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A Chat With Dead Rabbit’s Sam Casuga on Her Journey to One of the Best Bars in the World

by thenimblebar on July 4, 2019

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Sam Casuga has worked at some of the best bars in Canada, and is currently a senior bartender at Dead Rabbit in New York City and a brand-ambassador for Chareau Aloe Liqueur. She’s a testament that you can have a long, wholesome, and fulfilling career in this industry, and she lets us in on some of her secrets…

In this chat, we asked about…

  • How Sam got started as a bartender…
  • The steps she took to get to the Dead Rabbit…
  • What a day-in-the-life is like for Sam…
  • What Dead Rabbit does differently from other bars to be more efficient and optimized…
  • The book Sam currently recommends the most to bar owners who want to take it to the next level and why (spoiler alert: Mixology & Mayhem)
  • Sam’s secret weapon that sets her apart…
  • And more…

Watch the conversation here:

 

Full Transcript:

Kyle

All right. Hey, Sam.

Sam

Hi.

Kyle

Want to tell us a bit about who you are, and what you’re up to?

Sam

Totally.

Kyle

Awesome.

Sam

I’m Samantha Casuga. I’m originally from Calgary, Alberta. Used to live in Victoria. Now I’m currently residing in New York City where I’m working at The Dead Rabbit.

Kyle

Awesome. How long have you been at The Dead Rabbit?

Sam

This past May was my second-year anniversary, so just over two years.

Kyle

Okay. Could you take us back to the moment you realized you wanted to be a bartender? Just tell us a bit about that story, where you were, and if there was some sort of, “Aha,” or some sort of spark that happened that set you on this journey.

Sam

Totally. Well, like most of us who start in hospitality, I definitely just kind of picked up hosting shifts at a wine bar. Then just kind of worked my way through it, realized I really liked the hospitality industry and wanted to stay in it. When I moved to Victoria, I started at Veneto as a server’s assistant. That’s where I met Simon Ogden and the rest of them through … I didn’t know immediately that I wanted to be behind the bar, but I really enjoyed it and I thought it was really cool that cocktail culture was this elaborate. I had no idea before this. I did continue working at wine bars, and then started serving, and then managing eventually.

I didn’t really realize I liked bartending until I was literally just thrown into it. I think especially in Victoria, the community was so small. Being another female bartender, another keen, young bartender, Shawn Soole, and Simon just both took me under their wings and definitely showed me that this could be a legitimate career. Since then, when I joined Veneto with Simon, he really helped me see that this is a legitimate career, and it could really take you places. I wouldn’t say it was an immediate, one-time, “Aha.” It was definitely over time, and then fully realizing just how vast this industry is.

Kyle

Yeah. That’s awesome. You’ve come a long way. I mean, Veneto’s a great bar in Victoria, but now you’re at one of the best in the world, Dead Rabbit in NYC. Can you tell us about some of the steps you took to get there?

Sam

Yeah. I mean, a lot of people ask me this. It comes up in conversation all the time, especially, it’s like, “How did you end up at Dead Rabbit? How did you get a visa?” Well, I mean, unintentionally or not, it started as soon as I started bartending. I found great success immediately, whether it be because I worked really hard at it, but then I also, I just feel like it was the right time, right place. I fell into the hands of the right people. Yeah. I worked my ass off, but I also stayed humble. I did the appropriate steps. I was patient. After Veneto, I went, I did actually go back to Calgary. I was managing a program there —

Kyle

What bar was that in Calgary?

Sam

That was at Native Tongues in Calgary, but it was my friend’s restaurant. We were about a year and a half delayed, so I was kind of bouncing around and working different bars in the city, which was great, because I got to learn the industry there and learn the community there. That helped a lot, but really, essentially as I started bartending up until even now, I’m still doing it, I was competing a lot. I was really putting myself in any opportunity that came. Immediately started bartending, Shawn Soole had his book come out. He asked me to be a part of it. Of course, I said, “Yes.” I attend every sort of training, any sort of program out there, educational for bartenders. I just did everything I could. When I was in Calgary, I started traveling more in the States.

