INTERVIEW: Brooks Reitz

You know we love good food and good drinks...and we just happen to think that the South offers the finest of both. This June (2nd-5th), our friends at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival have graciously allowed us to team up with them as we show you the best that Southern cuisine can give. Chefs, mixologists, brewers, and experts from the South at-large will gather in Atlanta for an entire weekend as we admire the creative genius that fuels the bars and restaurants they operate.

First up, we interview Charleston local, Brooks Reitz--one of our favorite people in town--at his new restaurant, Little Jack's Tavern. He is genuine, creative, and has been a catalyst in Charleston, driving the food and beverage world forward here. This year Brooks will be a judge in the Entrepreneurs Program at ATLFW. Read our conversation with him below, and check out his new space.

You're from Kentucky. Tell us about your growing up there.

I grew up on a farm in Henderson, Kentucky. Being from a small town, I was always fascinated by the wider world beyond our rural home, and I think that’s why I enjoy traveling so much. But I love going home, and I have a strong affinity for Kentucky. It’s a beautiful state, with a lot of great history.

You love London, and certainly the UK at-large. You're even getting married there! What is it about British culture that fascinates you? 

I love its sophistication, and the food culture there is one of my favorite parts. People are reserved in a way that most Americans are not, and I find that very inviting when I visit. There is a courteous streak that I identify with. And the clothes...I love English clothing, from the cool, casual sportswear to the high end tailoring (which I hope to one day afford)!

You're on the road often...and you're researching often. What's that research process like when you're traveling, gathering ideas and inspiration to use for your next idea? 

I’m always researching online about new trends in food, travel, art, media. But I really enjoy experiencing those things in person. I’m not actively taking notes, but I remember so many little details, and I often take little ideas from all over, and I weave them into my own projects at home.

In recent years, Southerners have embraced an elevated attitude tied to their heritage. It is evident in cities like Charleston, Nashville, Birmingham, New Orleans, and so on. People use the phrase "New South" to describe what this means. What does it mean to live in the "New South," and in what ways are cities like the ones above contributing to that cause? 

I don’t know if I’m comfortable speaking for or about the “New South,” but I will say that these cities are experiencing a creative boom from younger, energetic, creative entrepreneurs, and it’s influencing architecture, art, media, food, fashion, and more. I think creative people in the South are proud of who they are and where they come from, and they are keeping their ideas at home. 

Where do daily or weekly rituals fit into your life? Is there something you've made a habit out of that has improved how you live?

Rituals and schedules do me well. Some weeks are better than others, but my main rituals are coffee and breakfast at home with my fiancee, which always starts the day off right. It allows us to review what we both have in store, and support each other through conversation. Exercise is an important ritual that I can’t miss, and I make sure to incorporate it into my daily schedule. 

My work schedule is varied and wild, so each day is different. I try to bookend the day with something calming and consistent, which allows me to be as productive as possible when I’m working.

In the world of food+drink+hospitality, do you wrestle with the thought that you could create a product guaranteeing you high profitability, but little quality to those you're serving? Or is it easy for you to marry those two ideas? 

For me, it’s always been a balance, and I think I’ve achieved it. I always start with an idea that I’m passionate about, but before I make any moves, I ask, “Is this going to be a good, sound, profitable business?” If the answer is no, then I’m not interested in it.

Some people are so afraid of failure; it keeps them from ever taking any risks. Your work is high risk. What's your relationship with fear of failure like? How do you navigate risky days? 

Lots of risk in my business. I basically operate under the assumption that I will go out of business at any moment. That keeps me driving to improve my projects, and it keeps me cautious with any new undertakings. My approach to business is generally that I’m not trying to innovate for my own personal satisfaction; I want to give the customer what they want. I keep it simple, and I present it in a charming package. If you do that, your chances of long term success are higher.

What's next for you and Charleston? Any plans to open spaces outside of Charleston? 

We’ve got a couple more projects in the works in Charleston, and in the future I would love to take Leon’s to other cities. I think it’s a great experience that appeals to so many people.

People are fascinated by your stories. They love to see how each one plays a role in your brand ethos. What's the inspiration behind brands like Jack Rudy or Leon's? 

I’m inspired by things that are timeless - I don’t like trends. I always start with a timeless, proven offering. For Jack Rudy, that was the Gin and Tonic, one of the most popular cocktails in the world. For Leon’s, it was Fried Chicken. For Little Jack’s, it was a hamburger. From there, we dress it up, make it a bit more fun, and improve where we can.