, the hipster-Brooklyn-rustic trend seems to be trickling east, so there is definitely a chance to do whatever we feel like doing conceptually without much resistance. I mean, I’m not opening a place that exclusively sells duck feet, but now I can play around with deviled egg recipes without getting hate mail.
Photo: Matt Furman