Sam

I was doing any of those programs, like Camp Runamok, Bar Institute, Tales of the Cocktail I going to. I’m a very social person. I think all bartenders are, but I was definitely just putting myself out there. That helps a lot, because once it actually came down to coming to New York, which I’d always wanted to do. I was so prepared for the visa and for what it needed that it wasn’t seamless, but it was a lot easier for me to get everything together and get everything prepared. Getting to Dead Rabbit, obviously it took me, I do bartending by this point about for, just over five years. It took me five years to get prepared to make a big move like that, but it was definitely just over time and being diligent, and I just kept at it the whole time.

Kyle

Yeah. Have you worked at any other bars in New York City?

Sam

No.

Kyle

Okay.

Sam

I actually have a part-time brand ambassador role, which is pretty cool, and that’s totally different.

Kyle

For who?

Sam

It’s an aloe liqueur coming out of California, so it’s not available in Canada yet, but it’s a small little brand that’s super awesome. We’re a very small team of brand ambassadors, all bartenders, but even that, having Chareau under my belt as well just really helps me in the industry. I meet a ton more people than I would by just bartending in New York City. I have so many more opportunities just because I’ve taken on another project.

Kyle

Yeah. Well, that’s actually a great segue, because my next question, I’d just love to hear a bit about a day in the life of Sam Casuga today. I mean, I’m not sure how often you’re bartending, but it’d be great to get a picture of a day in the life. Also, just what your whole work-life balance looks like.

Sam

Totally. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I mean, okay. I feel like I’m just starting to really, really figure it out now. In the past six months, I’ve really figured out my work-life balance not to a T yet, but it’s really coming along. I’m really happy about it. A typical day in the life for me these days. I work a lot. With a part-time brand job, you don’t really have a set schedule. You kind of just fit it in where you can. I’m at Dead Rabbit about four days a week, but I do pick up a lot, so I’m there quite often. When you do work in the Parlor at Dead Rabbit, it does require a lot of extra time. We usually run R&D for about three months per menu flip. We flip the menu every six months, so we’re in R&D quite a bit, but–

Kyle

Like research and development?

Sam

Yeah. Because we come up with all of our cocktails as a team, we collaborate. It’ll be once a week for about three hours. This is when we come up with our ideas and present our cocktails. We work on them together. That’s another, I mean, not a shift, but it’s another commitment that has to be done if you’re a part of the team. Then we also have monthly trainings for Dead Rabbit and BlackTail. Then on top of that, there are just extra ones that are kind of thrown into there if you can attend. A typical day for me is I wake up, I really try not to sleep in too much, even if I work a really late shift-

Kyle

What time do you wake up at?

Sam

I’m around about 10:00. That’s like my ideal. 10:30, maybe 11:00. It really depends on the night before. I do really try to hit yoga. I’m averaging probably three to four on an intense week. Sometimes I hit more, just because I want to. I really use yoga as a time to refocus and just do something for myself. Then it’s off to work. Again, if you have R&D or if you have something you’re working on. I try to have maybe an hour before I actually start my shift to eat and sit down and map my week out, or whatever it is. I get things on paper if I need to, and then I do a shift. If I do a shift, you’re usually on for about eight to 10 hours. By the time I’m done, I’m probably pretty sleepy.

Kyle

So a shift is usually 8 to 10 hours. That means, you’re getting out of work at what time?

Sam

The Parlor will close at 2:00 AM. It depends if you’re either on the open shift or the closing shift. The latest I’ll ever get out there is 3:00. It’s not crazy-crazy late, but that’s kind of, my days do fluctuate because of that. With Chareau, I try to at least have one day completely off of everything, but I also, I really try to hit the accounts where I can. There are days that I do have to completely dedicate to Chareau and what that needs.

Kyle

When you say, “Hit accounts,” you’re going to different establishments, or?

Sam

Yeah. Just as a part-time brand ambassador within New York City, it’s really focused on maintaining accounts and just being a presence. That’s why I said it’s been really beneficial to me to be able to meet a whole bunch of people, go to these bars I wouldn’t usually go to, these restaurants I usually wouldn’t go to, and then make connections and make relationships with bars and bartenders especially. It works great to have both Chareau and Dead Rabbit, because I visit Chareau accounts, and I say, “Hey, I’m also a bartender. I actually work at Dead Rabbit.” That sells itself. They’re like, “Oh, cool. That’s so amazing.” Then I also so, “Well, come see me and come see the bar.” It works both ways. Yeah.

