Shanna Mayo, self-described as "Irish-Mexican, with the liver to prove it," took over at Leon's Full Service when Miles Macquarrie left to open Kimball House. Here, she talks about her mentor, Sazeracs, and pea cocktails.
What was it like taking over the bar from Miles?
Right before he left, I started freaking out and thinking 'am I ready for this? I'm not ready for this.' And Miles said, 'Shanna, you are SO ready for this."
Initially, it was intimidating, and I was super bummed that he wasn't there, but it's really been great. After the first week, I realized 'I CAN do this.' And it's fun! Everyone here is so great about helping me. He's super good about letting me bother him with questions, and we're always bouncing ideas off one another. It's so many hours and so much work, but it's a labor of love. If I'm not doing 100 things at once, I get lazy. It's certainly more than a full-time job, but I can't imagine doing anything else.
How did you get started in bartending?
I grew up in the restaurant industry. I got my first bartending job when I was 19. I ended up bar backing at this high-volume college bar in Richmond, Virginia, and I just knew that I loved it and wanted to do it forever.
And then in terms of cocktails, everything I've learned was in this building and studying on my own. Obviously, Miles is always so excited about everything that's impossible to not want to learn when you're around him.
Where do you get some of your inspiration for cocktails?
Everywhere. Sometimes, I'll eat something really amazing, and I want to make a cocktail to go with it. Sometimes, it's a really good song I'm into. And we do so much seasonally inspired food here, so obviously, when things are in season, I'll build a drink around them. I'm using snap peas in a cocktail right now called Peas and Thank You. I can't take credit for the name, though. It was actually Tyson Bittrich [bartender at Kimball House]. I told him about this cocktail and how I couldn't name it, and he was sending me all these ideas as jokes, and he texted 'what about Peas and Thank You,' and I thought 'that's perfect.'
What's your favorite cocktail to make?
My favorite cocktail to make and to drink is a Sazerac. It's my all-time favorite drink. It's so simple, and yet, the flavors have to be so precise. You have to really focus when you're making it. I drink one every night.
What's the craziest request you've ever gotten from a customer?
I think at this point, there's not too much that shocks me, just because I've been bartending for so long. If we have it, I'll do it. I never mind. It doesn't matter to me. People order deconstructed drinks sometimes, which I find really weird. A ticket will come in asking for a pour of a base spirit, a side of ice, a side of soda, and then they mix their own. I always think that's funny, to order a deconstructed cocktail.
Where do you hang out when you're not at Leon's?
I love to lounge by my pool and read. Or sit around my house and listen to old records, a lot of old school soul and rock and roll from the 50s and 60s. I'm obsessed with this band called Rico and the Ravens and have their song "Don't You Know" on repeat. I also listen to a lot of Otis Redding and James Brown.
Obviously, I spend a lot of time at Kimball House because it's close. It's nice to be able to see Miles whenever I can. I spend a lot of time at Empire State South, as Kellie Thorne and I are good friends. She and I try and get together once of week and split a bottle of wine. She makes these amazingly huge Indian meals. She's a great cook. Also Paper Plane and Victory Sandwich Bar.
More than any other city I've lived in, this city feels like family. Everyone is friends. Especially here in Decatur. And really, the whole city's like that. You get to work with your family all the time. There's nothing better than that.
UPDATE: In July, Mayo will leave Leon's for new ventures at Victory Sandwich Bar.
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