Judith Piotrowski cut her teeth at Cheddar’s and is currently the assistant general manager at Bayou & Bottle at the Four Seasons. Harboring fascinations with Katy Perry and Ryan Reynolds, Piotrowski doesn’t take herself too seriously, but her work ethic is no joke. Also, she once dressed in a unicorn onesie, but then again, who hasn't? Houstonia chatted with her about all this and more.
What got you into the industry?
My story is similar to a lot of people that find themselves in the industry. I got out of college and couldn’t find a job in the field that I went to school for. I wanted to help children and work in non-profits, and after three months of searching for jobs and trying to find something in that industry, I couldn’t do it anymore and decided I needed a job.
On the way home from the mall (I don’t know why I was at the mall when I didn’t have any money, but obviously that’s what happens), I made it my goal to stop at every restaurant on my way home with the first being Cheddar’s, and they hired me on the spot, so I didn’t have to go any further. I worked there for almost two years and I absolutely loved it. I worked my way up from server to bartender, and what is the term … “cutting your teeth.” Yeah, that’s definitely where I did that.
What’s your specialty cocktail?
My specialty is the Ramos Gin Fizz. I know it’s every bartender’s nightmare, but it happens to be my favorite drink to make. When working at Weights + Measures on our opening menu, general manager Mike Sammons recommended we add a Ramos Fizz, and we came up with a recipe and worked on it. The restaurant was a success and we would get five or six fizzes at a time because we sold them for less than anyone else did in the market. Finally, my bartenders are complaining to me, I’m complaining to me, so I go to Sammons to try to take it off the menu when he asks me, 'Are you telling me you can’t do it? Is it too hard?' to which I responded, 'Never mind, I got this.' Since then I found cheats and tricks and have included it in every menu at every bar I’ve been at.
Have you been involved in any competitions?
Not really. Competitions are not my thing, but I did cocktail fights. My name was La Unicornia or something along those lines, and I definitely dressed in a unicorn onesie. It was the most fun thing I could do. I had all unicorn paraphernalia at my station; I think I even had a unicorn horn garnish.
Where are your favorite places to go when off the clock?
My absolute favorite place is 13 Celsius. I love the staff there, they’re kind of family from the Weights and Measures background, but also, I like that you’ll never get a bad wine there. You know they’re not going to mess up the pour, and on top of that, I don’t know that much about wine, so it’s nice to go somewhere without any preconceived notions and ask for help with wine that is always on the money. I also love Lei Low; I don’t go there as much as I’d like to, but I have a couple of old co-workers that work there and it’s always fun to see them. Lastly, Eighteen Twenty—it’s our new little industry spot that we go to from here.
Would you say there’s a difference between the clientele you would encounter out there as opposed to in the Four Seasons?
One thing for sure is our clientele is from all over the world; I’d like to think of our bar as the gateway to most of the bars out there. First thing I do when I’m out of town is go to the bar and ask the bartender where he or she would drink, and it is definitely something we focus on here. Our clients are not here for signature cocktails; the thing that I most learned is how to say ‘Yes.’ Here we do not refuse the client—that’s not an option, so the bartenders and I need to be well-versed in all things including not just classics, but quick drinks and the like because we cannot say ‘No.’
Tell us about three people in the industry you admire.
Terry Williams from Anvil. I absolutely love Kehlen (Scott, formerly of Clark Cooper Concepts and now Anvil), because she’ll always be my bar mom, and I’ve loved watching her grow in the industry as well, and for the accomplishments she’s made. Terry was special because after Pass and Provisions, Lainey left and there wasn’t anyone to learn from about cocktails specifically, and I told him that after meeting him one day. He invited me to sit at his bar, so I’d go to Anvil by myself and he would greet me every time with the biggest smile on his face and he would work with me and help develop me, pointing me in the right direction. Finally, Adele Corrigan from 13 Celsius—she’s a superstar. She does wine, but wine is much more complicated than spirits and it blows my mind that she is able to do the things she does, and she’s very sweet and wants to teach people.
There are three empty stools at your bar and you can pour for anyone—for whom and why?
First and foremost: Katy Perry. My obsession for her is ridiculous. Annie Leibovitz because I have always loved photography. Finally, and only because he’s been on my mind lately: Ryan Reynolds.
I’m assuming because he’s the voice of Pikachu in the new Pokémon movie?
He is? He just got a lot cooler.