Kyle

One feeds into the other?

Sam

Absolutely. Totally.

Kyle

That’s awesome. In a way, it’s kind of like a dream set-up, right? You’re working at a great bar. You have a great brand ambassador gig on the side. Yeah, it’s a great set-up, but a lot of folks who are just starting, I imagine a lot of this is, it’d be pretty overwhelming. They’d just have no idea where to start. I’m wondering what advice you might offer someone who’s just getting started, whether it’s bartending, or the industry, or … What would you say to that person who’s just like, they want to be where you at, they want the brand ambassador role, they want to work at a great bar in the world? What would you say?

Sam

Well, I think one of the biggest things that I ever did when I first started bartending was I made it my lifestyle in a way that I integrated my job with my interest and what I would spend my time doing, with my free time. Even just when I started, if I had time on the side, I’d be, again, attending any sort of seminar, or tasting, or whatever it is. Reading, spending the time if I’m on the internet trolling or whatever it is that we all do on the internet and on our phones. I am actually reading, still reading up a lot on the industry and what’s happening. I’ve always been very involved in my community. I’ve always been curious about other communities. I look out at bigger markets. I’ve always looked out and just seeing what other people are doing. Again, I just make it a part of my every day.

Sam

It can be overwhelming, but then that’s why I do something like yoga to just take myself out of it for an hour, so I don’t think about it. Then I come back into it, but at this point and my career where most of my friends are bartenders, or brand ambassadors, or are in the industry. My personal romantic relationship is with someone who’s also a bartender. It’s all around me all the time. I would say if you’re just starting out, and you want to get to this level, it’s purely just working at it all the time. It’s diligence, and it’s patience, and a lot of it is humility. I’ve been so fortunate to meet really great people, but it’s also just because I’ve shown that I’m keen, and I’m also just kind. I just remain grounded. Sometimes I still feel so tiny and so little and still a baby in New York City.

Sam

Then I remember, “Holy shit, where am I?” Like, “This is crazy.” I still wake up all the time like, “This is wild. I can’t believe this is my life.” But, I mean, if you just keep going, just keep going at it. The greatest thing about the bar industry is that it’s so social. There’s so many resources for you out there. Whether it be your bar mentor at your own bar that you’re working at, or their mentor, or the people that they know. It’s just so connected and there’s such a network. If you really, really take advantage of it, you have so many opportunities ahead of you. Everyone’s always looking for someone who’s excited and wants this-

Kyle

For sure, yeah.

Sam

Those are the people who get the most rewarded in this industry is those who really, really want it.

Kyle

You said you read a lot. Do you have a most-recommended book, or books?

Sam

I would admit that I’m not the best drinks creator at Dead Rabbit. I’ve been able to execute menus before, but I think just at the level that we aim for Dead Rabbit cocktails is so high. It’s a totally new world for me. For me, the things I’ve been reading lately are way more, they pertain way more to food and flavor pairings, just because I’m really trying to work with that right now. One of our things that we use the most is The Flavor Bible. The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, because it has way more, the ingredients we’ve been using. Reading more on, actually, the science of flavor pairings and why it actually works together.

Sam

Then I actually like reading chef-written books too, just to kind of understand where that is. That’s the kind of stuff I’ve been reading lately. In terms of actual cocktail books that I’ve found, have been good, I mean, there are a lot of really good ones right now. Not to like, a shameless promo, but the Dead Rabbit books are awesome. I remember when I first read the Drinks Manual by Sean and Jack, I remember thinking, “Who are these people?” Especially Sean’s story is incredible. You’re just in awe of how this person came to be where he is now, and now I see him every day. It’s like–

Sam

It’s pretty wild. The book itself is super fascinating. You just see how they, it’s like, “Yeah. It makes sense. This is how you create one of the best bars in the world.” Now we have a new book, Mixology & Mayhem, which really delves into the R&D process that we do at Dead Rabbit, and our bar set-ups, and why the Parlor is the way it is. It’s so interesting. I think that if you are, especially if you’re a bar owner and you want to take it to the next level, reading that book is, it’s so cool, because you really get it.

