This is Matt Boyle, from Halifax.
Matt is 36 years old. He was born and raised in Nova Scotia and lived there most of his life a part from a quick detour in Ottawa for a year. Matt played basketball from when he was 6 years old until he was at university. He started reffing when he was 15 years old, started to take it seriously when he was 25 and recently got his FIBA so he can be a referee at international and professional basketball levels. Matt is also passionate about music. He did rap music for 10 years and thought for a long time that this would be his career. In parallel, he studied business at university and got his MBA. All that path led him to other side hustles, bartending being one of them. Today, Matt is the co-owner of Clever Barkeep and Dear Friend.
Matt’s first job as a bartender was at The Bicycle Thief in Halifax. He had no experience and lied to be hired. His first shift was on a Saturday night and the guy that was training him at the bar was Jeff Van Horne, his now business partner. When he showed up for his first bar shift and had to ask Jeff how to make a shirley temple, it became rather obvious that he didn’t have any experience and he was sent home early. He was called in the next Monday, was offered a proper training and was super impressed. He loved to understand what were all those bar tools and why they were being used. He started to understand that bartending could be something that he could build and learn. And that is exactly what he did.
Eventually, he started to participate in bartending competitions and did very well for himself. He won Made With Love a couple of times, took part in smaller competitions and decided to try Bacardi Legacy in 2016. He won the regional, the national and made it to the world final. This got him the Atlantic Bacardi Brand Ambassador position that he still has today.
All this being said, as much as Matt loved bartending, he also knew that he wanted to work for himself at some point. When he came back from Ottawa, him and Jeff were asked to bartend at private events and they saw an opportunity to create a business together. That’s when Clever Barkeep was born, a bar catering and now also bar consulting company. A few years later, their business was doing very good and they needed a proper space to prep and host for events. That space turned into a gem of a bar called Dear Friend that opened last July in the heart of Dartmouth.
Overall, above being a very talented and successful bartender and business owner, Matt appeared to us as being someone genuinely involved in his community and willing to do the extra work to transform it towards a more respectful and inclusive one. He is engaged and acts on the issues that matters for him, is vocal about them and empowers his staff to do the same. As much as we cannot relate all that was said during our interview with him, one thing for sure is that we left our meeting thinking that if only a handful of other employers could be just half as considerate as him, our industry as a whole would be a much better place to be and evolve in.
For his cocktail creation, click here.
A little bit more about Matt...
The three words that describe him best: dynamic – calculated – happy
The quality he most looks for in an employee: Just so that their core values are aligned with the core values of your business.
The biggest lesson his job taught him: That you can put your mind to anything you want.
His definition of hospitality:The way you make people feel. It needs to be memorable, and not just emotionally. The temperature of the place, the lights, the sounds, the energy. All of the senses need to be catered to.
An advice he would offer future bar owners: Empower your staff. Your staff are the best resource that you have. Most often, they know more than you think. They are the beating heart of your place. So, ask them questions, don’t pretend that you know everything when you don’t. Ask they to determine what can change, what can be better, what can make them happy. Check in with them. Make them feel like they own the place. Celebrate their side hustles. If they need time off to work on a side project, give them time off. If they have a passion, try to celebrate that passion in the business in any way you can. For instance, if they like photography, enrol them in a photography course, hire them to take the photos of your cocktails, and then it’s just like your own company becomes stronger. And they feel like they can also have a break and they can be dynamic. Culture is, from what I have seen in restaurants, the most important thing. One, you’re not gonna have to deal with turnover. Two, you’re gonna have happy staff which are gonna be making your guests happy. You can always feel it when you walk into a bar that has bad culture, it doesn’t matter how nice it is, you can just feel the bad vibes and the energy. And you can taste it in the foods and the drinks. If people are happy and excited, you can taste it in the foods and in the drinks.