Houston has plenty of bar professionals constantly on the move, either developing cocktail programs or setting off on their own journeys. Two of them—Patrick Abalos (working primarily in consulting) and Justin Ware (Johnny's Gold Brick)—have struck out on their own to open Night Shift in the East End. While there's no concrete date on Night Shift, we're watching and waiting, ready to be among the first to walk into the bar from this pair, a New Mexico native and born-and-raised Houstonian who've moved up the city's hospitality ladder.
We recently spoke with Abalos and Ware about Night Shift and their bartending and consulting side hustle, Not Too Sweet Ventures.
Houstonia: How did you two meet?
Ware: Through World Class, a cocktail competition put on by Diageo Reserve. It is a global competition, starting with online submissions, regional competitions, national competitions, and finally global competitions. Patrick and I met at the regionals three or four years ago. We met in The Woodlands and did our first official pop-up together.
Abalos: That was the first official thing we did together in The Woodlands.
Ware: I speak for myself when I say—although I know Patrick shares the same sentiment—that we did not get along too well when we first met.
Abalos: No we did not.
Ware: Very opposite personalities, and it definitely showed through our first conversations and through a series of events. But we would end up at the same places together and talk about more and more things. One day we’re out having a few drinks together got a little tipsy, and the idea was proposed to open a bar together. Here we are so many years later.
Houstonia: Tell about your other venture, Not Too Sweet.
Abalos: Not Too Sweet is a company Justin and I founded a year ago and something we worked on for two. We decided to make a business out of what we were doing.
Ware: It was actually out of necessity: We didn’t have money to start paying for lawyer fees for Night Shift, and we knew we had to start something to build income, and essentially we had to put our money where our mouth is.
Abalos: We saw an opportunity in consulting and doing private events. There’s a market for it but no one was doing what we were doing. We saw an easy way to start building capital to pay for our project.
Houstonia: What are some of the things y’all have been involved in?
Ware: We’ve been working with a restaurant group in town to help build their cocktail program. We’ve done cocktail development for companies like Four Roses, Diageo, our friends here locally such as Avonak—building cocktails for them to present to people to sell their products.
Houstonia: How is the development of Night Shift going?
Ware: Night Shift is moving forward with a few setbacks, like most restaurants and bars in Houston do. So we’re looking at summertime. We can only move as fast as the City of Houston will let us, but our goal is to be open by summertime this year.
That being said, in the meantime Night Shift will be doing private events, and Patrick and I will be doing a series of pop-ups … and we’ll be able to sell alcoholic drinks as Night Shift currently has its liquor license that we can start selling alcohol through. We’re applying for a catering license, and we’ll be doing offsite events at our friends who run Ronin Art House, which is an event space over by Theodore Rex. … We plan on partnering with local artists and doing live art. We have chef friends that want to do pop-ups.
Abalos: Dinner pairings. One thing that Justin and I are really passionate about is the community. … We're planning on doing a symbiotic relationship/partnership with Fincas Tres Robles. We want to do a pop-up with them where we bring a chef in and use the ingredients they grow and put them in cocktails and food.
Houstonia: Anything else we should know?
Ware: Rootlab is going to be our partner at Night Shift, and they are bringing the design aspect to the bar. They’ve worked with local bars and restaurants around town, mostly with Bobby (Heugel)’s bars. They’re a fabrication and construction company heavily rooted within the art side of fabrication.
Abalos: They all went to Rice, were art, poetry majors, and got into construction and started building things. All of whom met collaborating for a structure at Burning Man, and that’s how Rootlab started.
Ware: We’re really excited to be working with them, and they bring a whole other level of design element within the space. Night Shift is going to be an environment where we’re allowing people to use their own personal creativity to help better the whole space.
Same thing with the chef, which we are actively seeking currently—we want the chef that we hire to feel empowered to do whatever style of food they are interested in, within certain boundaries.
Abalos: One of the things I’m really excited about is the synergy and strength in the partnerships we have, as collectively, we’re all creative individuals. We may be the driving factor of Night Shift, but we want you to be creative, and this is your platform to show what you got and we will be there to help you.
Johnny's Gold Brick is hosting a goodbye party for Ware all day Sunday, along with a crawfish boil.
This interview has been edited for clarity.