Kyle

Is there one or two big takeaways from that book that come top of mind? Something for that bar owner who wants to take it to the next level?

Sam

I think one big thing is quality, is just actually your quality. We do go into a lot of the recipes that have been featured in menus, but also just showing, “This is the prep that goes into this.” It even highlights, “This is the back-of-house of the cocktail making. This is our prep guide. This is our juicer.” It just shows really the behind the scenes. I think the biggest takeaway is just that, is just knowing it’s not … It’s such a big picture. It’s everything that encompasses the experience at Dead Rabbit. There’s so many little details that you just don’t even know exist until you really read the book.

Kyle

That’s awesome. Yeah. I’d like to take a little bit of a different direction. We hear all the time about longevity in the industry. You’re a testament to the fact that a person can have a good, long, healthy career. I’d love to hear a bit about what contributes to that longevity for you. A bit about why you stay in the game, what keeps you going, and ultimately what you love the most about bartending that just, yeah, that keeps you ticking.

Sam

Totally. I mean, I feel like every year probably I have a new goal and I set a new goal. I feel like maybe I don’t achieve all of them, but I definitely come close and/or achieve it in a different way. Ask me seven years ago, “Would I ever think I’d be in a senior bartender role at Dead Rabbit?” Of course not. Of course not. I would have had no idea even if I would still be bartending, but every year changes. You meet new people. You go to different bars. You have totally different experiences. It grows with each coming year. For me, this time last year, I just wanted to … When I started at Dead Rabbit, I had to serve. You can’t just come into a bar position right away at a bar like that.

Sam

I was serving, and I was frustrated, and I wanted to bartend. I just kept making that my goal. Then, of course, it happened. Now, okay, “Well, what’s the next goal?” I want to bartend, but I want to take it to the next level. I got a brand job that really helped. Dead Rabbit has been so good to me, and I’m only moving up, and I’m only doing better, and I’m only just really claiming it as my own. Then, again, you think, “Well, what’s next?” For me, I love New York and I love being in it. I think the community’s crazy. I don’t know, I feel like it always evolves and that’s why I like the industry and I like the people in it is because they’re always doing new things. I feel like the more involved you get in the community, the more you kind of see that you can have an impact and you can actually influence. I did Most Imaginative Bartender last year. I didn’t win, but I came really close.

Sam

But even that, it’s like it did so much for my career. It actually got my name out to a lot of people that, I have no idea how I would have ever been able to come into contact with them. It’s definitely helped me. To know that there are people out there who look up to someone like me, or hear that, “Oh, my god. She came from Canada and a smaller city. All of a sudden, now she’s at Dead Rabbit.” That means a lot to me. Hearing that from other people means a lot. That also keeps me going is, okay, well, it was … Of course, it was worth it if I also help other people realize that it’s not impossible. I have this conversation all the time with people who sit at the bar. They’re like, “How?” It’s not impossible. You just got to do it. Just make it happen.

Kyle

Totally. Sort of on the flip side of that, of something that continuously fuels you. What do you find most challenging? What are the hardships that are there? Would you be able to speak to that a bit?

Sam

Totally. I mean, I think one of the biggest ones for me, I’m turning 30 in two weeks. I think about, “Okay, where do I want this to really go?” I’m very open in that. I really feel like, again, doors just keep opening. I do feel confident that I will figure out my next big move if it is … Eventually I will want to come off the bar. Everyone does eventually. I want to have a family, and I want to be a very present mother. That was my life goal. To make that happen is to take a step away from the bar, and to figure out a new set-up. That’s a challenge. Especially right now, I’m finding so much success in my career right now. It just keeps coming. I’m so happy and so grateful. I feel like I deserve it. I’m like, “Yes, this is happening,” but on the flip side of that is like, “Well, how much more do I want? When am I going to say that this is enough and now it’s time to settle down and start a family?”

