Riff Raff’s Jon Schott Talks Balance On + Off the Menu
March 28, 2023 @ 12:00pm
When drink consultant Jon Schott worked at three different restaurants from 2020 to 2021, he thought he’d hit the jackpot. It was all he wanted — to be involved on the ground floor, ordering stock, creating drinks, being part of a dynamic restaurant staff. He was working 16-hour days, seven days a week at The People’s Drug, King’s Ransom, Handover By The Slice and Chop Shop Taco, so enveloped in the hospitality world that he couldn’t see anything else. He worked through Covid-19, keeping each of the restaurants alive, finding clever ways to keep things moving.
It wasn’t until things started opening back up, when people started to get back to some sort of normal, that the restaurant group Schott worked with decided to expand. When he sat in meetings discussing new opportunities, he paused for the first time in years.
“They were like, ‘Well, Jon, we’re just trying to give you what you want,’” Schott says. He realized no one had asked — and he’d never fully considered — what it was that he actually wanted.
“I remember I was like, ‘Oh my God. I’m going to break up with my restaurants,’” Schott says. The realization came on suddenly. Only days earlier, he’d thought he was in the perfect place.
“We had just got through this battle,” Schott says, referring to Covid. “I’m just going to bounce on all these people? The staff, the teams? They mean the world to me. Those relationships are what hospitality is all about. But I knew it wasn’t for me. I had to make the leap.”
After leaving the restaurants, he took a necessary pause to reevaluate his personal and professional goals. He quit drinking in 2016, and wanted to find a way to incorporate his lifestyle choice into his work in a more sustainable way.
“I want to stay engaged and active in this industry,” he says. “And also, to have fun again. Because I preach about drinking being fun. That’s hypocritical if I’m just [at the restaurant] grinding and there’s no fun. So, where’s the integrity in what I’m doing anymore?”
Schott says he put in his four-week notice and just wept. It was the end of an era and the beginning of something new, and he needed some time off to figure it all out.
All of this culminated in Riff Raff Drink Company, Schott’s consulting business that started in October 2022. He kept up relationships in the hospitality industry, and they — chefs, bartenders, liquor ambassadors — asked for his services almost right away.
“In the daytime, I’m a teacher,” Schott says. “I’m helping bartenders and people make money and restaurants and small business owners be more successful. And at night, I get to go out and party. It’s a nice balance.”
Balance is something Schott emphasizes in each of his different ventures. In the case of drinks, he makes sure to put non-alcoholic options on each menu he helps curate.
“Drinking should be fun, with or without the alcohol,” Schott says.
At the Mindful Drinking Festival in January, which surpassed all expectations for attendance and variety of products, Schott won the award for best cocktail for his All-Day Old Cuban. He wanted to make something sustainable, something easy to replicate at home. For the first time in a while, he had made an award-winning drink he could actually drink.
Schott lives in Alexandria, where mindful drinking is slowly expanding. He argues that instead of a separate non-alcoholic menu at restaurants, everything should be mixed in one. Non-alcoholic drinks — or, in his words, “all-day drinks” — take just as much effort to make as alcoholic drinks, and with new cocktail-making methods, it makes sense to him that they’re just as expensive.
“We’re not putting a price tag on the physical effects,” Schott says. “We’re putting a price tag on the experience.”
Drinking can be a tricky topic, Schott says. Either way you talk about it, shame can be attached: People feel the need to rationalize both drinking and not drinking.
“It’s not our intention to shine a mirror back on someone when we say, ‘I’m not drinking right now,’” he says. “Almost everyone responds with something like, ‘Oh, I’ve been cutting back’ or whatever. It’s not our place to assume or ask. I’m in no place to judge.”
It’s a social activity, Schott says, regardless of whether your drink is alcoholic or not. When he’s creating menus for restaurants and bars like Cirrus Vodka and Virago Spirits in Richmond, Catoctin Creek in Purcellville and The Georges Hotel in Lexington, he adds both — but he’s not out preaching one way or the other.
Moving forward, Schott says he hopes to open a tasting room at the end of this year, to continue this new sense of balance in his work and life — and, of course, on his menus. Ultimately, he misses working the bar with other bartenders, the energy of the atmosphere. He’ll be back. He’ll just bring the balance with him.
You can follow Jon Schott and Riff Raff Drink Co. on Instagram at @jon_schott4thepeople and @riffraffdrink_co.
All-Day Old Cuban
Mix this drink at home with Schott’s award-winning recipe.
- 2 oz. Ritual rum alternative
- 2 oz. Thomson & Scott “Noughty” Non-alcoholic Sparkling Chardonnay
- 1 oz. green apple + mint syrup
- 3⁄4 oz. super lime juice
- 1 full dropper All The Bitter aromatic bitters
- Fresh mint sprig + dehydrated lime for garnish
Directions: Combine ingredients, add ice and shake. Strain liquid over crushed ice in a Collins glass and add bubbles. Add garnish, side dish and a metal straw. Serve with apple core caviar, non-alcoholic rum tuile and “mint fog.”
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