Greg Lindgren and Jon Gasparini figure that if people hire chefs for food, they can hire bartenders for libations.
For the past five years, the bar owners (15 Romolo, Rosewood, Rye) have put their show on wheels with Rye on the Road — everything from hand-cut ice to the appropriate vessel for your drink to the kumquat garnishes. It’s pretty obvious when these guys are catering an event.
“When people think of beverage catering, they think of some young kid with a tie handing out drinks,” Gasparini said. “Our services are powered by real, professional, top-tier, working bartenders.”
The cream of the industry has muddled, shaken and poured at events as large as the San Francisco Street Food Festival (40,000-plus attendees) and as small as an intimate family dinner where a cocktail expert is flown in for the evening.
Former presidents have been at some of the events Rye on the Road has catered, requiring nondisclosure agreements to be signed. Others have been held in remote locations where it took five days to set up and three days to break down.
“Before we came about, people were doing cocktail catering in a very bare-bones, not tremendously thoughtful way,” Gasparini said. “We aren’t your run-of-the-mill cocktail bar. We’ve changed what it means to have drinks at your event.”
And that means ordering anything from an Aviation (a gin-based cocktail) to a Zombie (rum galore), because when these guys show up, they bring a bona fide bar to your party. That idea came from having almost no knowledge of how to run a catering operation.
“Early on, people asked us to make drinks at their parties and we’d bring the whole bar,” Gasparini said. “I’m not sure they were expecting that.”
Lindgren and Gasparini can’t agree on whether the idea for cocktail catering began at Rye or 15 Romolo. Both, however, agree that waiting for a drink sucks. As busy as both popular bars get on a weekend night, a satellite bar was wheeled in to relieve pressure from the main wells. And the idea for Rye on the Road was born.
“I looked at the satellite bar, saw it was on wheels and said, ‘Why don’t we take this on the road?’” Lindgren said.
That epiphany was married with requests from friends and guests looking for people to make drinks at their parties. Five years down the road, the cocktail caterers own eight mobile bars and are behind the stick at about three events a week.
“It can get frustrating being confined within your four walls,” Gasparini said. “It’s a great way to keep the brand alive.”
The duo also recently acquired a commissary space in South of Market, where they can teach courses and seminars and where future clientele can see the production process. That includes making syrups, tailoring hand-cut ice from 300-pound blocks, and squeezing juice for all of their bars and off-site events.
As for future expansion, Gasparini pointed to a dearth of Southern California cocktail caterers — a market where they are already in the driver’s seat.