Sam

That’s my own personal struggle. I think on the flip side of that as well, just on the lighter side is burning yourself out. I take so many projects all the time. It’s because I’m thirsty, and I’m hungry, and I want it. Especially in New York, you got to hustle. You got to hustle. Being able to say, “No.” I think a lot of people say to test this. Just being able to say, “No,” is so hard. I’m only starting to realize that. This year, I’m not going to be doing Most Imaginative Bartender, because I just have too much on my plate. I also don’t feel like it’s the right move for me right now. Yeah, definitely. Real life comes, like not real life, but life-life and taking care of yourself. Then remembering your value and stuff, I think, is the biggest.

Kyle

Yeah, for sure. What do you think’s missing from our industry? What do you want to see more of?

Sam

I will say, I do feel like the industry’s going in a really great direction in terms of wellness and promoting bartenders to be more healthy and more balanced. I mean, we talk about this all the time, work-life balance, which is amazing. I really, really do think it’s going in the right direction. I also think it’s really amazing that bartenders are using a platform of the industry and the power that it has to do better things. Whether it be searching for equality, or just even getting hard conversations out there and topics out there to really be embraced and talked about is really cool. I love it. In terms of what I think needs to maybe change or develop is, this is a little bit more on where in my world and what affects me is, I guess, just the whole recognition thing.

Sam

I think it’s really cool that awards are given out and lists are given out of the top bars. People are getting recognized and awarded all the time. I think that’s amazing. I think that it is really, it helps your career for sure, but I think the pressure on it is a little bit too much. I think people can take it too seriously. I think people can just be very devastated if it doesn’t happen. I’ll even say myself not winning MIB last year, it crushed me, but I had to remember and realize that it’s like that wasn’t, that’s not the end, you know what I mean? I wanted it so bad because I wanted to prove myself and make it like, “Yes, I did this. I came out and I won,” but at the end of the day, I realized like, “It’s not, that’s not the have-all, be-all. There’s a new winner the next year.”

Sam

These competitions can just get so intense. You just get so invested into them. Then when you don’t win, it’s just like … I just feel like you need to really take the pressure off. Then also just see the benefits of just participating in general. You’re getting out there, you’re doing it. It’s not in vain that you didn’t win. I don’t know. Especially the pressure on just bars winning awards, too. I’ve got so many people who come into Dead Rabbit and they’re like, “Oh, so you’re not number one anymore?” It’s just like, “Shut up.” It’s not about that. It’s about your experience here and about us giving you the best experience we can. If you want to judge us based on a list, that’s your own thing, but try to just view us as a bar and as a place you come. If you like it, you like it, then awesome.

Kyle

Yeah. You mentioned wellness and all that stuff. This is actually kind of a side bar, but I’m curious about what you put on your feet. What’s shoes do you wear when you’re tending bar?

Sam

There’s someone who’s going to kill me for saying this, because she already gave me so much shit about wearing them, but I wear Danskos. They’re like hard clogs. I like them because they have a little bit of a heel to them, because I am pretty tiny. They’re durable. I’ve worn them since I started. They’re so durable. I do also have a second pair of Crocs.

Sam

Crocs are very comfortable. They don’t quite have the lift, but behind Dead Rabbit, we all wear different shoes. Some of the bartenders wear Docs. Shout-out to Will Pasternak at BlackTail who just loves his Crocs. They’re very colorful, designer. But, yeah. I wear clogs.

Kyle

Dansko? Why does your colleague give you shit for it?

Sam

Well, it’s not my colleague. There is a lovely lady who back in the San Antonio Cocktail Conference two years ago, I want to say. She gave us a body check-in seminar. Like, “You shouldn’t be scooping ice like this, because it’s bad for you,” or like, “You need to take care of the way that you’re aligned.” It was awesome, but one thing she did, she looked at my feet and she was like, “What are you wearing?” She’s like, “Danskos are terrible.” She was just saying they don’t move with your foot, so your arches get lazy. I was like, “Oh, okay,” but then I kept wearing them.

Kyle

Did she suggest something else, or…?

