Al Greenwood ’06

al greenwood jumpAl Greenwood ’06 says that to be really good as a mixologist — creating signature drinks from scratch and, in his case, from locally farmed ingredients — he has to be a “chef and a chemist” with a dash of creative artist.

Take the blackberry cocktail at the Oak Haven Table & Bar, the New Haven restaurant and bar he co-owns with his partner Craig Hotchkiss. The drink actually begins when his chef, Meg Fama, heads to a farmer’s market for the produce, meats, seafood and dairy products, she’ll use in that night’s dishes, returning with blackberries to use in a glaze on the duck.

Starting from one ingredient, such as fresh blackberries, Greenwood creates a new drink each day, making his own reductions, purees and syrups. Almost everything in the drink is locally grown or made. Even the vodka is an organic spirit made locally in Ashford. A hospitality management major at UNH and president of the Hospitality Honor Society, Greenwood said the program played an integral role. “UNH taught me how to take from the community, sourcing local food, and how to give back to the community,” he says. “As students, we did workshops around West Haven and New Haven all the time.”

Named CT Now’s Best New Restaurant in 2013, Oak Haven, on State Street, has received rave reviews from press around the region for its dishes, including the day boat scallops from the shores of Stonington. The restaurant/bar has become a favorite gathering spot for Yale grad students and employees, locals from surrounding neighborhoods and people all over as it becomes a destination restaurant. They were warmly welcomed by the long-established businesses on the bustling street. “We’re really happy about how everything is going,” he says.
From the moment Greenwood started washing dishes and then serving at a West Haven seafood restaurant at 16, the business spoke to him. He helped put himself through school tending bar at some of New Haven’s most popular bars. He arrived at UNH a music industry major, thinking he would become a pianist playing at nightclubs and restaurants, but after talking with hospitality faculty, he quickly realized that was the major for him.

After graduation, Greenwood became beverage manager at Mohegan Sun and got his first big break by becoming one of six butlers at the casino. “We took care of the highest rollers,” he says. “You had to spend about $500,000 a weekend to see me.”

Only 24 at the time, he was in high-pressure position and loved it, but when the economy took a tumble, the casino lost 75 percent of that clientele. Greenwood and Hotchkiss took that as their cue to see more of the country, landing in Miami. Greenwood apprenticed under a gifted mixologist and became the beverage manager at Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, which that year won a James Beard Award, “the Oscars of the restaurant industry.”

When the spot opened up on State Street, he and Hotchkiss seized the opportunity. “I always planned to come home,” Greenwood says. His hours are long; his prep time before the restaurant opens each day is dizzyingly busy, but he’d have it no other way.  “Every day you’re meeting new people, the food and cocktails change; I am never bored,” he says. “I like providing experiences for people. It gives life to my life.”

Reference:

Hennessey, J. (2015, January 28). Successful Restaurant Co-Owner Says UNH was Integral to His Success. Retrieved May 30, 2015, from http://unhtoday.newhaven.edu/index.php/component/content/article/3202#success

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