Sam

Just anything that’s comfortable with a back. It has to have a back behind your heel. Then movement. It just needs to have movement. Obviously, yeah, you need something very comfortable, but also for me, it’s just structure. I like to be supported, but I hope she doesn’t see this.

Kyle

Just a couple more questions. A lot of people are really curious about earnings in different cities and different bars. I’m wondering to what extent you’d be comfortable with sharing any numbers around earnings of, whether it’s you or people around you, or just your demographic in New York City and cocktail bars. Yeah, anything like that you-

Sam

Yeah. I mean, New York City is awesome. You can make a lot of money here. I will say, though, that in all honesty, working in the cocktail parlor at The Dead Rabbit, yes, we still, I mean, we still make money. Definitely the most money I’ve ever made bartending in any of my jobs, but if you were to compare what we make in the Parlor to, say, a more high-volume bar in New York, you just can’t. I would say what we make is what you would make serving in a restaurant. Two to 300, in that area, per night in tips.

Kyle

That’s USD?

Sam

Yes.

I would say that’s a good, yeah. I feel like most servers in nice restaurants will make about the same, but when you’re talking high-volume bars. If you’re working in the Taproom at The Dead Rabbit, you’re making cash. But I mean, it’s just, it’s the difference of the type of bartending you’re doing, right? They’re pumping it out and those girls are running. In the Parlor, we do provide a totally different experience where we do … It’s definitely more paced. It’s catered to you. It’s completely so methodical, which is awesome. We definitely work at the Parlor for the love of it. Yeah, of course we need money to live, but it is definitely, it’s passionate bartenders who want to be working in that style of service.

Kyle

So it’s clear for those listening, the Parlor is the cocktail bar, right?

Sam

Yeah. The Dead Rabbit is comprised of two, well, three levels. The third floor is a private event space, but the second floor is the cocktail parlor. Just recently, we opened up an extension to it. We opened basically a second room to the Parlor three nights of the week, which really helps. It kind of alleviates that wait time, but yeah. The second floor is just the cocktail parlor. That’s where you’ll find all the super elaborate cocktails and just like all the cheater bottles and all this crazy bar set-up. Then the first floor is the Taproom, which is awesome. It’s kind of like your idea of an Irish pub where beer’s on draft.

Still really great cocktail program, but made to execute faster and made for efficiency, and just a totally different vibe, right? It’s way more casual. You come and you go. It’s awesome. It’s fun. It’s where I hang out, but they also have an extension room. It’s quite massive. Dead Rabbit’s pretty massive right now, technically houses five bars in its entirety. But, yeah. That’s the biggest difference. That’s why there is a difference of your hours, the kind of bartending you’re doing, and then also the money.

Kyle

What would you say is the one ting that, because I imagine Dead Rabbit’s a really efficient bar. I’m wondering if you could speak to the one thing, the one or two things that Dead Rabbit does differently from other bars that just makes it more enjoyable to work at, more efficient, more optimized. Anything like that.

Sam

Totally. I think one of the greatest things is, yes. So much thought has been put into our technique, and our set-up, and the way we approach R&D, and the way we approach just the whole experience of the Parlor. Even in the Taproom, with the extension, we were able to kind of basically build that bar out to be a little bit more like the Parlor, so it is quite efficient. It’s set up beautifully. An example is for the stations that I work in the Parlor, the way that the bar’s set up is purely just for body movement. You’re really trying to not work in an inefficient way or that’s bad to your body. More or less, I’m always moving side to side rather than twerking around. Everything’s just always straight. It’s set up the way it should be. We work with a lot of cheater bottles, so that being basically pouring any of our syrups, juices, spirits, liqueurs into smaller bottles to–

Kyle

What cheater bottles do you guys use?

Sam

We just use these, I don’t know, little 250 ml bottles. They’re all the same, so they all just line up on the rail of the bar. That’s our mise-en-place. We use so many ingredients that you have to use cheaters, and you have to have it readily accessible to you. Our tools are hung. Our tools are placed in certain areas where it’s easier to grab them, easier to get them. It’s so thought-out, and it’s such a school of thought now that it’s, that’s just the way we approach everything. Even if, for example, if we were flipping the menu.

Yes, it takes us some time to get used to where everything is, but because we understand the whole method that goes behind setting that bar, we understand it way more. You’re more or less working on muscle memory rather than, “Oh, where would I get this syrup? Where would I get that?” People always ask with the cheater bottles, “Do you know what these are? Are they labeled?” I was like, “First, yeah. They’re labeled, because we’re not stupid.” If they weren’t labeled, we’d be sitting there being like, “Oh, my god. Did we switch up these two dark amaros?” Of course, they’re labeled.

Kyle

Do you guys use a label maker?

Sam

Yeah. Yeah, a label maker, but over time, you get to know exactly where these bottles are without looking. That’s the efficiency of it, right? It’s always in the same place. You should always be grabbing it and that’s what it should be. I think it’s a fun, really fun bar to work at. You’re always thinking in your mind, “What’s the best way to do this ticket? What’s the best way to make this round?” It’s never boring. A shift is never boring. It’s always really geeky and cool. I love talking about it too, because I just think it’s the coolest.

Kyle

That’s awesome. Okay, just one last thing. What’s your favorite tool and why? Do you have a specific tool that you love?

Sam

I have always loved bar spoons.

Kyle

Yeah?

Sam

I’ve dabbled in the weird, decorative ones and all the crazy, cool designs of bar tools, or bar spoons, but my favorite always just comes down to a regular teardrop, that medium size. I love that spoon. It’s just so useful. I mean, I’ve always had this thing where Simon, when I first started working for him, made me stir water and ice for an hour until I got my perfect stir right. That’s always a massive joke, but I do actually love stirring cocktails. I just love having to have the accuracy and the touch on it of knowing when something’s actually … Obviously, you’re tasting too, but just knowing when something’s perfect the way it should be. But also, from working at Dead Rabbit, I have really loved working with an ice tapper.

Kyle

To mold the ice?

Sam

The ice tapper to break cubes. So, smack it and it just cracks the cubes that we use [crosstalk 00:37:07] so, it just cracks it. We use that for jump-starting stirred-up cocktails. We just get our smaller bits of ice and then you top it with a cold draft, and then you’re kind of using that to jump-start. Then also because we use large format blocks that we break down for cocktails, I love that. I’ve never really worked with an elaborate ice program such as Dead Rabbit’s, so it’s really fun.

Kyle

Do you guys get ice delivered to you?

Sam

Yes. We do get big blocks delivered to us, but we did very recently acquire our own machines that we will be using, and we actually will be trained on.

Kyle

Is it a Clinebell?

Sam

Yeah.

Kyle

Yeah? That’s sick! Wait, I have one more question.

Sam

Okay.

Kyle

Do you think you have a Sam Casuga sort of secret power that sets you apart? I know you mentioned you work hard, you’re diligent, all those things, but is there something that’s kind of like your hidden weapon?

Sam

Yeah. I do. I actually do think that being kind. At the end of the day, I’m just, I don’t want to say I try to be kind. I mean, you do kind of have to try sometimes with some people, but I just try to be pleasant to be around, and kind, and caring. Just being a good energy around people. I think that has always set me apart, and it’s always been something that people I’ve worked for have said something about. That’s the kind of person I want to be remembered-

Kyle

Totally.

Sam

… to be like, “Oh, I worked with Sam Casuga. She was so kind.” Especially, I’m very aware that the position I hold, not only at Dead Rabbit, but in our whole bartending community. It’s like, I’m very grateful for it, but I’m also very aware that I hold a position where I do have people who look up to me and want to talk to me about things, or want to get advice. Just being kind, and humble, and giving them the time, and being that person for them. I take that very seriously. I feel like I’ve been mentored before. I’m so grateful for it. Simon’s somewhat a mentor to this day, but just I really feel that kindness, and humility, and actually giving time to people is very important.

Kyle

For sure. I think you’re definitely a model of all of that, so well done.

Sam

Thanks.

Kyle

Okay, well, thank you. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Sam

I’m so excited.

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A Chat With Dead Rabbit’s Sam Casuga on Her Journey to One of the Best Bars in the World